Johnson gets his groove back in second half

NEW YORK -- Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Johnson has been up and down lately, and it was more of the same in the first half of Tuesday night's game against the New York Knicks. Johnson missed all four of his field goal attempts, and his frustration level was high.

But in the second half, Johnson looked like his usual self, the same guy who has scored more than 17,000 career points and made seven All-Star teams.

Johnson poured in 19 of his 22 points in the second half, propelling the Nets to a 98-93 victory over the rival New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

"I think I had a couple of offensive rebounds and it got me into a nice little offensive rhythm," said Johnson, who added 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 1 block to his second-half stat line.

"It wasn't nothing more than that. Obviously, I got my hands full guarding Carmelo [Anthony]. I knew it was going to be a tough night. I just tried to stick with him."

Anthony went 2-for-13 from the field with five points in the second half.

"Man, just try to make every shot he takes tough," Johnson said. "You know it's going to be a physical game. You got to know that when you play against him. Anytime he took a shot, [I] just tried to have a hand up, tried to defend him in some form or fashion, but obviously, he's going to make some of those tough shots and he did."

Johnson, who called out his teammates for being selfish on Nov. 9, hadn't looked like himself of late, averaging just 11.3 points on 39.1 percent shooting over the past six games. In three of those six, Johnson scored fewer than 10 points. He took five shots Nov. 21 at the Oklahoma City Thunder and seven shots Sunday against the Chicago Bulls.

Johnson was the focal point of Jason Kidd's offense last season and has had to try and find his way in new coach Lionel Hollins' system this season, with point guard Deron Williams and center Brook Lopez both healthy.

"I was trying to get him involved early, but every time we ran a play he made a pass to somebody else," Hollins said.

The Nets need consistency from Johnson. He's arguably their best player, and he needs to get the ball in spots on the floor where he can score, make plays and be successful.

"I told you I wasn't worried about him," Williams said.

"I thought when we needed him to be aggressive, he was aggressive," power forward Kevin Garnett added.

The Nets (7-9), who led by as many as 16 on Tuesday, held a 77-64 cushion heading into the fourth quarter but nearly imploded. Anthony, his shot contested by swingman Alan Anderson, missed a 3-pointer that could've tied the game at 96 with 8.9 seconds left.

Blowing leads has been a constant problem for the Nets, as has failing to play a complete, 48-minute game. They're good in spurts, but as Johnson said, they made too many "bonehead plays," turning the ball over and hurting themselves on too many possessions which allowed the Knicks to come back.

"We've gotta learn how to put teams away," Williams said.

The Nets were able to close out the Knicks, however. Williams hit a clutch corner 3-pointer with 1:42 left to give the Nets a 96-91 lead, and Johnson went a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the final 45.7 seconds.

Lopez dominated down low, scoring 19 of his 23 points in the first half and adding eight rebounds. Williams had 19 points, five assists and five rebounds, while Garnett contributed 13 rebounds -- including six of the team's season-high 21 offensive boards.

The Nets also won the points-in-the-paint battle 48-26.

Sure, they almost lost to the lottery-bound Knicks (4-15). Sure, they still haven't beaten anyone yet (0-7 against .500 or better teams). And sure, they have a tough stretch coming up that includes matchups with the San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Bulls.

But they did win Tuesday night, which was a step in the right direction.

"It's huge," Johnson said. "We have another big game [against the Spurs] tomorrow night."