NEW YORK -- Joe Johnson's fondest memories in Brooklyn were made at the buzzer.
Johnson hit five game-winning buzzer-beaters as a Net -- none bigger than the one he made in Oklahoma City on Jan. 2, 2014 when the team was 10-21, its season in a downward spiral.
“He might not be there when you call on him, but he’s there when you need him,” Kevin Garnett said later that month, explaining why he bestowed Johnson with the nickname “Joe Jesus.”
The Nets won 34 of their final 51 games en route to advancing to the second round of the playoffs, the farthest they got during Johnson’s tenure.
“That’s probably the most memorable thing out of all of it for me because honestly I wasn’t brought into Brooklyn to be the closer, so to speak. It just happened,” Johnson said Sunday, reflecting on his three-plus seasons with the Nets after scoring 12 points in his debut with the Heat.
“It started with the Detroit game (on Dec. 14, 2012). I had it going that game, and (former coach) Avery (Johnson) stuck with me and stuck with me and I made the game-winner. And then the next thing you know it was happening (all the time) and it was just like, ‘Damn.’”
Of course, there were other great Johnson moments, too.
His 29-point third quarter against Philadelphia. His 26-point Game 7 in Toronto. His slick dribbling that crossed up Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce and Jusuf Nurkic. And our favorite: his 34-point Game 5 in Miami in which Johnson went toe-to-toe with LeBron James, scoring 24 of those points in the second half before his nemesis locked down on defense in crunch time.
“That was huge,” Johnson said of that game, which ended with Brooklyn’s elimination. “It was a great moment for us as a team and for me. Obviously we didn’t pull it out, but man, I thought we gave ourselves a great chance to win.”
It just wasn’t meant to be.
“The year we got Paul (Pierce) and KG, Brook (Lopez) got hurt, so I think that affected us, but at the same time the small lineup was effective and got us back in the playoff hunt,” Johnson said. “Maybe it was just timing. The Heat were the best team in the league at that time, so you can’t argue that. I mean, they beat us.”
But for all that -- for all the hoopla that came with Johnson joining forces with Deron Williams after being acquired from Atlanta in the summer of 2012 and the extravagant news conference at Brooklyn Borough Hall that followed -- the duo won just one postseason series together before Brooklyn’s Backcourt turned into Brooklyn’s Buyouts.
“It’s not that bad here,” Johnson said at the beginning of this season, when asked about Williams leaving for Dallas.
Only it was.
“I honestly have no idea,” Johnson said when asked why it didn’t work out with Williams. “I wish we could’ve given ourselves a chance to go deep in the playoffs or even bring a championship to Brooklyn, but it didn’t happen, so we just have to move on from it.”
Johnson arrived with four years and $89.3 million remaining on his six-year, $123.7 million contract. His first season went well until he became hampered by plantar fasciitis in his left foot. In Game 7 against Chicago, he went 2-for-14 from the field and scored six points as the Bulls upset the Nets. Johnson averaged 21.1 points per game the following postseason, but shot just 36.2 percent from the field in the 2014-15 playoffs.
At his best, Johnson was draining 3-pointers and making plays out of the post. At his worst, early in the 2015-16 campaign, he appeared disengaged and struggled to keep pace with quicker wings on defense.
While the Nets made their share of headlines off the court -- with owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s five-year championship plan not working out as hoped -- Johnson said he was never distracted.
“I’m an easygoing guy,” he said. “I don’t deal with all the riff-raff so I didn’t notice anything.”
In Miami he expects to play a lot of stretch four, which should suit him just fine. The Heat struggle from the perimeter and will need scoring with Bosh’s future uncertain so Johnson figures to play, as coach Erik Spoelstra indicated, “a prominent role.” His intelligence, versatility, experience and personality will be welcomed both on the court and in the locker room.
Johnson played for five different coaches in Brooklyn: Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins and Tony Brown. His final season proved frustrating as the losses piled up.
“I have no idea, man,” proved to be Johnson’s typical response after games, when asked why things were going wrong.
The Nets were headed for a rebuild. GM Billy King and Hollins were replaced. Johnson appeared ready to stick around and his performance improved significantly, but contenders soon came calling.
At the age of 34, 15 years into his career, he decided to join a winning team, giving back $3 million as part of his buyout to do so.
“Obviously we had some ups and downs, but I think the good outweighed the bad for me,” he said. “I think the changing of the GM and coach, it’s pretty tough but not really. I’ve been through quite a few coaches in my career in Brooklyn, so it was kind of second nature for me. But just losing, us playing hard and losing was probably the toughest part for me.”
Sean Marks is tasked with rebuilding the roster.
“They have a lot of great young talent and those guys just have to come into their own,” Johnson said. “And they need to keep adding pieces to put around Brook.”
As for Lopez, the only remaining core player from the early Brooklyn years, Johnson said, “He just has to keep making other guys around him better. Everything else he has. He’ll fine-tune it.”
Johnson has scored over 19,000 points and played over 40,000 minutes. He is 10th all-time in 3-pointers made. He just won’t be building his Hall of Fame résumé in Brooklyn any longer.