By Jason Schott - @JESchott19
The Brooklyn Nets are in the playoffs after a 105-96 win over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night at Barclays Center, their 14th straight home win, a new Nets franchise record. Overall, they have won 21 of their last 23 games at Barclays Center.
This capped off a monumental day for the Nets, as Head Coach Jason Kidd was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for March earlier in the day.
Kidd was asked after the game if he has expected the Nets to be in the playoffs, and he said, "Oh, always. We always felt that way. You didn't? (addressed to Tim Bontemps of the New York Post) Be honest. Oh, that's fair. That's something that we felt that we could accomplish as a team. Unfortunately, we didn't start off well, and I guess some people didn't believe it, so we just stayed the course. Yes, we're in, but that doesn't mean the season's over. We've still got a long way to go. There's a lot of basketball to be played, and there's a lot of room for us to get better."
On if there were any times in the early part of the season where Kidd wondered if they would make the playoffs, "I've seen too many games. I've seen - the league is very fragile. Things change quickly. For us, when you look at the group of guys in that locker room, they all believed that if we stayed together, we stayed professional, we worked and we always never had an excuse. We took our lumps, but we felt that we could get better, and right now we are, but again, we still have a long way to go."
Paul Pierce said of officially clinching a playoff berth, "You know, we expected to be in the playoffs. This is just another step toward our goal. We're happy with the way we've been playing lately over the last couple of months at home against quality ball clubs, but as far as making the playoffs, this is something we already expected to do. We're happy to make the playoffs, but that's just a small goal of ours."
The Nets improve their record to 40-33, and are now 30-12 since the start of 2014, the best winning percentage (.714) of any team in the Eastern Conference since January 1st. The Nets are within one-and-a-half games of both the Toronto Raptors for the Atlantic Division title and the Chicago Bulls for the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference.
Joe Johnson was the star tonight, as he had a quiet 32 points on 13-for-21 from the field and 4-for-8 from behind the arc. On how Johnson's 32 points can go unnoticed, Kidd said, "Sometimes, it might look too easy. He doesn't celebrate. It's like the saying, 'you score a touchdown, you act like you've been there before.' That's what he does. He scores. There's no celebration. It's just about taking care of business, and that's just his personality."
Paul Pierce summed up Johnson's performance best, "It wasn't quiet to us. We took notice. That's on y'all," referring to the esteemed members of the media.
Johnson has made at least one three-pointer in his 22nd straight game tonight, extending the longest streak of Johnson's career. He has scored 20+ points for the 19th time this season, and 30+ points for the fourth time this season. All other Nets' players have combined for the same number of 30+ games.
Pierce said of how the offense is when Johnson is performing well, "It makes everybody's job so much easier because when Joe is going, he commands a double team and he finds other guys and gets them open and the lanes are open. Then once they're so concerned about him, it opens up other guys and gets them open and the lanes are open. Then once they're so concerned about him, it opens up other guys. That's the beauty of this team - on any given night, we have a number of guys that can step up. Joe is our catalyst, obviously, but when he's going like that, we're a tough team to beat. I don't even know what our record is when he has huge games like that. We probably have to be undefeated. If he can continue to play at a high level, especially going into the playoffs, that's what we're going to need from him."
The key to the win tonight was the Nets' defense, which held Houston to 38.1 percent from the field, or 32-84. The Nets shot 53 percent from the field (44-83). It is the third game this season that the Nets shot 50% or more from the field and held their opponent below 40% shooting, wit the first two instances coming on November 5th vs. Utah and February 9th vs. New Orleans.
Deron Williams had a nice game, with 12 points (6-14 FG) and 6 assists. His counterpart in the backcourt, Shaun Livingston, had 17 points (6-12 FG), 6 rebounds, and 2 assists. Livingston said of playing with Williams, "We're just playing off each other. I've known D-Will since we were at Illinois, so I kind of have a feel for his game, and I just try to put him in the best positions, along with Jason (Kidd), just to help get him going. He hasn't had a problem. He's been rolling and so have we."