Before the start of the 2012-13 season, Joe Johnson said he felt like he was brought to Brooklyn to bring a championship to the borough.
And that remains the Nets shooting guard’s goal heading into the playoffs.
“I can’t tell you that if we make it to the conference finals and lost, that that would be a successful season,” Johnson reiterated to ESPNNewYork.com Tuesday during a wide-ranging interview at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, where he was doing a photoshoot for ESPN The Magazine.
“[GM] Billy [King] had faith in all of us to put us all together to make a pretty good [team] and try to bring Brooklyn a championship ring, so that’s our main goal right now.”
The fourth-seeded Nets (48-33) won’t be able to get that ring unless they upset the defending champion and top-seeded Miami Heat (65-16) in the second round -- assuming both teams make it that far. Brooklyn went 0-3 against Miami this season, with the Heat beating the Nets in those meetings by an average of 21 points.
“I think our chances [against them] are great,” Johnson said. “Were we successful with them in the regular season? No. But we’ve had games where we’ve shown for a quarter or two or three that we were pretty good against them, so it doesn’t bother us. We’re a confident group, we’re a much different team and in the postseason it’s a lot different than in the regular season.”
Asked why the Nets have a better chance of beating the Heat now than they did in the regular season, Johnson replied: “I think it’s a little bit of everything: Brook (Lopez) is healthy; obviously Deron [Williams] is healthy and slimmed down and he’s probably playing better than ever; and us as a team our bench has been playing well, so we gotta get those guys on track if we want to go far, our bench is definitely gonna have to win games for us sometimes.”
Johnson, 31, was acquired by the Nets from the Atlanta Hawks in a blockbuster offseason trade that ultimately convinced Williams to stay. He has appeared in 62 career playoff games, compiling a 27-35 record (.435) while averaging 16.9 points on 41.3 percent shooting.
Johnson has been in the playoffs the last five seasons with the Hawks, though he’s never made it past the second round (2009-11).
The 12th-year pro said the most memorable postseason of his career occurred back in 2007-08, when the eighth-seeded Hawks took the top-seeded/eventual champion Boston Celtics all the way to Game 7 in the first round.
“Everybody thought we didn’t have a chance, and in Boston we really didn’t; they beat us bad in Boston, but we held our homecourt down,” Johnson said. “We took them seven games so, that was probably the most memorable part, getting a chance to give the Atlanta fans something that they haven’t seen in a long, long time.”
Johnson signed a six-year, $124-million contract to remain the Hawks’ go-to option in 2010, but his role has changed ever since being dealt to the Nets.
“I thought more of the focal point was on me in Atlanta, and here it’s totally the opposite. You’ve got Deron who’s playing great, Brook has been playing great. And I’m gonna come in and do what I have to do to get us over the hump,” Johnson said.
Would he prefer playing the Hawks or Chicago Bulls in the first round?
“It doesn’t matter, but I wouldn’t prefer to play Atlanta,” Johnson said. “I think we’ll win the series regardless, but I just think it’ll be a lot of chaos, a lot of media attention playing Atlanta, so I’m not gung-ho about it. But it is what it is.”
In his first season with the Nets, Johnson, who has missed 10 games due a variety of minor injuries, is averaging 16.3 points, 3.5 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 42.2 percent from the field and 37.4 percent from 3-point range.
“It’s been OK,” Johnson said when asked to rate his first season in Brooklyn. “Some knick-knack injuries here and there, but for the most part I predicted that we would win 51 games, and I think we may be two or three shy of that.
“As a team, I think our season was pretty decent considering the fact that we all got thrown together this past summer and it takes time for the cohesiveness to get together, but me, personally, my performance was OK. It could’ve been a lot better, but I’m sure next year, it’ll be even better. But we’ve still got a lot more room for improvement this year, a lot more work to do, many more goals to reach, so this year is not over with. We’ve got big plans.”
While Johnson’s season averages aren’t up to his standards, his play in the clutch has been. In games where the Nets are tied or trailing by three points or fewer with less than a minute remaining, the shooting guard is 9-for-10 from the field with three game-winning shots (Detroit, Washington, Milwaukee). That late-game shot-making ability should serve the Nets well in the playoffs.
“(It’s) very important, but I don’t put any added pressure on it,” Johnson said. “I think making clutch shots is just a mentality. You know how the game starts out and everybody is kind of free-flowing? Nobody has any pressure on shots anybody can make shots.
“But then in the fourth quarter, if it’s under three minutes and it’s a tight game, guys pass up shots, they don’t want to take shots or they put too much pressure on themselves in making shots. But me, I can only do one of two things: hit or miss. So like I tell them, if they want to put it on my back, that’s cool with me. If you want to give me the ball at the end of the game, I’m gonna take it and I’m gonna take the big shot. I don’t care.”
Johnson was hampered by both heel and quadriceps injuries that have kept him out of 10 games since February.
“I feel OK (heading into the playoffs),” said Johnson, who added that he’ll definitely play in Wednesday night’s regular-season finale against the Detroit Pistons. “Would I say 100 percent? Probably not but I mean, these little knickknack injuries won’t heel up until after the season, so when you get time to rest for a week or two, but that’s no excuse. My play in the postseason will be just fine. Like I said, I’m going to give these guys everything I’ve got.”
Johnson was born and raised in Little Rock, Ark., but has enjoyed making the transition to the big city and living in Manhattan.
“It’s definitely home,” Johnson said. “It’s been different, it’s been an adjustment, but at the same time I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve never fathomed living in New York, period, and the fact that I have this opportunity, man, I’m just trying to really cherish it and it’s been an experience like no other.”