LONDON -- For a coach with more than 320 career NBA wins, including a trip to the Finals, it was a bold statement uttered by Avery Johnson on Saturday.
"Even though it was only a regular-season game, this was one of the best wins I have been a part of," Johnson said after his Nets' 137-136 triple-overtime victory against the Toronto Raptors, improving New Jersey's record on European soil to 2-0.
The Nets certainly went about it the hard way. But if this is to be a forgettable season for so many other reasons for Johnson's team, this trip is one the Nets will long remember and one which may have answered a number of questions he had about his personnel.
One question that did not need answering concerned the toughness, mental and physical, of recently acquired point guard Deron Williams. Doubtful for the series because of injuries to both hands, Williams eventually logged 53 minutes in the second game, scoring 21 points with 18 assists, and playing with five fouls during the key stretch.
"Look at him again," said Johnson. "Eighteen big assists and when his hand gets right, you will see a lot more of his shots going down. His legs are strong but both hands are basically injured. He's playing through it so give him a lot of credit.
"That's what I like about him: I love his toughness. ... Deron is tough as nails. Eventually, when we become a playoff team, that's what we want, that's the kind of guys we want. A guy in pain who can still play through it.
"Deron Williams' spirit has infiltrated our team and it's a very positive spirit."
Williams himself clearly felt the positive energy from spending a prolonged period with new colleagues, on and off the floor, even his injury situation won't be rectified quickly or easily.
"I thought the trip was great for us," he said. "To get out on the road, spend a lot of time together, on and off the court, to adjust, get to know each other.
"But I need a month's rest to heal the [right] wrist completely. I'm still going to play, but it will hurt for the rest of the season until I get some rest here and there. Some times are better than others and the biggest thing is not being able to get some reps up in practice. It's a case of not practicing and let it rest so I can play in games."
Injuries had also been a factor with 2-guard Anthony Morrow, who was forced to miss the game after suffering a slight concussion Friday. In his place, Sasha Vujacic made his third start for the team and, particularly in the first half, made a vital contribution, especially from 3-point range.
Small forward Damion James only played 21 minutes Saturday before leaving with an injury.
"My starting five is normally with Deron, Anthony Morrow, Damion James, Kris [Humphries] and Brook [Lopez]," said Johnson. "But this was a night where we were going into the fourth quarter and I don't have my starting 2 man or my starting 3 man.
"Everybody stepped up and some guys played a lot more minutes than they have played in a long time. They pulled through and didn't allow any negative situation to affect their energy, that's what I like about them.
"Earlier in the season, we don't win this game."
Travis Outlaw, who contributed 14 key points and some key defense in place of James, was a crucial part of that victory -- picked out by Williams for his contribution. And the point guard has no doubt that the visit to London has told him one thing: Whatever his long-term prospects with the club, the Nets can make the playoffs next season.
"We have a lot of cap space, a lot of room to add some good guys to the roster," said Williams. "Our ownership is motivated to do so, our general manager is motivated to do so. I definitely think we have some great young talent on this team. Mix that with some veteran guys and some more talent and we will definitely be a playoff team."