All you know about the Big 3 Brooklyn Nets is gone. Without Kyrie Irving, they couldn’t win that high-scoring way.
They’ve been replaced by a grind-it-out defensive team. James Johnson is a tough-nosed, hard-working player who embodies that ideal.
“The biggest part about this team is just trying to find the identity and sticking to that,” Johnson told The Post. “We have to have some kind of identity that when we’re going into a gym it’s not the Brooklyn Nets that’s on paper, it’s that hard-fighting, physical, tough win-it-out gang.”
Nets stand at 12-5 and are currently atop Eastern Conference. This is largely due to their top-10 defense, which has exceeded all expectations.
Bruce Brown and Nic Claxton were among the few stout defenders on last season’s porous unit, but Claxton hasn’t played since Oct. 25, and Brown went down Friday with a hamstring injury. GM Sean Marks’ offseason defensive additions have been leaned on, first DeAndre’ Bembry and now the past few games Johnson.
“I knew what they wanted from me when they signed me here, and it was just up to me to get in the best shape possible and to make it happen,” Johnson told The Post. “I liked the ramp up that I got, and I was able to really sharpen some tools.”
Johnson, who had not played for six games in a row, has been able to make his way into the rotation. Johnson only saw limited time in Oklahoma City, and against Golden State. He then posted a solid plus-16 performance in Cleveland at 23:21. In that game, he grabbed nine rebounds, and gave out four assists.
Then he unveiled a surprising offensive game in Friday’s shorthanded come-from-behind win over Orlando, with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting, grabbing 10 boards and dishing out four more dimes.
“He brings a different dynamic to our team with that playmaking and that ballhandling, dribbling and our shooters finishing around the rim. He does a little bit of everything, and he’s going to be a key part of where we’re trying to go,” James Harden said of Johnson.
“Just great competitiveness, playing for the team, spirit was great,” coach Steve Nash said. “Obviously he can do some playmaking out there, he can attack the basket with his quickness and size and he rebounded the ball for us.”
Johnson was there Saturday with Claxton, handing out turkeys free of charge at Calvary Baptist Church Red Hook. This weekend, the Nets and New York Liberty Foundation provided over 2000 Thanksgiving meals to more than 2,000 families in three areas: Red Hook East Flatbush and Brownsville.
“As soon as I got the word that it was available to me, I was all for it,” Johnson told The Post. “This is what we’re about, just to come back and really be in the city, really be in Brooklyn, that’s what it’s about, man. That basketball, that’s just cream.”