NEW YORK -- Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson wanted the ball, the way he had wanted his team to be regarded as the city's best, as he dubbed the Nets before the season.
It was the last minute of the last regular-season matchup this year between the Nets and the New York Knicks and the Madison Square Garden crowd, fueled by the tension of the previous games in the budding intra-city rivalry, roared "Defense! Defense!"
Down one, the Nets designed a play for center Brook Lopez, but he was double-teamed, so he passed to point guard Deron Williams, who found Johnson, the man who had said the Nets owed the Knicks after dropping the last two games.
Johnson then helped pay the debt, and did his best to help Brooklyn make its case as the city's best team.
His fadeaway jumper over J.R. Smith with 22.3 seconds left gave the Nets a one-point lead and they would go on to an 88-85 win Monday. They survived a frenzied final minute after Nets-killer Carmelo Anthony put up an air ball and Smith's game-tying 3-point attempt bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
Johnson, who scored 25 points, helped the Nets split the season series 2-2 and send their fans exiting the Garden bellowing their sing-song "Brooklyn" chant, to the displeasure of Knicks fans.
"(Lopez) swung it to Deron and Deron swung it to me and I wanted to make a play," Johnson said with a smile, acknowledging how much he wants the ball late. "It feels great. This was a big game for us; of this magnitude, this atmosphere. It was a big shot.
"They want to be the top dog and we want to be the top dog, and we'll see what happens next."
Asked if he still thought the Nets were the town's best team, Johnson smiled and replied, "Yeah, the way that I feel, man, that's not gonna change."
Williams added 14 points and 12 assists, and Lopez had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Nets (25-16), who moved to 11-2 under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo.
Brooklyn also moved one game behind the Knicks (25-16), who have faltered while the Nets have thrived.
Anthony, who entered the game averaging 37 points against the Nets this season, scored 29 to lead the Knicks but had just two points in the fourth quarter. Smith had 16 and Amar'e Stoudemire added 15 for New York, which shot just 28.6 percent from 3-point range after entering the game leading the NBA in shots and attempts from there.
Anthony hit two free throws to put the Knicks up 84-83 with 40.9 seconds left for his only points of the quarter. But he had been blocked by Kris Humphries with under two minutes to play and put up the air ball with about 10 seconds left. Williams then hit three free throws in the final minute -- but missed his first after making 52 straight -- before Smith just missed his bid to tie the score.
"I missed it," Anthony, who was 0 of 6 from the field in the fourth quarter, said of the air ball. "I didn't execute down the stretch. Shots I normally make, I didn't make. It is what it is."
Down 83-82, Anthony drove on Johnson, who was called for his fifth foul, and the Knicks forward hit both free throws for an 84-83 lead with 40.9 seconds remaining.
But Johnson responded 18 seconds later and the resurgent Nets were on their way to another win under Carlesimo.
"Our focus, energy and enthusiasm have been a lot better, not only in games, but overall," Williams said of the team's improvement since Avery Johnson was fired. Of Carlesimo, he added, "It's a different style, a different voice and guys are responding well."
Johnson, who had missed eight straight shots earlier in the game, scored eight of the Nets' 11 points during an 11-2 run midway through the fourth quarter to help them open an 83-77 lead.
"We had some breakdowns defensively in terms of our coverage," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. " ... It was a dogfight all the way to the end. They made the plays down the stretch. We had our chance, but we didn't execute defensively."
Trailing 47-41 at halftime, the Knicks entered the fourth quarter with a 68-65 lead after going on a 10-0 run late in the third to claim their first lead since there was 9:46 left in the second quarter.
Anthony, a Brooklyn native who took great pride in facing the Nets in their first year in his home borough, acknowledged the rivalry got off to an intense start.
"Well, it's over; we don't see them anymore," Anthony said of the regular-season matchups. "But it is the beginning of something that's gonna be here a long, long time. As a Knick, we definitely look forward to the challenge."
NOTES: Knicks guard Iman Shumpert started in his Garden season debut and scored just two points in 20 minutes, up five minutes from his allotted time in his first game of the season in recovering from knee surgery. Woodson said Shumpert was "up and down" but liked his effort. ... Woodson said Raymond Felton (broken finger) was progressing "slowly and on schedule." He wasn't sure if he'd be able to engage in contact during practice this week. ... Carlesimo said he's not necessarily sure he'd like to play the Knicks more often, but "they're great games. I think it's always been a good rivalry. I think it's gone to another level. ... I think if the two of us stay as factors at the top of the East, it'll be an even better rivalry." ... Williams acknowledged he was thinking of his free-throw streak when he missed, saying, "Yeah, it's hard not to."