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Johnson lifts Pacers over Nets 90-88
By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer
Apr 23, 2006 - 5:23:00 PM

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Anthony Johnson was nothing more than Jason Kidd's backup when he played for New Jersey. On Sunday he backed up his new reputation -- as one of the Indiana Pacers' most dependable players.

Indiana Pacers' Anthony Johnson, right, drives to the basket as he is guarded by New Jersey Nets' Jason Kidd in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter during first round NBA playoffs basketball Sunday, April 23, 2006 in East Rutherford, N.J. Johnson hit two free throws to win the game for the Pacers, 90-88. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Johnson made two free throws with 0.9 seconds left and played tough defense on Kidd, and the Pacers beat the Nets 90-88 to take Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.

"Anthony Johnson is a guy you can count on," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "There are guys on your roster you know are going to be ready to play and take care of themselves and be professional, knowledgeable, they like the game. He is one of those guys who fits that description."

Jermaine O'Neal scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter for the sixth-seeded Pacers, who became the first road team to win a game in this postseason. Game 2 is Tuesday night at Continental Airlines Arena.

Stephen Jackson scored 18 points and reserve Fred Jones added 15 for the Pacers, who forced Vince Carter and Kidd, two of New Jersey's "Big Three," into horrible shooting nights.

Johnson, Kidd's understudy in New Jersey when the Nets made consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 2002-03, finished with 12 points and six assists.

"Everyone wants to label guys, label me as a backup point guard, a guy that can't get it done," Johnson said. "Those are the opportunities where you have to step up and make it happen."

Johnson, who has played for six teams, was supposed to be the third-stringer on the Pacers after they signed Sarunas Jasikevicius in the summer. But with Jamaal Tinsley injured, Johnson has emerged as the starter, and one of the players most responsible for helping the Pacers make a late run to grab a playoff spot.

Carter had 31 points and 13 rebounds, but shot 12-of-33 from the field. Kidd was only 2-of-11 for five points for the Nets, the Atlantic Division champions.

"I had a double negative tonight," Carter said. "I couldn't hit a jump shot or make a layup."

Nenad Krstic scored 22 points and Richard Jefferson added 19 for the Nets, who fell to 3-12 in first-round Game 1s.

Carter's follow dunk tied the game at 88 with 32 seconds left, and the Pacers worked the clock down before Austin Croshere took a jumper from the corner that was short. The ball came back to him and he got it out to Johnson, who drove into the lane and was fouled while taking a shot that went in and out.

The foul was called on Krstic, but Johnson thought it was on Kidd. Johnson said it was a foul -- "No ifs, ands or buts" -- but the Nets weren't so sure.

"Unfortunately we couldn't come up the rebound and you like for players to decide the game, but you have to give Anthony credit for making the two free throws," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "I haven't seen a replay yet, but the foul on Krstic seemed like a really hard call."

After he sank both free throws, Jefferson's jumper from the corner was short.

Saddled by foul trouble, O'Neal was just 1-of-5 for four points after three quarters. But the Pacers kept going to him down the stretch, and he put them in position to take Game 1.

Indiana was considered a preseason favorite to win the East, but its season got off course after Ron Artest was benched following his trade request in December. Even after they finally dealt Artest in January, the Pacers continued to struggle while dealing with key injuries to O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley.

Indiana went into the final weeks with no guarantee of a playoff spot before winning five of its final six to earn the No. 6 seed, a roll they continued with Sunday's victory.

The Nets started quickly, getting dunks on their first two possessions. But the Pacers righted themselves behind Jackson, who scored 13 points in the first quarter and dominated his matchup with Carter as Indiana took a 30-24 lead.

Carter shot 2-of-10 in the period, missing eight of his final nine shots after an alley-oop dunk a minute into the game. Jackson was 6-for-8.

"A lot of games we lost this season was because we didn't start playing until the second or third quarter," Jackson said. "I think we came out and played in the first and it kind of gives momemtum."

Notes: Peja Stojakovic's first two shots were airballs. ... Carlisle said Tinsley, sidelined with a sprained right Achilles', was considered day-to-day and the Pacers didn't know his status for Game 2. ... Carter's 33 shots were four short of the Nets' playoff record, which he set last year in a double-overtime loss to Miami in the first round. ... The teams also met in the first round in 2002, with New Jersey winning the series 3-2 with a double-overtime victory in the deciding game. ... Nets reserve Antoine Wright was out with a strained left quad.

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