By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Veteran Joe Johnson signed with the Miami Heat on Saturday and on Sunday the versatile swing man was thrown right into the fire, delivering in a victory over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Seven-time All-Star Johnson scored 12 points with three assists and three rebounds while providing strong defense in 30 minutes on the floor in Miami's 98-81 win over the home team.
"I have never joined a team mid-season. This is kind of new," said 34-year-old Johnson, who became friends with Heat stalwart Dwyane Wade when they played together on the 2006 U.S. team at the world basketball championship in Japan.
"I am up for it. It is a challenge. Every game out is going to be playoff like."
Johnson was cut loose by the rebuilding Brooklyn Nets (17-42). He became a free agent at 5 PM ET on Saturday and said that by 5:01 he had decided to sign with Miami (33-26), who are fourth-best in the Eastern Conference.
Wade's lobbying helped the Heat add an all-around force to pick up the slack for the sidelined Chris Bosh.
"We felt like he can be a big part of it. He understood that. He is a smart basketball player. He knew he could fit in," Wade told reporters after the win.
Johnson and Wade became the only active NBA players on the same roster to each score at least 18,500 points.
"You get a guy at the caliber of his level you usually get that in the off-season," said Wade. "The playoff run is going to be big for us. He fits in with this team because ... he has an overall game. He is also a good defender."
Johnson, drew a tough opening assignment, guarding New York's high scoring Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony led New York with 25 points, but was harassed into 9-of-24 shooting.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said he never hesitated about tossing Johnson, 34, right into the fray.
"He is such a cerebral, experienced player ... this is why we started him. He is a quick study but fits how we are trying to play. That is number one, being a defensive team."
Said Johnson: "I think I can really help this team get to the next level. That's why I chose this place."
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)