Joe Johnson is a legend.
Let’s start there. Don’t ever forget that Johnson could, and apparently still can, get buckets with the best of him when so motivated to do so. The seven-time All-Star is well past his prime years, but on Saturday night he turned back the clock in Los Angeles with a 21-point performance to lead the Jazz to a Game 1 victory over the Clippers.
Johnson was 9-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point range on the night, as the veteran led Utah to an improbable win after star center Rudy Gobert went out with a knee sprain in the first minute of the game. Johnson had 14 of his 21 in the first half, then took it slow for most of the second half before it was money time in the fourth quarter. Money time is Joe Johnson time. It always has been — the man hasn’t made $200 million in his career on accident.
The Clippers tied the game with 13 seconds to play as Chris Paul got a high-banking layup to drop after a phenomenal individual effort all fourth quarter to drag his team to a chance to win. Despite having two timeouts, the Jazz opted to play the situation out and put the ball in the hands of Johnson and let Iso-Joe do what Iso-Joe does.
It was vintage Joe Johnson. A methodical drive, somehow getting to his spot with ease without appearing physically overpowering or using tremendous speed and then throwing up a little floater over the outstretched arms of a helping DeAndre Jordan. The ball hits the rim with the softest of touch, bounding around before dropping through the net as the buzzer sounds.
Johnson has long been one of the league’s great clutch players. Iso-Joe dragged the Hawks to playoff success the franchise hadn’t seen in decades, helped carry Brooklyn to the second round in 2014, and even managed to average 12.1 points per game in the Heat’s playoff run a year ago. Since 2007, Joe Johnson has eight game-winning buzzer-beaters, the next closest players have four (LeBron James and Andre Iguodala).
Johnson loves playoff basketball, and it makes sense why. The game tends to slow down in the playoffs, meaning a player that moves at such a methodical pace as Johnson feels more at home than in an up-tempo contest. He loves the stage and relishes the chance to hit big shots. On a Jazz team that is devoid of ball dominant playmakers, Johnson can fill that hole when needed.
We learned in Atlanta that Iso-Joe can’t be the entire offensive system on a team that wants to go deep into the playoffs, but in a pinch, when everything else is failing, it will win you some games. The Jazz will hope that Gobert can return healthy and they can win games the way they did in the regular season, but it’s nice to know that if all else is failing they can break the emergency glass and trot Iso-Joe out to get some late game buckets and steal a win.