The Jazz pulled even with the Clippers at 2-2 in their first round series with a 105-98 win at home on Sunday night. Like in their Game 1 win over L.A., Utah turned to it’s veteran Joe Johnson to carry them to victory, and, as he did in that opener, he obliged with 13 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter.
From the 6:56 mark of the fourth quarter, when the Jazz trailed 87-80, to the 2:13 mark when Utah took a two-possession lead at 97-92, Johnson either scored or assisted on all seven baskets made by the Jazz. The first 11 of those came on five Johnson shots, and the final six were on two three-pointers via Johnson dimes. It was a virtuoso performance from the 35-year-old that most assumed was simply in Utah to collect two more years of checks.
Johnson had a different idea. He joined a Jazz team that lacked the thing he does best, and silently — as he is wont to do — became their secret weapon off the bench. Unlike the Hawks teams he used to carry into the playoffs, Johnson isn’t Utah’s best player. For most of the season he was content to pinch in a little scoring boost off the bench, but let Gordon Hayward and company run the show. This is the playoffs, though, where the Jazz, Johnson aside, are lacking in experience and need someone unafraid of either the moment or failing to go out there and get buckets.
That just so happens to be when Johnson shines brightest. This postseason, Johnson has been the best clutch shooter in the league by a fairly wide margin (not scorer, but shooter). When the game is within five points with five minutes or less remaining, Johnson has 13 points and is an absurd 6-of-7 shooting this series (85.7%). Johnson has the eighth-most field goal attempts in clutch situations in the postseason, but is second in made shots.
The only player with more clutch field goals than Johnson is Kawhi Leonard after his insane performance late against Memphis on Saturday, as Leonard is 7-for-11 (63.6%) with 21 points — the most of any player in the playoffs. Johnson’s counterpart in the Clippers series, Chris Paul, is no slouch either with 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting (60%) in clutch scenarios, matching Johnson for the second most made clutch baskets in the playoffs.
LeBron James (15), Russell Westbrook (14), and James Harden (11) all have far more attempts, but none of them are shooting better than 50% from the field in those scenarios (Harden’s 45.5% is the closest) or have as many made field goals as Johnson. James and Westbrook have each seen a significant drop-off in clutch efficiency in the playoffs, as Westbrook — who led the league in made clutch field goals with 82 on 44.6% shooting) — has fallen off to 28.6% shooting in the same situations this postseason. James, who shot an amazing 53% in clutch situations during the regular season, has also seen a drop off to 33.3% in the first round despite the Cavs sweep of the Pacers. Harden has actually improved in the playoffs off of his 35.5% shooting in the clutch in the regular season.
This isn’t to say Johnson is on the level of any of those players in any other capacity, but it’s incredible that at 35, he’s still the most effective clutch shooter in the NBA. In 2017, 10 years after he and the Hawks first emerged on the playoff scene, pushing the top-seeded Celtics to seven games, Iso-Joe still lives and still will give you buckets in bunches.