Amir Johnson brings Celtics playoff experience

Amir Johnson brings Celtics playoff experience

ATLANTA – Amir Johnson is no stranger to being part of teams that make deep playoff runs.
Drafted in the second round by Detroit in 2005, Johnson’s first two seasons ended with trips to the Eastern Conference finals.
Back then, Johnson was along for ride when the playoffs rolled around.
Today, he’s one of the players Boston is counting on to steer them in the right direction against Atlanta, beginning with Game 1 of their series tonight.
This type of playoff series is why the Celtics were willing to sign Johnson to a two-year, $24 million contract this past offseason. The deal includes a team option for the second year. And while Johnson had a solid, but far from spectacular, regular season, a strong showing in this series will go far in improving the likelihood that Boston will pick up the second year or that he will have done enough for another team to be willing to offer him an eight-figure salary as the Celtics did last summer.
Johnson’s role in this series is so vital because of the one man – Paul Millsap – who has brought down a reign of terror on the Celtics consistently in the regular season, in which the Hawks prevailed in three of the four matchups.
Against the Celtics, Millsap has averaged 22.5 points and 10.3 rebounds, with his scoring average against Boston being higher than it is against any other team Atlanta played at least four times this season
“He definitely plays well against us,” Johnson told CSNNE.com. “With me guarding him, I just have to take the initiative of trying to shut him down. Everybody on this team has a job to do. I take it personal myself to be one of those guys that shuts him down.”
While Johnson said he doesn’t feel any added pressure to perform well in the playoffs, he does embrace the fact that his level of responsibility is light years beyond what it has been in previous playoff series.
While in Detroit, Johnson did not play in the postseason as a rookie or in his second season, when the Pistons advanced to the conference finals in each of those seasons. In his final two seasons with the Pistons, he appeared in 11 playoffs games primarily as a guy at or near the end of the bench.
Johnson had a more prominent role in Toronto, but again was not considered one of the keys to their chances at a long postseason journey.
Having been in the postseason in various capacities as a player, provides him with a perspective that should bode well for both him and the Celtics.
“Just not being nervous or scared of the bright lights; understanding it’s a whole new season,” Johnson said. “Every game counts. To win, you have to play with a lot of integrity, just impose your will on everything, doing what it takes to win.”
And against the Hawks, it will require the Celtics to do a much better job in defending Millsap.
Knowing how well Millsap has played against Boston, Johnson understands all eyes will be on him often in this series.
And while it is different than the postseason role he has had with previous teams, it’s an envious position to be in for a player who loves to compete.
“Knowing my game and knowing I play hard, I know what to do,” he said. “Round one, Round two, no pressure.”
Johnson added, “This best shows what kind of player you are, what kind of team you are. Everybody pays attention to the postseason; paying attention to detail, understanding where your basketball IQ is; knowing the plays. Taking the extra step... there’s a lot of stuff that goes into the postseason. It is win or go home.”

Irving, Brown out again for Celtics tonight vs. Thunder

Irving, Brown out again for Celtics tonight vs. Thunder

BOSTON – The injury report remains the same for the Celtics who will enter tonight’s game against Oklahoma City with a roster that remains shorthanded.

In addition to Gordon Hayward (left ankle) who has been out all season, joining him on the inactive list tonight are Jaylen Brown (NBA concussion protocol); Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness); Marcus Smart (right thumb sprain) and Daniel Theis (out for season after left knee meniscal tear surgery).

Only Irving and Brown are expected to return in the near future. Theis had his season-ending surgery last week, the Celtics continue to insist Hayward won't play this season and Smart has a shot at returning at some point in the playoffs as early as the latter stages of the first round or early in the second.


Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

BOSTON – With the NBA playoffs looming, this is a tricky time of year for most of the league’s playoff-bound teams. 

Both players and coaches want to head into the postseason well-rested. 

But they also want to be in a good playing rhythm.

MORE - OKC not taking shorthanded C's for granted

Injuries have forced the Boston Celtics to sit some players who are likely to be able to play (and well-rested) when the playoffs. 

And tonight’s foe, the Oklahoma City Thunder, are in a similar situation as well. 

“It's something you're walking a tightrope on all the time, where a guy is really rested but you've taken him out of rhythm,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “The biggest thing is, there's gotta be communication between the players and the medical staff, coaches, of where guys are, what they need.

Donovan added, “I think rest this time of year would help any player, but there's a balance between maybe getting too much rest and maybe getting out of rhythm. The players are always walking that line during the course of the year, because you kind of get into a rhythm of playing every other day, you get into that, and then there's a back to back here or there, and you get three games in four nights, but yeah. You try to best as you can with your players, help them balance that the best they can.”

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook can see how some players might need to strike a balance between getting enough rest late in the season while maintaining a good playing rhythm.  

So, I asked him which is his preference?

“I prefer to play,” he said. “Rhythm and all that (expletive), it’s in your mind.”

For Westbrook, maybe so. 

But it is very real to a number of players in the NBA, among them being his teammate and fellow All-Star Paul George. 

“If you know why you’re in the gym and the work you’re getting, you lock in,” George said. “You prepare, get your work done. And you get off your legs, get off our feet and get your rest. It’s easy to balance the two when you know what exactly you’re doing and you know exactly what you need to do.”

Boston has worked to strike that balance with Kyrie Irving all season.

That’s why the five-time All-Star is averaging 24.4 points per game which is 11th in the league. However, he’s doing it in 32.2 minutes which ranks 55th in the league in minutes played per game. 

Lately, Irving has gotten more time off than he would like as he deals with a sore left knee that has kept him sidelined for the Celtics’ last three games. 

It doesn’t appear to be something that will limit him now.

However, having him sit out games now increases the likelihood that he’ll be ready to roll at or near full strength, when the playoffs arrive. 

Boston is also playing without Jaylen Brown who suffered a concussion when he fell on his back following a dunk at Houston on March 3. He is expected to return at some point between now and the end of the regular season which could be a blessing in disguise for the 6-foot-7 Brown who will be called upon to not only remain Boston’s next-best scoring option to Kyrie Irving, but also defend at a high level. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged that they have given thought to how to find that happy medium between resting guys while ensuring as best they can, that players will be refreshed for the playoffs. 

“We haven’t been in that situation very often, where we choose to do rest except for that stretch in December when we rested Al (Horford),” Stevens said. “But everything else has kind of happened organically with guys being dinged up or whatever the case may be. I think that’s … we’ll probably be in a situation where we will continue to have those discussions.”