Amir Johnson an underappreciated contributor for Celtics


Amir Johnson an underappreciated contributor for Celtics

INDIANAPOLIS -- As the turmoil surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers and Nerlens Noel continues to heat up, the Boston Celtics will continue to be a team talked about as a possible trade partner.
The premise is that Noel has tremendous upside, versatility and could use a new home and the Celtics would be looking at an upgrade because more likely than not, his arrival would signal Amir Johnson’s departure.
But here’s the thing: Noel’s talent is in large part based on the potential he has shown as a rim-protecting shot-blocker with an offensive game that has shown signs of growth.
Johnson’s game isn’t about scoring or blocking shots or any of that stuff that fans and the media obsess about when comparing players.
In his 12th season, there’s a reason why the 6-foot-9 veteran has been in the NBA for so long despite not ever being considered an elite scorer, rebounder or lock-down defender.

 “He doesn’t care about numbers; never has,” an assistant GM that tried to trade for him when he played for Toronto, told CSNNE.com. “All he wants to do is win games, and he figured out real quick he can do that by just being an energy guy who can run the floor, defend and grab some rebounds. Teams that win and win consistently, they almost all have an Amir Johnson-type player.”
Which is why as much as the Celtics are interested in bolstering their roster, there’s no indication that they are in a hurry to jettison Johnson off to another team to make that happen.
That point is driven home even more so now that the Celtics’ preferred starting five -- Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Johnson and Al Horford -- are all relatively healthy and have had some time to play together.
Boston (16-12) now has the third-best record in the East, fueled by a three-game winning streak which has included some memorable performances like Isaiah Thomas’ 44 points, a career-high, in Boston’s 112-109 overtime win at Memphis.
But even in that win, Johnson’s imprint was felt on hustle plays such as sealing off his man to allow Avery Bradley to swoop in for a rebound, or being a central figure in Memphis’ Marc Gasol needing 22 shots (he made 8) to score 24 points.
Johnson is well aware of his critics who don’t believe he contributes enough to the Celtics’ success. But he knows -- and just important, his teammates know -- how important Johnson’s job is to the team’s success.
“I’ve been in the league long enough to recognize and know what it is,” Johnson told CSN’s Kyle Draper. “It doesn’t bother me as long as we’re winning games. When we lose, that bothers me. As long as we’re winning, everybody is happy.”
One of Johnson’s biggest fans on the Celtics roster is Avery Bradley.
Following Boston’s 105-95 win at Miami earlier this week, a game in which Thomas had 23 points, Bradley himself had 20 and Al Horford (17 points, seven rebounds and eight assists) had a near triple-double, Bradley singled out the play of Johnson as being one of the game’s biggest keys.
In that game, Amir had an offensive rebound percentage of .118 which was tops on the team and his overall rebound percentage of .148 also led the Celtics.
“Amir makes a lot of winning plays,” Bradley said at the time.
When asked about Johnson’s value, Bradley replied, “it’s big time. I tell him that before every game, your energy gets us going. He does all the little things. He’s always diving on the ball. He’s boxing out for us to get rebounds. He’s running the floor, getting us open shots. He helps our team out so much. It’s not in the box score, but we appreciate him. He helps our team out a lot.”
Johnson has been particularly strong for the Celtics when it comes to contesting shots this season.
Because of the nature of the NBA, big men have to defend the perimeter as well as the paint in order to be effective.
This season, opponents are shooting 8.5 percent less from 3-point range against Johnson than what they shoot normally.
You see similar dips when Johnson is contesting two-pointers (3.0 percent drop), shots less than six feet from the rim (5.9 percent drop), less than 10 feet (2.7 percent drop) and shots greater than 15 feet (8.3 percent drop).
Those numbers speak to the versatility that Johnson has delivered defensively this season for the Celtics.
And he does this with the knowledge that some games he’ll start and play limited minutes, or potentially come off the bench as he did earlier this season against Houston.
Brad Stevens recently indicated that there might be more games later this season in which he’ll bring Johnson off the bench and have him replaced in the starting lineup by Jonas Jerebko.

Like any player, Johnson wants to play as much as he possibly can, every game.
But he understands why Stevens will make that decision and just as important, so do his teammates which Johnson believes is key to making such sacrifices work.
“As long as everybody buys in to what our strategy is, it’ll be fine,” Johnson said. “We have to all have a collective team effort just to buy in and do our job. Once we do that, we’re gonna go a long way.”

Jayson Tatum comes up big vs Paul George, Thunder

Jayson Tatum comes up big vs Paul George, Thunder

BOSTON – Jayson Tatum had another strong performance for the Boston Celtics, doing so against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Paul George, a player Tatum has acknowledged on more than one occasion he has looked up to. 

That admiration didn’t get in the way of Tatum delivering a big-time performance in helping Boston rally from six points down with 12.7 seconds to play, to knock off the Thunder 100-99.

Tatum tallied a double-double of 23 points and 11 rebounds. And doing so at 20 years and 17 days old, Tatum became the youngest player in franchise history to tally at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in the same game.

“It feels good,” Tatum said when asked about his first 20-plus point, 10-plus rebound game in the NBA. “But honestly, I’m just glad we won. That was a big win against a great team and it was fun playing out there today.”

Impacting the game on multiple levels offensively along with being a defensive and rebounding force are qualities often associated with George who became familiar with Tatum prior to last June’s NBA draft which is when the Celtics selected him with the third overall pick. 

“I reached out to him before he was coming into this draft and I got to talk to him,” said George, who had 24 points and a game-high 13 rebounds against the Celtics. “It’s an honor when you see young talent. I‘ve been inspired by many in this league so it’s great to inspire the younger generation in this league.”

And while Tatum may be young, he continues to prove himself up for whatever challenges await him. 

“We are going to keep throwing to the wolves and keep going to him in those moments,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.

Boston closed out the game with an 8-1 spurt in the final 24.7 seconds, with Tatum either scoring or assisting on five of those points which includes assistant on Marcus Morris’ game-winner.

Tatum’s composure down the stretch comes from being influenced by many, including George who considers it “an honor” that Tatum holds him in high regard. 

“At the end of the day, us veteran guys want the younger guys to take the game further and advance much farther than what I was,” George said. “There’s going to be kids looking up to Jayson (Tatum) that are probably already looking up to Jayson (Tatum).”


NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Kyrie Irving getting second opinion on injured knee

NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Kyrie Irving getting second opinion on injured knee

1:15 - A. Sherrod Blakely joins Gary Tanguay and Trenni Kusnierek to discuss Kyrie Irving getting a second opinion on his injured knee and what the Kyrie’s options are for the remainder of the season.

5:53 - Kyle Draper and Brian Scalabrine break down the Celtics stunning last second comeback win over the Thunder with multiple key players sitting out.

10:27 - Tom Curran and Jerod Mayo stop by Early Edition to play a game of Fill in the Blank that involves Gronkowski’s contract and the Patriots best offseason acquisition.