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.”

Doctor: Irving could return in 'three to four weeks'

Doctor: Irving could return in 'three to four weeks'

Kyrie Irving could be back on the court in time for the Celtics to begin the playoffs.

Or not.

Irving will have what the Celts are describing as a "minimally invasive procedure" on his injured left knee Saturday. NBC Sports Boston talked to Dr. Christopher Chihlas from Southcoast Health -- who has not examined Irving but is familiar with his type of injury -- about how long Irving may be sidelined.

"A minimally invasive procedure is basically an arthroscopy," said Dr. Chihlas. "His return to play is mostly dependent on what is done . . . If it's just a cleanout, as we're being told, then -- best-case scenario -- we could see him back playing in three to four weeks."

But, he added, "it could be double that . . . depending upon what exactly is found . . . 

"The key here is the patella fracture (which Irving suffered during the 2015 playoffs). My feeling is that he's suffering a bit of the consequence of the patella fracture, which is a fracture into the knee joint . . . [He] may need to have this done periodically to get him through the rest of his career."


Terry Rozier's rise should continue without Kyrie Irving

AP Photo

Terry Rozier's rise should continue without Kyrie Irving

When it comes to Western Conference powers, the casual NBA fan will immediately think of the defending champion Golden State Warriors, or the Houston Rockets who loom as their biggest threat. 

And then there’s the next-best team in the West, Portland, which has been sneaky good this season with very little fanfare. 

Boston will see first-hand just how talented the Blazers are when these two square off tonight.

Portland’s improved play of late (they’ve won 13 of their last 14 games) is fueled in large part by them taking more 3-pointers. 

Prior to Jan. 1, the Blazers averaged 24.6 three-point attempts which ranked 26th in the NBA. Since then, they have increased their 3-point attempt average to 30.5 which ranks 12th in the league.

Couple that with a defense that has been among the league’s best most of this season, and voila! – you’ve got a team that’s playing great basketball at just the right time. 

But the Celtics on many levels, while undermanned because of injuries, are still an elite team defensively.

And the one area where Boston has been strong all season, is defending the three-point shot.

Opponents are shooting a league-low 34.1 percent against Boston from 3-point range this season.

And while Boston’s defense isn’t the same when you’re talking about not having a Marcus Smart in the lineup, the Celtics are still a formidable foe at that end of the floor. 

In Boston’s last four games, all without Smart, Boston’s defensive rating is 98.8 which is good for the fourth-best in the NBA in that time period. 

“We’ve been a next man up kind of team all season,” Boston’s Semi Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “That’s why it’s important to always stay ready. Because you know at some point on this team, you’re number’s going to be called and you’ll get your opportunity.”

Here are five under-the-radar story lines as the Boston Celtics seek to continue their strong play this season against Western Conference foes, at Portland. 



Terry Rozier has been a different kind of player ever since he got his first start a few weeks ago filling in for Kyrie Irving. The third-year guard has scored in double figures 20 straight games, a career first for him. In that span he has averaged 15.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 41.9 percent from the field and 42.7 percent from 3-point range.


If tonight’s game plays out as expected, points will be at a premium. Boston has the league’s top-ranked defense (101.2) even as its defensive rating has slipped to No. 5 in the league (103.1) since the all-star break. Meanwhile, the Blazers have the seventh-best defensive rating (104.3) this season, but are third (101.0) in the NBA since the all-star break.


You will be hard-pressed to find a player who wouldn’t mind a little rest with the playoffs less than a month away. But are a couple days without games too much rest? It certainly looks that way for the Celtics who are 4-6 this season with two or more days of rest before a game. The Portland Trail Blazers are at the opposite end of the success spectrum with a 10-3 record when they’ve had two days of rest before a game. 


Both Boston and Portland have been among the NBA’s better defensive rebounding teams all season. But they have each stepped up their defensive rebounding play this month. Portland, the fourth-best defensive rebounding team this season, have grabbed a league-best 83.2 percent in March while the Celtics, the sixth-best defensive rebounding team this season, are up to No. 3 (80.6 percent) this month.


Jayson Tatum is nearing the end of one of the best rookie seasons by a Boston Celtic ever, well on his way to statistically cementing himself as one of the franchise’s best first-year players ever. The 6-foot-8 forward is 35 points shy of tallying 1,000 points which would make him the ninth rookie ever to do so for Boston, with the last to do so being Ron Mercer during the 1997-1998 season.