Celtics

Championship first, legacy second for Johnson

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Championship first, legacy second for Johnson

ATLANTA Joe Johnson's game has always spoke louder than the man, prompting some to wonder if he has the chops to lead a team deep into the playoffs.

The former Celtic understands that his play will go far in dictating whether the Atlanta Hawks can move past the Boston Celtics and into the next round of the playoffs.

For Johnson, every playoff win brings him closer to the reality that at some point, all the pull-up jumpers, the cross-over dribbles, the 3-pointers, it'll all be nothing but a memory.

He'll be 31 in June, making him old enough to at least contemplate his basketball legacy while still young enough to add to it.

Johnson said he hasn't given any thought to how he'll be viewed once his career is over.

"My main goal and the main thing I want to do now, is try and help bring a championship to Atlanta," he said.

For most basketball purists, the idea sounds just plain crazy.

This is Atlanta after all, a place where the road teams often feel at home with a crowd that on many nights, spends more time cheering for them than the home team.

Johnson's goal, while extremely difficult to fathom, isn't as off the mark as it might seem.

If the Hawks manage to get past Boston, they'll most likely face a Chicago Bulls team that will be without reigning league MVP Derrick Rose who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the closing moments of the Bulls' Game 1 win over Philadelphia.

For Atlanta to have such thoughts would be looking past the C's, something they have gone out of their way to avoid all weekend.

"You have to respect that team for who they are, and all that they've done," Atlanta's Josh Smith told CSNNE.com. "They've been where we want to get to, and that's win a championship."

The Hawks (then in St. Louis) haven't brought home a title since 1958 which they defeated the Celtics after Boston beat them for the C's first NBA title in 1957.

Since moving to Atlanta in 1968, the Hawks have never even been to the NBA Finals let alone winning it all.

"This city is well overdue," Johnson said.

The Hawks took a step towards that goal with an 83-74 Game 1 win over Boston on Sunday, a game in which Johnson only scored 11 points on 3-for-15 shooting which included him missing all nine of his 3-point attempts.

While it wasn't his best effort, Johnson's presence often creates scoring opportunities for his teammates which in essence, is what great players are supposed to do.

"He's one of the better one-on-one players in the league," Pierce said of Johnson. "He's right up there with (Oklahoma City's) Kevin Durant and Carmelo (Anthony of the New York Knicks)."

Like those players, Johnson is also seeking that first elusive championship - a pipe dream in the eyes of many when talking about the Atlanta Hawks.

Johnson doesn't mind.

All he knows is that the Hawks have the deepest bench they've had since he's been here, a much-improved point guard in Jeff Teague, and a maturing running mate for him in Smith who had 22 points and 18 rebounds in Sunday's win.

Slowly but surely, he's starting to see an Atlanta franchise putting together the kind of pieces that can do more than just get to the playoffs and win a series or two.

And if they were to do the seemingly impossible and break the 64-year title drought, it would indeed provide a sizable brick towards building a case for him as one of the NBA's better players once he's done playing.

"A championship would solidify a lot," Johnson said. "Would I be satisfied? No. But it would be a goal of mine."

Blakely's 2018 All-Star Game selections

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Blakely's 2018 All-Star Game selections

WALTHAM, Mass – With only a few hours remaining, fans will get one last shot at voting in this year’s all-star balloting. 

The NBA has tweaked the rules a bit this year which includes a component in which a select number of media members are included in the voting process.

I am fortunate to be among the voting media members this year. 

And while the league won’t reveal exactly who each media member voted for, I have no problem publicly announcing who my starting five in the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively, would be this season. 

But before I do that, I need to explain my criteria for picking the starters. 

First and foremost, they have to be players who clearly impact winning and their team’s success. 

Most of the time, this is pretty apparent when you look at the numbers they post on a night-in, night-out basis. 

But every now and then, there’s a player whose numbers don’t speak to their impact on the court (yes, I have one guy in my starting five who falls under that category).

While most of the selections were relatively easy picks, the Western Conference was tricky because of the insanely elite depth in the backcourt.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook are all worthy of having all-star starter status. 

But because only two guards can be picked, one of them will continue to be left off until all-star selections become position-less picks akin to the way the game is being played these days. 

 In addition, you have players like Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler who would have been a starter on my ballot if it wasn’t for the fact that the 6-foot-8 Butler is listed as a guard and not in the frontcourt.

And with that, here are my all-star selections for the Eastern and Western Conferences which includes my honorable mentions (aka likely all-star reserves).

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

GUARDS

Kyrie Irving, Boston: A four-time all-star, Irving has been the ultimate difference-maker for a Celtics team that has been among the NBA’s top teams most of this season. 

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto: One of the best scorers in the NBA, DeRozan’s play has elevated him to being in the league MVP conversation this season.

Honorable mentions: Victor Oladipo, Indiana. Bradley Beal, Washington. Kemba Walker, Charlotte. John Wall, Washington.

 

FRONTCOURT

LeBron James, Cleveland: At 34 years young, James seems to be getting better with time. Now the rest of the Cavs … that’s an entirely different story.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee: The Greek Freak train has slowed down some, but he’s still one of the best stat-stuffers in the NBA.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia: There are a handful of players on the cusp of being named to their first all-star team. You would be hard-pressed to find someone more deserving than Embiid this year.

Honorable mentions: Al Horford, Boston. Kevin Love, Cleveland. Kristaps Porzingis, New York.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

GUARDS

James Harden, Houston: A hamstring injury has him currently sidelined, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that he ranks among the league’s top 10 in scoring (32.3), assists (9.1) and steals (1.8) per game.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City: Tough call between Westbrook and Curry. But ultimately, it was Westbrook tallying 13 (and counting) double-doubles to include at least 20 points scored, and Curry missing 14 games this season that ultimately tipped – just barely – Westbrook ahead of Curry. 

Honorable mentions: Stephen Curry, Golden State. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota. Klay Thompson, Golden State. 

 

FRONTCOURT

Kevin Durant, Golden State: In what will be a ninth straight all-star selection, Durant is having a pretty standard season of elite play, averaging 26.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists along with a career-high 2.1 blocked shots per game. 

Anthony Davis, New Orleans: The Pelicans are winning and definitely on the rise, and part of that certainly has to do with Davis being a more efficient scorer. He averages 26.7 points per game while shooting career highs from the field (56.6 percent) and 3-point range (36.1 percent).

Draymond Green, Golden State: Easily the toughest call of all my selections, my preference was to have 6-8 Jimmy Butler of Minnesota here. His leadership, versatility and presence have been at the heart of Minnesota’s resurgence into a legitimate playoff contender this season. But Butler is listed as a guard and there’s no way I could have him start and have Westbrook or Harden come off the bench. Butler’s teammate Karl-Anthony Towns is a logical option to be the fifth starter, and I went back and forth between him and Green. There’s no question that Towns has the better statistics. And if it were only about stats, then you would have to throw New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins into the mix as well. I’m a big believer that every all-star game should have at least one guy in it who is being rewarded for being an ultimate glue-guy, a player whose statistics consistently come up short when compared to his impact on winning. You can find better players talent-wise than Green, but those who impact winning? Not so much. And as much as the all-star game is a celebration of the NBA’s most talented players, there should always be room for at least one player who significantly impacts winning. And as you look around the NBA, that talent sets Green apart from most. 

Honorable mentions: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota. DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio. Nikola Jokic, Denver. Paul George, Oklahoma City.

Horford and Tatum return to practice

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Horford and Tatum return to practice

WALTHAM, Mass. – The extra days of practice could not have come at a better time for the Boston Celtics, with key players sitting out to rest their bumps and bruises leading up to Tuesday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Both Al Horford (left knee/calf injury) and Jayson Tatum (left knee) returned to the practice floor on Monday after missing practice on Saturday.

“It’s responding better,” said Horford who plans to play against the Pelicans on Tuesday. “I’m excited for the game tomorrow.”

Tatum echoed similar sentiments.

“It’s feeling a lot better. I just tweaked it in the game in London,” said Tatum who like Horford, confirmed he too planned to be in Boston’s lineup against New Orleans. “And on a long plane ride, it got stiff. We had a few days off from practice. They just told me to rest the other day in practice.”

Monday was Boston’s second practice since returning to town following their five-day London stay which included an 11-point win over Philadelphia last week which extended the Celtics’ winning streak to seven in a row and improved their East-leading record to 34-10.

The added time in between games will provide Boston an opportunity to tighten up a couple areas of slippage that, while haven’t factored heavily in terms of wins and losses, has made finding success tougher than needed.

In their 114-103 win over Philadelphia on Jan. 11 at The O2 Arena in London, Boston trailed by as many as 22 points before rallying in the second half in which they led by as many as 19 points.

Horford had 13 points and eight rebounds in the win over the Sixers, while Tatum had 16 points – 11 coming in the third quarter.

Both played key roles in last week’s win, and their value remains high heading into Tuesday’s game against the Pelicans.

The timing of Tatum and Horford’s injuries not being serious comes when the Celtics are just starting to become whole.

Terry Rozier is playing some of his best basketball of the season lately. Daniel Theis and Aron Baynes are steady contributors defensively as well as on the boards.

And Marcus Morris, who has spent most of this season either injured or playing with a minutes restriction, played with no limitations last week in London and delivered one of his best games of the season.

Morris came off the bench to score 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting to go with eight rebounds in helping Boston come away with the win.

“It really is about the five on the court,” Baynes told NBC Sports Boston. “No matter who they are, we all know we got a job to do and we do it well, really well, together.”

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