WALTHAM Just a couple weeks ago, Celtics coach Doc Rivers told CSNNE.com that JaJuan Johnson was "just an injury away from starting."
He wasn't kidding, apparently.
Kevin Garnett's hip flexor injury puts his status in question for tonight.
If Garnett is unable to play, the C's may very well call upon Johnson to get the starting nod. The Celtics may also consider Chris Wilcox, but Johnson appears to be a more likely starter if Garnett doesn't play.
Johnson told CSNNE.com that starting for the Celtics, this year, has not been something he has given a lot of thought to.
That makes sense.
Johnson's a four-year guy at Purdue. He's smart enough to figure out that multiple injuries, more than anything else, would thrust him into the starting lineup.
Still, that doesn't take away from the fact that lately, Johnson has played well enough to garner more minutes than his 7.4 minutes per game average. More playing time not only benefits Johnson, but also creates a stronger bond between the rookie and his seasoned teammates.
Against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, Johnson played a career-high 33 minutes and finished with 12 points, also a career high.
Johnson has done well with end-of-the-game, mop-up-duty minutes. But to play the way he did against a Chicago team that has been atop the Eastern Conference standings most of this season, was impressive.
"There's nothing like getting that game-day experience, and he's getting that," said Paul Pierce. "It's good to get him in there for some big games, like Chicago to where he's knocking down shots and playing well. When you do that, it creates confidence in the ball club. It also creates trust for the coaches, also."
That, much like Johnson's game, is very much a work in progress.
Johnson was one of the players that drew the ire of Doc Rivers in Boston's loss at Toronto last week. In the first quarter, Rivers called a time-out. Moments after the players returned to the floor, Rivers had to call another one because at least one player - Johnson was one of them - was not where he was supposed to be on the floor.
Rivers ripped into him and his teammates in a manner seldom seen publicly.
The 6-foot-9 forward seemed unaffected by Rivers' tongue-lashing, chalking it up to Rivers trying to bring out the best in him.
In the Bulls game, Johnson saw his role expand due to Brandon Bass being out with a left knee injury.
Johnson had a couple of rough moments in the first half defensively, but seemed to find his way in the second before finishing with a career-high 12 points.
It was a good game, and Johnson was appreciative of the opportunity to play major minutes. But it's in the past now. Johnson understands what he did in the past, won't do much for him on Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons.
"I just have to continue to play my game, help the team in whatever they need, and just be more consistent," Johnson said.