Leading up to his departure from the Celtics in 2009, members of the team’s front office said that Joe Johnson was a bad fit for the organization and wouldn’t be missed. Fast forward eight years later and he just led one of Boston’s most improbable playoff runs with 36 points against LeBron James on Wednesday night.,
Joe Johnson’s “fun” Celtics moment late in game vs. Cavaliers caps off ‘surreal’ journey back to NBA, as he scores 42 points and adds 10 assists.
12:00 a.m. ET
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps
BOSTON (CBS) — Joe Johnson hasn’t played in the NBA in 20 years, but he still understands how to score in isolation.
Over the course of his long and decorated NBA career, Johnson earned the nickname “Iso Joe” for his scoring prowess in those situations, and he scored the final points of Boston’s 111-101 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in fitting fashion: by burying an isolation jumper over Cavaliers forward Justin Anderson’s outstretched arm.
Ime Udoka, the Celtics’ coach, remarked, “We know what he is.” “‘Joe’s a bucket,’ everyone remarked as they entered [the dressing room]. That’s who he is and always has been, and he’s not going to change.”
The shot ended a tumultuous 24 hours for Johnson, who, at 40 years old, became the NBA’s second-oldest player (behind Miami Heat big man Udonis Haslem) and is the only active NBA player to have faced Michael Jordan.
He also set a new record for time between games with the same team by returning to the Celtics almost 20 years after the team that drafted him 10th overall in the 2001 NBA Draft traded him away a few months into his rookie year, as his 19 years and 308 days shatters the previous record of 14 years and 331 days set by Lakers center James Edwards.
“It’s incredible to be back here after 20 years,” Johnson added. “It’s still a little weird.”
As the NBA has been decimated by the omicron variety of COVID-19 during the last week, Johnson is one of several players who have earned offers to return to the league. Because so many teams have been severely depleted by players who have tested positive for the virus, the NBA has eased the requirements for signing replacement players through hardship waivers in order to assure that clubs have enough bodies to play.
Johnson has been working out with his 14-year-old son, who is a high school basketball player in Little Rock, Arkansas, and wondering whether he will get another chance to play in an NBA game. Johnson has been out of the NBA since the Detroit Pistons released him at the conclusion of training camp in 2019.
|Player/Team||Span of time (Yrs-Days)|
|Lakers’ James Edwards||14-331|
|Nets’ Bernard King||13-308|
|Warriors’ Chris Webber||13-289|
|Bulls’ Charles Oakley||13-190|
|Spurs’ Tony Massenburg||12-339|
|Lakers’ Trevor Ariza||12-249|
|Joe Johnson has been with the Celtics for 19 years and 308 days — Elias Sports Bureau|
And although he’s been on the court since then — he’s won two Big3 championships and represented Team USA in the AmeriCup this past February — Johnson confessed he wasn’t confident that he’d get another shot to play in the NBA.
“I wouldn’t say give up,” Johnson remarked, “but I didn’t have big aspirations.” “My 14-year-old kid keeps me in the gym. We work and work and work, and I tell him all the time, ‘Just work.’ You simply have to keep working even if you can’t see what’s coming next.’”
Johnson was given another chance as a result of the influx of replacement players returning to the NBA. He received a call from his agent, Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management, while sitting with his 8-year-old daughter on Tuesday.
Schwartz advised him to be prepared and that he may get a call from the Celtics. He received the call less than an hour later, and was instructed to board an aircraft to Boston that would take around three hours.
“For me, it was a no-brainer,” Johnson added. “I’m a man who takes good care of himself. I’m in decent physical condition. As a result, I felt prepared to take on that task.
“So [my agent] inquired as to my thoughts, and we continued on our way. I’m prepared for everything that comes my way.”
Before the game, Udoka downplayed expectations, saying the goal in bringing in veterans like Johnson and Miles was to have veteran experience on the bench and to keep playing the team’s young rotation players like Payton Pritchard, Aaron Nesmith, and Romeo Langford while Boston is dealing with several COVID-19 absences.
After being serenaded by “We Want Joe” chants from the TD Garden crowd, Udoka inspired a standing ovation by sending Johnson to the scorer’s table with 1:57 remaining in the fourth quarter, giving him his first NBA appearance since playing a few minutes in Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals for the Houston Rockets.
“Obviously, I heard them,” Udoka stated. “I would have sent him in sooner if the advantage hadn’t dwindled to maybe 12 or so, but it was the goal to get those guys some run if at all feasible.”
When Johnson returned to the floor after three years away, he looked exactly the same as he had throughout his NBA career. He seemed to be in excellent shape, as he said that he has been working out with his kid and that he continues to practice the hot yoga sessions that he did during his time with the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets.
“If you ask me, he’s still got a lot in the tank,” said Jaylen Brown, who led Boston with 34 points and grew up watching Johnson play for the Hawks. “I’ve seen him in the Big3, I’ve seen him before that, and I’ve seen him grow up, and he still seems like he’s got something left in the tank, so I’m thrilled to have him on board, to hear his voice, to have his counsel… I think it’s fantastic.”
After deferring to the other players on the floor for a couple of plays, the Celtics made sure Johnson got it on what turned out to be Boston’s last possession of the game. Johnson took a screen from center Bruno Fernando, snaked to his left, got Anderson onto his left hip, and then rose up and let it fly with a high-arcing midrange shot, like he had done so many times before.
And, like he had done so many times before, the shot quietly dropped right into the hoop, eliciting boisterous celebrations that might have been misinterpreted as a game-winner.
Johnson said, “This is a pick-and-roll league.” “It’s difficult to stop people like that if you perfect the pick-and-roll and get to your areas — particularly your nice ones.” Especially when you can turn it into a play. That is something I never lose sight of, and have never lost sight of. I can tell how they play pick-and-roll just by watching the game. You either have to survive or play the midrange game or the floater if I’m in the pick-and-roll.
“Fortunately,” he said, laughing, “it went down.”
It was a lighthearted moment in an otherwise gloomy game between two teams suffering with several absences due to COVID-19 in the midst of a tumultuous NBA season. Joe Johnson, on the other hand, saw it as yet another opportunity to prolong his NBA career, one that he was pleased to have in front of him, regardless of the circumstances.
“It’s kind of odd to have people yelling my name like that,” Johnson said. “Obviously, we want to win first and foremost, but to come in and be somewhat effective, that’s exciting.” “At my age, guy, all you can do is try to savor every minute, appreciate the process, and live in the present.”
“I’m doing something similar right now, simply living in the present. It’s also enjoyable.”
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