It was in the small print that most people missed. Joe Johnson, fondly known as Iso Joe for his isolation back downs, signed with the Utah Jazz after a year with the Miami Heat. Johnson is a NBA lifer, a sixteen year veteran from Arkansas, the 10th pick in the 2001 NBA Draft who Michael Jordan famously passed on and instead drafted Kwame Brown. Eight other teams passed on Johnson too. The only players picked ahead of him who are still in the league are Tyson Chandler and Pau Gasol. Both Chandler and Gasol are NBA champions. Johnson has had a much tougher road to get there. Honestly, the league has changed on him. Iso basketball is out. Space the floor D’Antoni ball is in. So here he is in Utah.
In the regular season, the seven time All-Star played 24 minutes but did not score ten points a game. But the Jazz didn’t bring Johnson in for the regular season but for times like this: you need a shot for a win in the playoffs on the road. You dribble and cut in the lane, go to your best iso move and get a floater to sink in. And in the process make Chris Paul go crazy.
Even Johnson was impressed.
“It’s right up there at the top, obviously” as far as his game winners.
The Jazz have a 1-0 lead against the Los Angeles Clippers, a 4-5 matchup.
Joe Johnson signed a two year deal that will end when Johnson is 37 years old. The contract isn’t prohibitive by any means, $10 million a year. What Johnson gives the Jazz is veteran experience and quiet leadership. He is a NBA lifer who has developed consistent and disciplined habits that young players need to have as a model on how to be a professional and stay in the game. Face it. Joe is a scorer and he has taken a lot of jump shots and his legs aren’t what they used to be and neither is his career. But this is also the truth of the NBA. When the playoffs start, things can change real quick.
Johnson’s shooting in the regular season was pretty consistent with what it has been the past few years, a 43% scorer. In his prime he was a 45% scorer so he really hasn’t fallen off that much. Same with his three. He is a career 37%-er and this season he made 41% which the Jazz desperately needed. He is not much of a ball mover anymore and was never Russell Westbrook in the paint hauling down rebounds. This year, his defense was the best it has been in six years.
In playoff game number one, Johnson shot 64% and 75% from three. He didn’t get to the line but he had 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. His 21 points was not a season high. On opening night, he put on a point fest in Portland. 75% shooting. 75% from three. Backing down and backing down and iso Joe at his best. He had 29 points in that game; twice more he had 20+ point games, once in New Orleans and the other against Minnesota.
He had a bunch of subpar games too. But it didn’t matter, the Jazz won. 36.4% vs. the team he torched on opening night. The Jazz won by nineteen. 12.5% vs the Wizards. The Jazz won by seven. 25.0% in Milwaukee. The Jazz won by fourteen. 14.3% in Atlanta, his old stomping grounds. The Jazz won by twenty five. Clearly the Jazz don’t need an efficient Joe Johnson.
Or do they?
Joe Johnson was signed so he would and could pay off in the playoffs. He has experience. He can perform under pressure. He can have one of those iso Joe games where he makes shot after shot after shot. He has seen it all and nothing fazes him at this point. It doesn’t matter if he starts or not. He will finish some playoff games. The Jazz will need his calmness and leadership.
He checked all the boxes in game one.
The Jazz have a young star in Gordon Hayward, an All-Star this year, a nice talent who likes the ball in his hands at the end of games. The last play was supposed to go through Hayward. But. A beautiful pick by Joe Ingles gave the job of stopping Johnson to average defender Jamal Crawford. It was go-time for iso Joe. This is the playoffs.
Teams are in the savior business. It can be the difference between going home or advancing. The Jazz will look to Johnson to deliver them with his jumpshot and his coolness under pressure. He has been there before. Many, many times. He doesn’t get rattled and he can score over defenders in the paint with his j. He is 35 but can score like he is 25.
Joe Johnson can still win games.
photo via llananba