Joe Cool is Turning Back the Clock in Utah
During the 2016 off-season, the Utah Jazz quietly signed veteran swingman Joe Johnson to what seemed like, at the time, a generous 2-year, $22 million contract.
Some analysts were puzzled by Utah’s decision. Yes, the Jazz had a budding young core and were in need of some veteran leadership, but surely there were cheaper alternatives available. At the time, Johnson had just finished celebrating his 35th birthday and was coming off a season in which he averaged 12 PTS, 3 REB and 3 AST (arguably the worst since his rookie campaign), so it was fair to think the Jazz had perhaps overpaid for Iso Joe’s services.
Yet, here we are in April and it’s Johnson who is leading the Jazz is a fight for their playoff lives.
Through the first 4 game of the series, Johnson has undoubtedly been Utah’s most valuable player. It has felt as though he’s been involved in every single big offensive possession for the Jazz, including the buzzer-beating shot that won the first game of the series.
But Johnson is no stranger to big time plays. His name is never heard during conversations of the NBA’s most clutch performers, but perhaps it should be. As per ESPN’s Jon Kramer, no active player has more game-winning buzzer-beaters, than Joe Johnson. Johnson has also been (by far) the most clutch player in the 2017 NBA playoffs thus far, connecting on a ridiculous 85.7% of his shots during clutch moments:
Johnson hasn’t just been great it clutch situations. Through the Jazz' two wins against the Clippers, Johnson has been nothing short of amazing from tip-off to the final buzzer.
Coming off the bench in Game 1, Johnson torched the Clippers second unit to the tune of 21 PTS on 64% shooting from the field and 75% from the 3-point line. With Rudy Gobert suffering an injury early, Johnson was also the Jazz’ best player defensively, holding opposing players to just 96 points her 100 possessions.
During games 2 and 3, Johnson still played fairly well in losing efforts, averaging 14 PTS on 43% shooting.
Then in Game 4, with the Jazz’ best player playing only 10 minutes due to food poisoning, Iso Joe came back to life. Johnson was absolutely unstoppable scoring 28 PTS off the bench on 71% shooting from the field and 67% from distance. He added 5 REB and 5 AST for good measure as Utah tied the best of seven series at 2-games-a-piece.
With Blake Griffin out due to injury, Johnson took complete advantage of the Clippers in the post. It didn’t seem to matter who was guarding him – Paul Pierce, Jamal Crawford and Luc Mbah a Moute all tried, but none of them could cool Johnson down.
But even with his incredible performance, the game was neck-and-neck through three quarters. With 7 minutes left in the game and the Jazz trailing 87-80, 35 year old Joe Johnson put the Jazz on his back. Joe Cool went on a tear, scoring the Jazz’ next 11 points on 5 consecutive field goals. When the Clippers began to double team him, he moved the ball to an open teammate, assisting on Utah’s next 3 field goals. Then with 18 second left in the game, Johnson stepped to the free throw line and iced the game for the Jazz.
In total, Johnson either scored or assisted on 22 of Utah’s final 25 points.
On Tuesday, the Jazz head back to Los Angeles to try and steal another game on the road, and in my opinion, if the Jazz advance to the second round, Johnson will have earned every single one of those $22 million in this series alone.
Do you agree or disagree? Let me know on Twitter at @awrashoo