It’s early in the second quarter of Game 4 of the Heat’s playoff series against the Raptors, Miami’s Joe Johnson holds the ball a step inside the three-point arc, defended by Toronto’s Patrick Patterson.
“Take him, Joe!” a fan yells from the upper level of AmericanAirlines Arena.
Johnson does not “take” Patterson. Instead, he stops on a dime and fires a no-look bounce pass to a cutting Tyler Johnson, who finishes through contact for the basket and a foul.
“I’ve played many different roles in my 15-year career,” Johnson said after Game 4. “I enjoy it. … I love it.”
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Johnson took on a different role when he joined the Heat, but he’s still finding ways to impact the game at the most important moments.
In the past, Johnson has been the focal point of his team’s offense. He averaged 18 shots per game and made six All-Star teams during seven seasons in Atlanta, and he has made a league-leading seven buzzer-beaters during the past 10 years.
In Miami, Johnson is not the primary offensive option. Instead, he’s doing the little things, making a dazzling no-look pass or delivering an unexpected big-time block.
After blocking three shots in his first 34 games with the Heat, Johnson delivered two key rejections early in Monday’s overtime period, keeping the Raptors off the scoreboard until the Heat found its offensive footing.
2Blocks by Johnson in overtime of Monday’s Game 4 win. Johnson had just three blocks in his first 34 games with the Heat.
“We thought Joe was underrated as an on-ball defender,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Game 4. “Because of his length and his size, he can guard multiple positions. … He really stepped up with some big plays defensively.”
Said Johnson: “I take the challenge defensively of guarding my guy. I never want to be a liability on either end of the floor.”
We thought Joe was underrated as an on-ball defender. Because of his length and his size, he can guard multiple positions. … He really stepped up with some big plays defensively.
Erik Spoelstra, Heat coach
In this series, Johnson has been a liability from beyond the three-point arc, where he has missed all 13 of his attempts through four games.
The Raptors know this, so with the clock ticking down in overtime and the Heat leading by two, Patterson gave Johnson room to fire a long-range shot he has made countless times throughout his career.
“Considering that I haven’t made a three all series,” Johnson said, “I just wanted to be aggressive. Either get to the basket or get in the paint, kick it out, and make a play.”
Johnson got in the paint and kicked it out to Goran Dragic, who drove to the basket for the clinching score.
As unselfish as Johnson has been, he’s still capable of making a big-time shot. He pivoted through a double-team early in the fourth quarter for an and-one that gave Miami a brief 67-66 lead. He drained a fall-away jumper over the side of the backboard to extend the Heat’s lead to 87-83 two minutes into overtime.
Toronto expects Johnson to make those clutch baskets. As a member of the Brooklyn Nets, he made six in a row in the fourth quarter of a Game 7 victory over the Raptors. Earlier this season, he scored 28 points in Toronto, his highest output in a Heat uniform.
Johnson has not reached the conference finals since 2005, when he was a 23-year-old member of the Phoenix Suns recovering from a broken orbital bone. As he makes his ninth consecutive postseason appearance, it’s not about the scoring.
“I just always want to be effective when I’m out there,” Johnson said.
He will be even more effective if his outside shooting touch returns, but until it does, Johnson remains focused on the little things and hopes his new supporting role can take him back to basketball’s biggest stage.