Ethan J. Skolnick

Ethan J. Skolnik: Miami Heat’s loss to Boston Celtics shows why team needs Joe Johnson

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade looses the ball while trying to cut between Boston Celtics' Jae Crowder, left, and Avery Bradley during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Boston on Feb. 27, 2016.
Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade looses the ball while trying to cut between Boston Celtics' Jae Crowder, left, and Avery Bradley during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Boston on Feb. 27, 2016. AP

How much would it have helped? There’s no way to know, not for certain, and it would be disrespectful to the scrappy Celtics to suggest otherwise. Yet undoubtedly, there were occasions — many, many occasions — during Miami’s damaging 101-89 loss Saturday, that Joe Johnson’s presence would have been most welcome.

An experienced ball-handler, which might have been useful as Miami was committing 20 turnovers, compared with just 11 for Boston.

A competent shooter, as Miami was making just 1-of-13 three-point attempts, allowing Brad Stevens’ squad to repeatedly pack the paint and throttle drives.

A late-game threat, as the Heat managed just seven points in the final 7:39, with a three-point lead becoming a 12-point defeat, to a team that overcame an off game from All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas (4-of-17 shooting) and was led by Marcus Smart’s 15 points.

Mostly, Joe Johnson would have allowed Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to sit Gerald Green, the reserve wing who repeatedly asserts that offense comes easy for him — and yet has gone a staggering 71 minutes, dating back more than three games, without a single score, missing all six of his shots Saturday while also managing to contribute nothing on defense or the glass.

So you can safely say there was only one good thing that happened Saturday, a Saturday in which the Heat dropped a game the players spoke of needing, because now the Celtics are two games ahead for the third spot in the East and have locked down the head-to-head tiebreaker.

That thing occurred roughly 90 minutes after the contest’s conclusion, after Goran Dragic (21 points, 9-of-15 shooting) and Dwyane Wade (19 points, 7-of-19) bemoaned the turnover trouble; after Hassan Whiteside (13 points, 15 rebounds, eight blocks) accused Smart of getting away “with some good flops at the end; there’s plenty of film that shows that’s what he [does]”; and after Luol Deng (who did post a fourth consecutive double-double) relayed that his swollen finger is still affecting his shot.

It happened after the Heat locker room cleared out, on social media, with Heat managing partner Micky Arison breaking the widely predicted news on Twitter — Johnson, the seven-time All-Star who had cleared waivers as expected during the fourth quarter, would be signing with the Heat, joining the team at Madison Square Garden for Sunday’s game against the Knicks.

Late Saturday night, it wasn’t entirely clear whether the Heat had surprisingly shelved its luxury tax concerns or had found a legal loophole to stay under the tax line, with the latter more likely, maybe by waiving injured Beno Udrih later this season.

Still, whatever the means, the end was clear and required: get some immediate help for a roster thinned out by ailment (Chris Bosh), injury (Udrih, Tyler Johnson) and cost-cutting (Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers before him). Although Bosh’s status remains unknown, teammates aren’t expecting his return this season. And even though Tyler Johnson, now traveling with the Heat following shoulder surgery, is ahead of schedule and increasingly hopeful of returning in April, that’s a supplemental rather than central addition.

Does the other Johnson — Joe — still qualify as the latter?

“They say he’s 34, huh?!” Wade asked.

Yes, seven months older than Wade.

“I’m old!” Wade said. “I thought Joe was 35 or something!”

Wade can still play, of course, even if Saturday wasn’t a stellar outing. Johnson can, too, though he’s not nearly what he was, not when he was averaging at least 18 points in seven consecutive seasons. Most encouraging: Johnson has shot 46 percent from three-point range since Jan. 1, while Green, in that same period, is at 27.1 percent and plummeting. Plus, Johnson, while hardly an elite defender at age 34, is still productive in the post (0.83 points per possession, just behind Bosh at .86 and Wade at .84 but ahead of Whiteside at 0.74), and has a history of making shots down the stretch.

“To have that guy on our team, it’s going to be awesome,” Dragic said.

Said Wade: “To put somebody on the floor that can shoot the ball, can score from different areas on the floor, making plays, it just adds to what we’re trying to do. Obviously, losing Chris right now, it’s another playmaker, another scorer. In games like this is when you really get to see that you miss your All-Star. But that helps.”

Wade certainly helped make this happen; he promised to “blow up” Johnson’s phone if the latter took a buyout from the Nets and acknowledged Saturday that he made sure Johnson saw constant correspondence in his in-box. His friendship with Johnson dates back to the 2006 FIBA World Championships, when the duo, plus LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony were, in Wade’s words, “inseparable,” with Johnson the quietest of the quintet. That’s when they started calling him “Joe Cool,” a moniker Wade used in his own tweet Saturday evening.

When the Heat was preparing in the 2014 playoffs for the Nets — a team that included old rivals Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett plus Deron Williams — Johnson was “the key,” according to Wade.

“Even when we played Atlanta in the playoffs, Joe was always the key,” Wade said. “Because he’s so versatile.”

For a Heat team missing a little of all Bosh offers, that makes him most welcome.

“They made the final run,” Deng said of what the Celtics did in this game.

They did, on a day the Heat made a move for the closing stretch of the season.

Sunday: Heat at Knicks

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; Madison Square Garden, New York.

TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).

Series: Knicks lead 60-51.

Scouting report: This is the final meeting between the teams this season, with the Heat leading 2-1. Miami will likely have Joe Johnson available. The Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis hasn’t shot well in the three meetings.

Related stories from Miami Herald