By James Gleason (@Gleasonavenue)
It was a mid warm spring in 2014, the NBA season was over and for the first time since 2007 the Toronto Raptors were in the NBA Playoffs. It was a year of surprise and promise, Kyle Lowry was becoming the leader and heart of the Raptors we all know now and Demar Derozan was just starting to show that he can be the guy for Toronto when they needed him. Everything was going the Raptors way, and so I made my way to Maple Leaf Square, full of excitement and really not knowing what would happen. These Raptors have never been in the post-season, these Raps were not around when guys like Richard Jefferson and Dwight Howard were making it look like summer league against the Raps. That was a rough and uneasy time, because that team was suppose to be pretty good. A team with just getting really good Chris Bosh, tag teamed with suppose to be monster Jermaine O’neal was looked to be a dangerous team that choked when it got tough. So when they got almost swept by the Magic and a monster of a man Dwight Howard, it turned into years of futility and uneasiness. Chris Bosh eventually left town in 2010-2011, Jermaine O’neal eventually led down the old player trying to keep his career afloat road, playing for teams like Miami, Pheonix, and eventually Boston where he would retire. It felt like a century when the Raptors returned in 2014, so you can see the buzz around the city and you can see that as much as the leafs took control of the Square then, as soon as the Raptors gave us a promising product on the floor, the rabid fan-base people know now started to appear. The Raptors first playoff appearance in 6 years deserved a family of fans to watch outside the ACC to support this new yet recognizable feeling.
I had no real feeling heading down to the Square to watch game 1. I talked with people and met with people, eventually beginning a short lived friendship while we suffer and laugh through 48 minutes of action. But what we saw was a clinic by the Nets that saw them take game 1 in convincing and sad fashion. Like many fans heading into the ACC concourse as they head to Union Station, I was mad and frustrated but not because of the Raptors play, although that was also a major problem for them. It was because of number six on the nets, hitting post up floaters and off screen mid range jumpers like they were nothing. A vet of 10 plus years that has made his name notably in Atlanta, was making mince meat out of the Raptors and exposing both their youth, and unpreparedness. Joe Johnson was that player and the offensive driving factor for the Nets, as the Arkansas alum built a reputation as Iso Joe. He would make a living on isolations and mismatches, able to hit jumpers over top of guys or simply back them down till he can just simply lift the ball and score. Joe Johnson made it look easy on the Raptors and the Nets moved on and the Square was once again, empty and hopeless.
The versatility and real effectiveness is how Joe Johnson is able to still be around in the NBA and still be able to impact games and contribute in a scoring way. He can make any role he is given work, and he can be effective in those roles to the point when his teams often go to him for late time buckets. In a league that changes every day, a league this is as progressive and fast as it has ever been. Joe Johnson is still able to adapt, while also still sticking to what made him a seven time all star and a consistent threat, either off the bench or in a starting role. He sticks to his pace of slow and somewhat methodical ways of being involved in an offense, and so when the Jazz signed him at the start of the season it was a fit that made sense. This Utah Jazz team was a growing young team that relied on both young Center Rudy Gobert, to anchor the defensive side of things, and on the offence guys like Gordon Hayward to be the offensive threat he has grown to be. It was a talented and promising team, that still needed that vet to lead the way off the bench. Joe Johnson was the perfect fit, he had experience but also could still contribute in an offensive way that boosted the Jazz’s bench that was struggling to find a flow. Fast Forward to this years playoffs, and in a back and fourth game against the Clippers in the playoffs. Joe Johnson came up when it mattered like he has before, and hit the go ahead bucket for the Jazz to tie their series up against the banged up Clippers.
It was such a classic Joe Johnson bucket that made me both smile and laugh, and agonize a bit because it gave me memories of that Nets team in the past. A post up back down turned into a beautiful floater that hit nothing but net. He was as cool and collected as I have seen him, like he has done this before and he has. A professional at breaking hearts and ending teams did it again, and at 35 years young can still be so effective down low or beyond the arc. Old Man Joe can still go in a league where young and fast, along with a three point threat and multi- talented bigs have taken over. He has complimented his game with little adjustments, but never changed too much of what was working. A one on one master and a much improved post player leads Johnson to be able to still be involved in an offense, while constantly still being efficient in changing times. At 35 years young, Iso Joe Johnson is still proving he can provide offense off the bench for a young Jazz team while also, showing that he can take over late in games without slowing down or effecting the Jazz’s offence in a negative way.