Joe Johnson resurfaces, gives young Jazz leadership in the clutch

Iso Joe Making A Difference In The Clutch

When Joe Johnson made the move to Utah, it was hardly noticed. In fact, nobody really cared. Johnson was already 35 years old, had played 16 NBA seasons and appeared to be looking for a retirement home. Nine months later, Utah’s 2-year $22M gamble has paid off.

On Sunday, the Jazz won their first playoff series since 2010, beating the L.A. Clippers 104-91 in Game 7 of their first round playoff series. Utah was making its first playoff appearance since 2012 against a team that not only had home court advantage but a playoff-tested core led by Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford. Yet the Jazz overcame theses and the Game 1 injury to defensive cog Rudy Gobert to barge into the second round of the 2017 NBA playoffs.

Forget that it was Gordon Hayward who led all Jazz with 26 points in Game 7. Forget that Joe Johnson missed the potential game-tying three pointer that won Game 6 for the Clippers. The damage had been done.

Rebirth of Cool (Joe Cool)

The ability to create one’s own shot is one of the more difficult skills in basketball. In this era where the Warriors’ passing and three point shooting have dominated the league, one-on-one plays have taken the backseat during the regular season. But with teams putting a premium on defense in the playoffs, experienced shot makers are in high demand in the postseason.

Joe Johnson has earned the moniker ‘Iso Joe’ and ‘Joe Cool’ because of his expertise in isolation plays. He isn’t the strongest, quickest or most athletic guy out there, but Joe’s patience, understanding of spacing, handles and experience make him one of the most effective one-on-one scorers in the league. Johnson is only one of 42 players to ever score 20,000 career points, after all. 

The Jazz knew that and in Game 1, Quin Snyder went to Johnson with the game on the line. ‘Iso Joe’ responded and hit the buzzer beater that set the tone for the series. In Game 4, Johnson poured in 28 points including 12 in the final 7:37 of the game to lead the Jazz who played without Gordon Hayward in the second half. Johnson hit two big shots in the fourth period of Game 5, including a 13 footer with 19 seconds left that iced the game for Utah.

Joe Johnson By The Numbers

Coach Snyder upped Johnson’s minutes from 23.6 MPG during the regular season to 31.9 MPG against the Clippers. Iso Joe responded by increasing his scoring average from 9.2 PPG during the regular season to 15.7 PPG in the playoffs. Johnson also upped his assist average from 1.8 APG to 3.0 APG during the postseason. More importantly, he always came up big when the Jazz needed him most.

Johnson has the most clutch FGs during these 2016-17 playoffs with 8. That ties him with Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard who are both the main scorers of their respective teams. His 72.7 FG% in the clutch is the best among players who have at least 4 clutch FGs in the first round of the 2016-17 playoffs. Here’s another interesting stat: Joe’s 4 assists in the clutch are the most by any player in the current playoffs. Overall, Johnson was a +14 in plus/minus. Only LeBron James ( +16 ) and James Harden ( +15 ) had a more positive impact on their teams in the clutch.

Taking Notice

The Jazz face a mountain to climb next in the Golden State Warriors. But after eliminating the Clippers, you can’t really disregard them knowing their confidence is at an all-time high.

Utah has a young core composed of Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors. They also added a solid veteran scorer in George Hill and have promising international talents in Joe Ingles, Raul Neto and Dante Exum. This team has a good future under Quinn Snyder.  For now though, they’re enjoying their unlikely run and earning the much needed playoff experience, thanks largely to Joe Johnson.

They may come up short against the Warriors but the rest of the league has taken notice of the Jazz.

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