Johnson Shines in First Game with Celtics

MIAMI – Brad Stevens told Chris Johnson that he was going to play Tuesday night.

He wasn’t kidding.

Johnson, who signed a 10-day contract with the Celtics on Friday and is listed as a guard/forward, made his first appearance with the Celtics Tuesday night in Miami. And he looked like a Sixth Man of the Year.

Chris Johnson challenges a shot by Rashard Lewis

Chris Johnson provided defense, hustle plays and 11 points during his first appearance with the Celtics.
Mike Ehrmann/NBAE/Getty Images

Stevens had planned on using Johnson against the Heat, but he hadn’t planned on using him for 24-plus minutes of action. Unexpected circumstances forced the coach to call an audible on those plans.

Boston opened up the game with only three true guards who were available to play. Those players were Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Phil Pressey. When Bradley went down early in the second quarter with a sprained ankle, that sliced the Celtics’ crop of true guards down to two.

Someone needed to step in, and that someone was Johnson.

“Unfortunately Avery went down and my name was called,” Johnson said after the game. “I was ready to come in and make a few plays and try to do everything to help the team win tonight.”

Lofty goals for a guy on a 10-day contract, right? Well, apparently he had plenty of reason to set the bar so high for himself.

Johnson entered the game for the first time just 70 seconds in the second quarter. The impact he made was so great that Stevens decided to leave him on the floor for the remainder of the period, to Johnson’s surprise.

Pressey checked into the game at the 5:34 mark of the third. Johnson began walking to the bench after realizing that Pressey was checking in. Then Pressey caught Johnson’s attention to give him a message along the lines of, “I’m checking in for Rondo. Coach wants you on the floor.”

“I was kind of surprised I stayed in,” Johnson said of that moment. “That shows the confidence coach had in me tonight and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

Part of the reason why Johnson has been given this opportunity is his jump shot. Rumors have been flying around the Celtics camp that Johnson has been showing off a sweet shooting stroke since joining the team on Friday. It didn’t take long for Johnson to show that stroke off after he checked into the game. He pulled the trigger on two smooth corner 3s in a span of two minutes that give the Celtics some much-needed juice.

“At practice they told me, ‘If you have a wide-open shot, knock it down and don’t hesitate,’” Johnson recalled. “That’s what I did.”

Take note that Johnson did a lot more than just knock down shots. He also provided a spark with his hustle and defense.

Johnson made at least a handful of plays that stood out to anyone who was watching Tuesday’s game. He crashed the glass for two offensive rebounds, one of which was an offensive putback midway through the fourth quarter, and grabbed three boards overall. He also ripped one steal and dove on the floor for a loose ball in front of Miami’s bench that wound up in his hands.

Those are the moments that the Celtics like to call “winning plays.” They are moments that can, and did, change the tenor of a game.

“Those are plays that really fire you up,” said Stevens. “Those are plays that you want to celebrate, but those are plays that you should do. It does inspire your team when that happens.”

Brandon Bass can confirm that statement. Just listen to the words he used to describe Johnson’s performance shortly after the contest came to an end.

“I thought he brought a lot of energy. Showed a lot of hunger,” Bass said of his newest teammate. “If he keeps playing like that, he’ll have a future in this league.”

Johnson is proud to show those characteristics off on a nightly basis. He has fought long and hard to get to where he is, and a 10-day contract only motivating him to provide even more energy and hunger to this Celtics team.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” Johnson said of those characteristics. “I’m a competitive player. I just do all the little things.”

Little things tend to add up over time. Johnson’s play was a key reason why the Celtics were able to erase the 14-point deficit they faced when he first checked into the game. He was a legitimate impact player for Boston just four days after joining the team.

What an interesting week it has been for Johnson. The ink on his contract may still have been damp, but Stevens told Johnson that he was going to play Tuesday night in Miami.

He wound up playing like a guy who belongs.