Horry Scale

Horry Scale: Joe Johnson Beats Buzzer, LA Clippers In Series-Opening Win For Utah Jazz

Scott Howard-Cooper

A reminder on The Horry Scale: It breaks down a game-winning buzzer-beater (GWBB) in the categories of difficulty, game situation (was the team tied or behind at the time?), importance (playoff game or garden-variety night in November?) and celebration. Then we give it an overall grade on a scale of 1-5 Robert Horrys, named for the patron saint of last-second answered prayers.

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This is one of the primary reasons the Jazz signed Joe Johnson to a two-year deal last July. Not this exact play in this exact moment, because that would have been impossible to imagine from all those months away, but the moment. The playoffs, late in the game, on the road, dealing with adversity in the form of Rudy Gobert’s sprained left knee, Utah needing composure and execution in the few seconds that could alter an entire series – the decision in the offseason looks brilliant in the postseason.

Saturday night in Los Angeles was all about rewinding the clock, to the July free-agent decision and to Johnson in his 20s, not his 35 years old in the real world. It all came together when he cut through the Clippers defense and floated the ball beyond DeAndre Jordan’s outstretched arm for the basket at the buzzer that gave the Jazz a 97-95 victory after losing Gobert in the opening minute.

Johnson had 21 points. George Hill, about two weeks shy of turning 31, had 16. And Utah had a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Johnson has not hit many bigger shots since entering the league in 2001-02, a run that included 101 playoff games as the 4-5 matchup in the West began. Any buzzer beater is memorable. To do it on the postseason, in the challenging circumstances of Saturday, on the road and down a key player, that goes to a different level.

DIFFICULTY: Iso Joe, indeed. Johnson started far out on the left side, one-on-one against Jamal Crawford, and took Crawford off the dribble. Johnson got into the lane. Blake Griffin swiped at the ball with his right arm, sort of help defense. Then Jordan moved in position to protect the rim as Johnson tried to finish from just beyond the restricted zone. Johnson had to contend with three defenders and the clock and the high arc to loft the ball beyond the shot blocker. Tough shot. Close, but tough.

GAME SITUATION: The Jazz lost Gobert on the first possession, what could have been a major setback. (And still could be.) Chris Paul, his great finish to the regular season carrying into the playoffs, scored 10 straight points for the Clippers to help erase what had been an eight-point lead for Utah in the fourth. He also had the floater with 13 seconds remaining that tied the game at 95-95, setting the stage for Johnson and the final possession.

CELEBRATION: The Jazz were happy, rushing to Johnson and in some cases hugging the hero, but hardly turning it into some massive accomplishment. It was one huge game. But it was one game. They celebrated accordingly.

GRADE: Playoff game, on the road, CP3 taking over, Gobert hurt. Easy call. Five Horrys.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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