Game Preview | A "Perfect" Teammate, Johnson Stays Ready
CAMDEN, NJ - Amir Johnson answered the bell. Then, at the end of the night, he got to ring one.
With the 76ers searching for a spark in a match-up with the Utah Jazz that very quickly and clearly established itself as a physical, grind-it-out affair, Brett Brown turned to the rugged, workmanlike Johnson midway through the first quarter, and the seasoned forward didn’t disappoint.
Subbing in at center for Joel Embiid, Johnson needed little time to make his presence felt. In less than 4 minutes, he managed to snag five rebounds, and scored on a putback, the basket ultimately proving to be the one that gave the Sixers the lead for good in Monday’s eventual 107-86 victory.
Later on, in the second period, Johnson was again summoned to spell Embiid, and provided another swift boost. In the span of about 3 and a half minutes, Johnson registered 3 more rebounds, blocked a pair of shots, and converted field goals on back-to-back possessions.
The latter of the two deposits put the Sixers back in control, 37-29, and prompted a Utah timeout.
Johnson went on to finish Monday’s game with 8 points, hitting all 4 of his field goal attempts. He also hauled in a season-best 13 rebounds, his biggest total since April of 2016, in a season-high tying 21 minutes, while turning aside 4 shots.
Afterwards, Brown gave the 30-year old Johnson the honor of ringing a miniature Liberty Bell inside the Sixers’ locker room, a new post-game practice the team has adopted this year following wins.
“I was hyped,” Johnson said with a smile, when asked about the bell.
“He was great,” said Brown.
The head coach specifically cited the importance of Johnson’s rim protection in a game in which Embiid’s availability was somewhat limited.
For Johnson, now in his 13th NBA season, he discussed Monday’s productive outing as if it were just another day at the office. He attributed his success to a battle-tested veteran approach - staying ready and sticking to a routine, all in hopes of being prepared, if called upon.
“That’s what I’ve been doing every game,” said Johnson, who this fall has averaged 4.7 points and 5.4 rebounds in 15.1 minutes. “Just come in with a mindset, come in prepared, knowing what I’m going to do, watching a lot of film on ways that I can help the team.”
While Johnson may not have seemed overly impressed by his own performance versus the Jazz, his fellow Sixers certainly were. JJ Redick, who joined the team as a free agent the same day Johnson did this past July, called the big man’s efforts “phenomenal.” Embiid tabbed Johnson Monday’s “MVP.”
“Right on,” said the mellow Johnson, a Los Angeles native. “I feel like my job is to find ways to help my teammates.”
Johnson’s well aware that minutes for members of the Sixers’ youthful core - blue chip prospects like Embiid and Ben Simmons - are a priority for the organization. This hasn’t bothered Johnson one bit. Regardless of when and how much he plays, Johnson still expects himself to be effective, and in doing so, has set an example from which younger players can learn.
“He comes off the bench, and plays well like that,” said Simmons. “He’s one of the leaders. He plays hard. He’s a great player.”
Of note, because of match-ups, Johnson received his second “Did Not Play - Coach’s Decision” the Sixers’ previous game Saturday. Both of his DNP-CDs came against the pace-pushing, floor-spacing Golden State Warriors. The proven Johnson didn’t make a peep.
He just went back to watching tape from the previous two games, trying to identify spots in which he could do better getting open, rebounding, and rolling to the rim.
“To be able to bring him in the game, and not worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots, isn’t ever on my mind with Amir,” said Brown, who did background research on Johnson this off-season by calling on some of his former players who had also played with Johnson. “He’s a perfect teammate. He’s a legitimate pro on and off the court. He’s a wonderful teammate.”
Monday’s victory captured some of the best of what the well-rounded, constantly upbeat Johnson has brought to the table.
The Portland Trail Blazers (10-7) have enjoyed a solid start to the season, and as a result currently find themselves tied for fourth place in the Western Conference. With Monday’s 100-92 victory at the Memphis Grizzlies, Rip City has won four of its past five games. During this stretch, Portland has limited each of its opponents to 94 points or less. As of Wednesday, the Blazers boasted the second-best defensive rating (98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) in the NBA.
• Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports app
• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network