If you flip on the game at just the right moment, you might confuse the Clippers-Jazz series for pickup ball at a ritzy nursing home. Witness Jamal Crawford (37), Paul Pierce (39), and Joe Johnson (35), all getting serious minutes in a closely contested playoff series. And in Johnson’s case, not merely getting run, but keeping a team afloat: he’s been pouring in 19.3 points a game for the Jazz, including a buzzer-beater to steal Game 1. With lead scorer Gordon Hayward out with food poisoning, the Jazz relied on Johnson’s 28 points, five rebounds and five assists to even the series at 2-2 last night.
Through the first half, Crawford looked like the best of the pre-retirement set, as he lit up for 15 points in 15 minutes. (He’d finish with 25 points, on 9 of 12 shooting.) But Johnson kept using his 240 pounds to back down his man—the increasingly skeletal Crawford, or Pierce, or Luc Mbah a Moute—steadily grind his way into the paint, and nail turnarounds and neat little floaters. And the Clippers had very few answers: he shot 12-of-17 in his 35 minutes off the bench. By the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, Johnson attracted so much of the defense’s attention that he could regularly find open men from three (Rodney Hood once, Joe Ingles twice), helping the Jazz wedge open their slim lead to win 105-98.
These are the days of crisp ball movement and relentless three-point barrages, an era in which classic iso ball is sneered at, and usually for good reason. But that’s what makes Johnson’s work in this series all the more thrilling: Johnson is old and Iso Joe is anachronistic, but dammit if he isn’t proving that it can still be fun to watch a guy dribble the grip off a ball before finding the net.