Johnson making case to stay on C's past 10 days

Johnson making case to stay on C's past 10 days
January 22, 2014, 12:30 am
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MIAMI — The fourth quarter of Boston's matchup with the Miami Heat had become a toss-up when Chris Johnson saw Rajon Rondo about to re-enter the game.

As Johnson made his way towards the bench, he was shooed back on to the floor as Rondo replaced Phil Pressey instead.

Johnson seeing his first action as a Celtic is one thing.

But for it to come against the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat, and for it to include more time on the floor in the fourth than any other Celtic in a tightly contested game?

This is not your typical 10-day contract experience (which began last Friday for those keeping track at home), for sure.

But Johnson, who finished with 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting in Boston's 93-86 loss, showed signs on Tuesday that he's not your run-of-the-mill 10-day contract performer, either.

He spent eight games with the Memphis Grizzlies last season, so it's not like he's in totally foreign land out there defending players like future Hall of Famer and former Celtic Ray Allen.

But Johnson played with the kind of composure that underscores the fact that he has a very small window of opportunity to make a lasting impression.

"I just tried to come in and provide energy, just do the little things," said Johnson who logged all but 18 seconds in the fourth quarter.

And it's those little things that mean a big deal to head coach Brad Stevens.

The usually cool-as-they-come coach was unusually animated after Johnson hustled down a loose ball.

"I almost dove on the floor too when he dove on that one," Stevens said. "It was huge. The rebound put-back was huge; just did a lot of good things. We've talked about this before. Those are plays you want to celebrate."

While Johnson's surprisingly strong performance came as a shock to many, Jared Sullinger has known of Johnson for years after having played against him in high school.

"That's what he does," Sullinger told CSNNE.com, referring to Johnson's effort. "He's known to out-work his opponent. That's what made him so good at Dayton."

Sullinger added, "He's a hard worker and he can shoot the (heck) out of the ball. Obviously, he's someone that we can use."

Although Johnson has never played for Stevens prior to signing with the Celtics, they too have a relationship that goes back to Johnson's high school days.

Stevens, then the head coach at Butler, spent some time recruiting Johnson

"He was always a serious-minded kid," Stevens recalled. "And he wanted to do really well. He was a guy that may have gotten overlooked in a lot of ways. Guys like that have chips on their shoulder and he played like that (on Tuesday)."

Johnson's first two shots of the night were corner 3s that he drained without hesitating to pull up for the shots. That's a bit unusual for guys on 10-day contracts who tend to overdue their willingness at first to fit in.

"With great guys like Rondo and leaders like Jeff Green, they told me if you have a wide open shot, knock it down," Johnson said. "Don't hesitate."

And it wasn't just his scoring that stood out.

On several offensive possessions, Johnson was one of if not the first player down court. And when the Celtics were in half court sets, he frequently made the right pass or hustle play that Boston needed.

Defensively, he fought over the top of screens while providing the man he was guarding little room to breathe.

It was the kind of Celtics debut that shows what can happen when perseverance and talent and opportunity decide to hook up.

"I've been playing basketball for a long time," Johnson told CSNNE.com Tuesday night following the Celtics' loss. "I'm not going to be hesitant to go out there. I'm not going to try and do too much, either. I'm just going to play my game. I just feel comfortable doing that."

And while it's way too soon to tell if Johnson's basketball odyssey will indeed result in him having a home here in Boston, he has seen enough to know that every opportunity he gets to play the game he loves is one to cherish.

His dream of playing in the NBA was almost deferred before it ever took off when he was coming out of high school.

Johnson told CSNNE.com that there was a state exam in Ohio that consisted of five parts that all had to be passed in order to graduate. One of the parts, the science portion, was giving him problems.

So instead of graduating on time with his classmates, Johnson had to take the test that summer.

While it may not seem that big a deal, Johnson knew that not passing the test might have prevented him from continuing to play the game he loves in college.

Dayton and Akron were the two schools the Columbus, Ohio-born Johnson was considering. Butler was in the mix as well, but Johnson said he didn't recall if the Bulldogs had offered him a scholarship.

After talking things over with his mother Nicole Johnson, he committed himself to putting in as much time as needed in order to pass the test.

And his hard work paid off.

"I'm not too good in science, but I was determined to pass that test," said Johnson, who went on to star at Dayton and graduated with a degree in Communications.

The work and time he put into passing that test, is similar to the way he approaches the game of basketball and how he attacked his first major test - the Miami Heat - since becoming a Celtic.

"You have to work hard, especially if you want to get here," Johnson said. "You have to work hard; just keep working. Not knowing when an opportunity is going to come, but you have to have faith and confidence in yourself when you're on the court."