Johnson struggling for Hawks and in the dumps


Johnson struggling for Hawks and in the dumps

ATLANTA If the Winnie the Pooh character Eeyore ever had an NBA equal, chances are pretty good it would be Atlanta Hawks swingman Joe Johnson.

Johnson sounded about as depressed as depressed can be prior to tonight's Game 5 matchup against the Boston Celtics who lead the best-of-seven series, 3-1.

Now Johnson wasn't expected to have an ear-to-ear grin or go on and on about how the Hawks are still good enough to win this series. But for Johnson and his seemingly always low-key demeanor, he sounded even more down-in-the-dumps than usual -- even when asked about something that should have brightened his day.

The Hawks are going to start Marvin Williams and Al Horford tonight, which means Johnson will move to the shooting guard position.

Not only will the 6-foot-6 Johnson have a size advantage over Boston's 6-2 Avery Bradley, but he also faces a player in Bradley who has health issues (sore left shoulder) that might limit his effectiveness when he's in the game.

That's great news about Marvin and Al back with the starting group, right Joe?

"Hopefully it works out for the best for us; at this point we really don't know," said Johnson, dejectedly. "Hopefully it helps."

According to Johnson, the Hawks starters haven't really been the issue in this series.

"Hopefully we'll come out with a better effort than we did in Game 4 and give us a chance to go back to Boston (for Game 6)," Johnson said.

Johnson acknowledged that lack of effort was indeed a problem in Game 4, and he's not sure it will be cured in time for tonight's Game 5 battle.

"We haven't had a game like Game 4 in quite some time," Johnson said. "It was mind-boggling. I couldn't get why we came out and played so poorly when we were so close in Game 3. I'm still puzzled from that. Hopefully Game 5 will be different."

While effort certainly has been an issue for the Hawks in this series, so has the inability of Johnson to elevate his game as Atlanta's primary scorer.

Johnson averaged 18.9 points per game during the regular season, one in which he was named as an NBA all-star for the sixth straight season. He's averaging fewer points (17.8) in the playoffs which unfortunately for the Hawks, is fairly consistent with how he has fared in the playoffs.

This is his seventh trip to the postseason, with him averaging fewer points in the playoffs compared to the regular season in four of the previous six postseason runs in Phoenix and now, Atlanta.

"All the guys that have defended him, have stepped up to the challenge," said Boston's Keyon Dooling. "We got great help defenders as well. KG is probably one of the best help-defenders; Rondo sees plays before they happen, so he's always talking, cating and mousing as well. He's (Johnson) the primary focus. We want to stop him, and so we're doing a pretty good job of it."

While Johnson's scoring is down, C's coach Doc Rivers believes those numbers are a bit deceiving.

"I wish there was a stat of points created," Rivers said. "With Joe, even if he's not scoring, he creates points for them. He makes you double team; we're loading to his side. And so when we count, we count that as a point scored for Joe. He's creating a lot of points for them still. He scores on his own; he makes tough shots and we've done a pretty good job with our double teams on him. But we still have to do a better job of eliminating the points that he creates. In all the games, he's done that very well."

But it won't mean anything if the Celtics win tonight and move on to the second round, which means the Hawks' season will end in the playoffs on their home floor for the fourth straight season.

Clearly that's not what Atlanta wants, even if there are few signs from the Hawks players that they indeed want this season to go beyond tonight.

When asked by a reporter if there was a sense in the locker room that tonight's game would be different, Johnson responded:

"Honestly, I'm not sure. Just have to wait until we get between the lines. It's easy to talk it, but it's different when you get on the court."

And with that, Eeyore . . . uh, I mean Joe Johnson, has spoken.

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

BOSTON – Facing Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook with a fully healthy squad is tough. 
Doing so without your leading scorer makes the challenge all that much greater. 
That is where the Celtics find themselves heading into Sunday night’s game against the Thunder without Isaiah Thomas, who did not travel with the team when they left for Oklahoma City today. 
Boston’s leading scorer this season with 26 points per game, Thomas suffered a right groin injury against Houston on Dec. 5 and has missed the Celtics’ past two games because of it. 
He was hoping to convince Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to let him travel with the team, but Thomas acknowledged convincing Ainge was a long shot. 
“He’s not really in favor of me going,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “I’m trying to convince them to let me go. If I’m there, they know I’m going to try and play. I’m shooting for Wednesday [at San Antonio] for the most part. That’s more realistic than Sunday. Hopefully I can play on Wednesday.”
Boston has split the two games with Thomas out, beating the you-know-what out of Orlando 117-87 on the road, but dropping one at home 101-94 to Toronto on Friday night. 
As disappointed as Thomas is with not being able to play – it’s the first games he has missed since the 2014-2015 season – he understands the potential problems that could surface with an injury like this if he and the Celtics aren’t careful. 
“They keep wanting to be very patient with this,” Thomas said. “They don’t want to re-injure it. It is an injury that can get re-injured and be a problem the rest of the season. I don’t want that. On top of that, it gives me time to heal all the other injuries I have.”
Among the other injuries Thomas was referring to, is a still-swollen finger on his left (shooting) hand. 
The injury was believed to have happened on Nov. 12 against Indiana. 
While it was painfully sore, it didn’t seem to be an issue in Boston’s next game against New Orleans when he scored a season-high 37 points. He followed that up with a 30-point performance in a 90-83 win over Dallas.