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.