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-Cavaliers preview: Game 5 is about respect for Boston

Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Game 5 is about respect for Boston

BOSTON – From the outset of this season, the Boston Celtics were swimming upstream when it came to getting respect. 

No matter how many wins they racked up, no matter how many upsets they managed to pull off, they were never going to do enough to satisfy the court of public opinion which wanted one thing and one thing only from the NBA: A third installment of Golden State against Cleveland in the NBA Finals. 

The Warriors did their part by running through the West with 12 wins in as many playoff games. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will try to not just stave off elimination tonight, but continue to delay what so many believe is an inevitable Golden State-Cleveland Final.

Boston’s Al Horford understands that while the league this season has seen lots of individual success as well as teams that have overachieved, the thirst for Golden State versus Cleveland remains stronger than ever. 

“We understand that’s what everyone has been talking about since the beginning of the season,” Horford said. “For us it’s just to focus … and play the Celtic way. And just come out here and fight and we’ll take it from there.”

The Celtics did that in Game 3 with Avery Bradley delivering one of the more memorable shots in the Brad Stevens era, a game-winning three-pointer that hit the rim four times before falling with 0.1 seconds to play as Boston squeaked out a 111-108 win.

Boston did a lot of good things in Game 4 and seemingly went into the half sensing that maybe just maybe they would even up the series at two games heading back to Boston for tonight’s Game 5 matchup. 

But Kyrie Irving picked up the slack for a foul-plagued LeBron James, lifting the Cavaliers to a 112-99 win which puts them now just a win away from advancing to the NBA Finals. 

Not only have folks both in the media as well as fans who have rooted for this series to be over, even merchandise sellers like Dick Sporting Goods have anticipated this series as already being over.

“It is what it is,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “It’s been like that all year; a lot of guys counting us out. At the same time, we’re trying to put ourselves in position to win each and every game.”

While that has been the goal, it certainly hasn’t worked out that way in this series. 

Despite Games 1 and 2 being at the TD Garden, the Celtics lost both games by a total of 57 points. 

And while they won Game 3 and had the Cavaliers on the ropes in Game 4 before losing, they know their chance to play NBA Finals spoiler is just about up. 

“We know that’s the Finals that everybody wants to talk about, what everybody is looking forward to,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “We understand it. But we work just as hard as these guys. We just have to keep going out there and working. We’re not going to give it to them, and stuff like that. We just have to make it tough on them.”