Yesterday, Miami’s Shane Battier shed insight into the difference between the two best small forwards in New York City:
“There’s not a lot you can take away,” he said of Joe Johnson’s offensive ability. “I’m not saying you can take away…but Carmelo Anthony, he’s so left-hand dominant. So if you make him put it in his right hand, he really struggles. Joe, you can’t really do that. You really just have to fight him, play him honest, make him work for catches. Don’t let him get any free catches, because once he gets a free catch, he’s got multiple options.”
Battier isn’t the only Heat player praising Johnson’s abilities as Johnson’s Nets get set to clash with the Heat tonight, according to Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report. Dwayne Wade first realized just how talented Johnson was in the 2006, when the two players joined a star-studded cast including Anthony, LeBron James and Dwight Howard in Japan for the FIBA World Championships.
From afar, I knew he was good,” Wade told Bleacher Report after Wednesday’s Heat practice. “But we were practicing, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know he was this good.’ And we were all, like, ‘Joe, you know how good you are?’ He was like, ‘Whatever.'” That team didn’t win the gold medal, falling to Greece and settling for bronze. But Johnson won the respect of his peers, tying with Howard for fifth on the team in scoring.
That trip was likely also the start of a close power circle that almost made Johnson a teammate of Wade four years later. Johnson, James and Wade planned to discuss their free agency plans in spring of 2010. Fast forward yet another four years, and Wade and James, of course, have gone on to win two NBA titles together and establish one of the great mini-dynasties in NBA history. Johnson, meanwhile, has lost 13 of the 16 second round games he has played in and has yet to deliver a signature NBA playoff series win. Beating his old friends would certainly qualify.
“He’s talented, man,” Wade told Skolnick as Miami prepared for Game 2 of the Brooklyn-Miami series. “But his personality, he’s so quiet. And no one’s ever pushed him.”
Johnson must push himself if his Nets will have any shot whatsoever of dethroning the champs.
For more on Johnson, check out my Sporting Life Arkansas article comparing his playoff plights with Sidney Moncrief.
The greatest Razorback NBA player of the 20th century never made it to the Finals. Blame injuries and the best small forward of his era. By 1986, 28-year-old Sidney Moncrief had transformed his Milwaukee Bucks into perennial Eastern Conference contenders who won seven straight divisional titles. But they got over a hump in the 1986 playoffs only to run into a mountain.
In the second round, the Bucks won that franchise’s first seventh game of a playoff series, beating nemesis Philadelphia 113-112 at home. Moncrief, who had missed four games in the series due to plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of the foot, gutted it out for 35 minutes in the pivotal contest. He “played as brave a playoff series as anyone since the Knicks’ Willis Reed hobbled onto Madison Square Garden floor against the Lakers in 1970,” Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum wrote.
Moncrief’s left heel and chronically sore knees weren’t the only ailments afflicting Milwaukee heading into the next round. Its other star, Terry Cummings, had a dislocated finger and scorer Ricky Pierce had sprained his ankle. But the Bucks’ most formidable obstacle came in the form of their next opponent’s 29-year-old, six-feet-nine small forward. Larry Bird had already won two consecutive MVP awards and led his team to two NBA titles. What resistance could Moncrief and the Bucks hope to put up as he steamrolled to another?
Fast forward to 2014, and now Joe Johnson – this century’s greatest Razorback NBA’er – faces another 29-year-old, six-feet-nine force of nature.