Joe Johnson says playoffs need to be his time to shine

Joe Johnson was all smiles after the Hawks upset the Lakers a few weeks ago, and wants to come up big in the playoffs. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Joe Johnson wants to be the difference-maker for the Hawks in the playoffs. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Good players play great. Great players play great when it matters most. They start rallies. They decide games. They take over when the casual fan starts paying attention and television networks mandate prime time starts.

The Hawks open the playoffs Saturday night against Milwaukee. This needs to be Joe Johnson’s time.

Not just because his play will help determine how far the Hawks go this postseason. Not just because he is nearing free agency and potential bidding teams (including the Hawks) will ask, “What did he do in the playoffs?” But because Johnson needs to prove something – and he’ll be the first to tell you.

“I’m going into these playoffs with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “Not only do I want to prove I’m one of the best players in the league but that we have one of the best teams in the league. Honestly, I’m really not trying to prove it to anybody but myself. I just want to know that, if necessary, I can put this team on my back and take us as far as we can go.”

This is what a Hawks fan wants to hear. Their best player wants to take over.

Johnson hit a shot at the buzzer against Charlotte to secure a win. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Johnson hit a shot at the buzzer to secure a victory against the Charlotte Bobcats. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Johnson’s postseason results have been mixed. Two years ago, he had a few good games and a few duds. Playoff performances last year also were uneven, though he was plagued by an ankle sprain. Following each postseason, there have been questions about where he fits on the greatness scale. Perception dictates status. Status dictates dollars.

Johnson is aware of this. When asked about the belief that best players need to be the difference-makers in the playoffs, he didn’t hesitate before answering.

“Definitely,” he said. “The postseason is when players are made in this league. That means coming up with that big play or the big shot to put your team over the hump to get a win. The best players step up.

“If we need a key defensive stop or a key basket, I want to be involved. I’ll be doing what it takes to change the game.”

He has done that lately. Johnson has been an All-Star four straight seasons. But most significant of late have been those game-changing moments.

Against Charlotte, he hit a shot at the buzzer to win it. At Milwaukee, he shot only 7 for 22 in regulation but scored seven straight points (nine overall) in the overtime to carry the Hawks to a win. He had 25 in an upset win over the Los Angeles Lakers three weeks ago and 31 against the Bucks last week.

“You can tell he feels energized,” Jamal Crawford said. “Just seeing him this morning before practice, he’s ready for the playoffs. We all are.”

This season at times has seemed like one long Joe Johnson rumor. He’s staying. He’s going. He likes Chicago. He could see himself in New York. LeBron James could see both of them in New York.

Johnson deserves some credit for playing with blinders on. He hasn’t let it affect his play. When he hasn’t played well, it has been because he just hasn’t played well – not because he has been preoccupied with thoughts of his next contract.

When he rejected the Hawks’ offer of a four-year, $60 million extension in September, Johnson prepared himself for what was coming. Questions in every city. Rumors every week. Every athlete says they can handle this, but few do.

“Going into your contract year, a lot of people think you’re going to press,” he said.  “But I wasn’t going to do that. I’ve been able to focus on just trying to be successful, and these guys in here have made my job a lot easier.

“Honestly, I do think ab0ut the contract from time to time. I can’t say I don’t. But I’ve been able to take it in stride, just knowing I had to establish myself and prove I was one of the best players in the league.”

It’s that time.

Vote in our poll: As Hawks open playoffs, what’s acceptable to you?


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70 comments Add your comment

JimC

April 15th, 2010
4:38 pm

Hawks lose in six games. I had a vision.

JimC

April 15th, 2010
4:39 pm

Holy cow, I was first!

bdawg1968

April 15th, 2010
4:44 pm

This core group of Hawks have come to far to let Johnson go. I still believe we havnt seen the best this team can play. Letting Joe go would be a HUGE step back. Are you listening Atl Spirit ?!

Jeff Schultz

April 15th, 2010
4:46 pm

Jim C — Lose in six to the Bucks? That wouldn’t be very good.

Washaun

April 15th, 2010
4:55 pm

Good article. Glad to hear him finally saying some of these things. Doubtful he will get us past Orlando though. We are just not as talented as they are no matter how you cut it.

Taking them to 6 would be an achievement in my mind, but unfortunately this team’s ceiling is the 2nd round and nothing further. Imagine if we had signed Matt Barnes for 1 year at $1.6 million like Orlando did or Carlos Delfino for chump change like that Bucks rather than throwing away 5 years and $38 million on the massive bust that is Marvin Williams. Rick Sund unfortunately lacked the creative mind to do that and instead took the easy way out. That also would have left us with more money to spend this year in case Joe leaves. Unfortunately Marvin Williams is the reason why this team as presently constituted will never have higher than a 2nd round ceiling. We would have been better off saving that money completely and letting Crawford and Maurice Evans take all the minutes at the 3 spot. Just an awful, crippling move by Sund.

Aaron

April 15th, 2010
4:57 pm

He thinks he is one of the best players in the league? Really??? Not even close. Hawks in 5 and then Orlando in 6.

coachx

April 15th, 2010
4:57 pm

This year the Hawks have a legit shot at making real noise. This team should come out and put the Bucks away in 5 games IF they are focused and not looking ahead to the Magic.

The Magic will have their hands full with the Bobcats.

Time for JJ and the rest of the Hawks to shine. Atlanta is expecting you guys to give the Magic a run for their money. May the best team win !

Go Hawks !

Football Ken

April 15th, 2010
5:00 pm

Hey Jeff,
J.J, better be ready, he has teased us long enuff. I do think the Hawks get past the Bucks, but i dn’t know about the Magic. I was kinda hoping we could have acquired a big man (any big man) to help with Howard. All that said, if JJ performs to the caliber he thinks he’s at then why can’t we play Lebron and gang…my generation’s only other Hawks supastar Nique, did his part, see Boston game 7, 87 playoffs(?)

Mr. Phil

April 15th, 2010
5:02 pm

Okay JJ. Sweep the Bucks in convincing fashion and then we will start to take what you just said seriously.

Now you see em, now they burnt off!

April 15th, 2010
5:03 pm

Jeff

Can we get an update on Potato Head’s eyebrows?

Thanks!

Dan the Nerd

April 15th, 2010
5:05 pm

one of the best players in the league? What does that mean? Maybe he is in the top 25 – no way he is in the top 15. I am not convinced he is the best player on this team. As long as the Hawks have Marvin, JJ will always be their 2nd best player.

TXDawg

April 15th, 2010
5:05 pm

Will JJ shining in the playoffs equate to the entire team playing together collectively or just him looking good in losing?? I think that’s the bigger question (I.e. Dominique against Boston in ‘87).

Mr. Phil

April 15th, 2010
5:07 pm

Dan: As long as the Hawks have Marvin, JJ will always be their 2nd best player.

Marvin who?

Mr. Phil

April 15th, 2010
5:07 pm

Surely not Marvin Williams

Art Vandelay

April 15th, 2010
5:20 pm

Dan: Name 14 players in the NBA who are better than Joe Johnson.

Cornfuzed

April 15th, 2010
5:22 pm

JJ is maybe one of the top 15 players in the NBA, no better. Somebody is going to overpay for him this summer, though. That said, there doesn’t seem to be another good option for the Hawks other than maybe a sign and trade.

Dan the Nerd

April 15th, 2010
5:23 pm

Don’t play with me… of course I’m talking about Marvin Williams. You so silly.

Cornfuzed

April 15th, 2010
5:25 pm

JJ would be the 4th best Laker. He’s not a premier player.

Dan the Nerd

April 15th, 2010
5:25 pm

Seriously Art? Put it this way, if the league blew up every roster and redrafted everybody – do you really think IsoJoe would be one of the first 20 players selected? Really? There are 2 hawks that would be taken before him, Al and Josh.

Marvin williams

April 15th, 2010
5:25 pm

yeah he means me im the best just imagine how bad the hawks would be if they drafted chris paul ahead of me

KBP

April 15th, 2010
5:27 pm

Aaron, Other than Kobe, and D Wade, what 2 guard is better than Joe on both ends of the floor?

Washaun, Does talent, draft position, or Mike Woodson make Marvin a bust? I think Marvin would flourish on a different team where they actually ran plays for him. On this team, he would flourish coming off the bench becuase he and Jamal would be the top two options. Right now, he is the fourth option in the starting rotation, Joe, Josh, Al, Bibby. Some thought Boris Diaw was a bust also.

KBP

April 15th, 2010
5:30 pm

Dan, come on. You take Al and Josh ahead of Joe if you need a 4 and a 5. But if you need a 2, are you taking 19 other shooting guards before Joe? Really?

Dan the Nerd

April 15th, 2010
5:34 pm

I didn’t say he is the 19th best shooting guard. I said he is top 20 talent. If I am building a team around someone – I would take Al or Josh over Joe. His isolation kills the offense.

I have friends all over the country – they all say the same thing: They love Josh and Als game – they love watching them play. IsoJoe? Notsomuch.

"Chef" Tim Dix

April 15th, 2010
5:43 pm

Joe will not carry the Hawks as far as they can go, however in a put up or shut up moment, Joe COULD punch his own ticket. Stay tuned.

BravesAreDone

April 15th, 2010
5:47 pm

Well there’s always next year….oh wait it’s not time to say that quite yet I suppose.

KBP

April 15th, 2010
5:51 pm

Good to hear your opinion. I am a life long Hawks fan but I don’t know if you can build a successful team around Josh, too limited offensively right now(no right hand). Great weakside shotblocker not that great on the ball.
Nor Al, not athletic enough to guard mobile 4’s, (Beasley, Stoudemire, West Harrington) not quite big enough to guard true 5’s,( Brooke Lopez, Bogut). Still very limited offensively-no left hand. I would take them both on my team but not as centerpieces.

jlewis1333

April 15th, 2010
5:59 pm

Where JJ stands in the eyes of the league can be answered by this: Never voted into the all star game by fans, but 4 years in a row by coaches. Also, Atlanta gave him his money when he was a free agent and he delivered, if they dont pay him, he’ll deliver for someone else.

Yeavis

April 15th, 2010
6:00 pm

Jim C…I think you need to make a trip to your local eye doctor to get your “vision” corrected STAT

G-Money

April 15th, 2010
6:08 pm

I wish Joe and the Hawks well this playoff season. Really with them it is all going to come down to attitude and effort, and it starts with the Bucks. If their attitudes are right, and they put forth the effort, then the Bucks series should be successful. From that success a building block is in place to do greater things. If they make it out of the Bucks series, chances are they will be underdogs in any other series going forward. They need to concentrate on the things that they can control, such as their attitudes and effort.

The Future

April 15th, 2010
6:13 pm

I know it was a garbage game, but when was the last time the Hawks had a player with 15 assists? Teague didn’t back down against the veteran guards either.

I hope Joe sees that Jeff Teague will make him a better scorer over the next 3-5 years. I like the ball in his hands. The possibility of us becoming a perenial playoff contender will depend largerly on how Teague is brought along, beginning with these playoffs.

A.W.

April 15th, 2010
6:13 pm

FINALLY! HE READY 2 STEP HIS GAME UP! just so a team can offer him a big money contract this offseason

JSS

April 15th, 2010
6:21 pm

TXDawg put it concisely… By the way, Joe’s statement: “Going into your contract year, a lot of people think you’re going to press,” he said. “But I wasn’t going to do that. I’ve been able to focus on just trying to be successful, and these guys in here have made my job a lot easier.” There has been no one on this team with the exceptions of Collins and Randolph “Bailout” Morris who I’ve had any gripes with… Just play within the team style, your points and chance will be there for the taking… Rise up Atlanta!!!

All I'm Saying...

April 15th, 2010
6:45 pm

Message to Joe Johnson:

If you take the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals, then, trust me, you will get a contract that will set you up for life.

If you make sure the Hawks sweep the Bucks and are competitive (i.e. win at least two games) in their projected second round match-up with the Magic, then you will have put yourself into a position to get a really sweet deal.

That’s all it takes, JJ.

LET’S GO HAWKS!

All I'm Saying...

April 15th, 2010
6:51 pm

And by contract that will set you up for life I mean a max NBA deal and by really sweet deal I mean a contract at least comparable to the one he first received from the Hawks (all of which are more than enough to live really, really well off of and far more than most of us will ever see).

LET’S GO HAWKS!

LouFan

April 15th, 2010
7:05 pm

Joe Johnson is a wonderful player and has great talent. The only problem is that he is not a number one type of guy. He is no leader. If you have watched him in Atlanta at all you would realize that he is a quiet guy. That is his downfall really. that is why he will never get the calls that Kobe, Lebron, or Wade would get…. He is more of a number two guy because of his personality. If he actually steps up and starts being vocal, and starts being a leader… Maybe he will get the respect he deserves. Till then he will be one of the most underrated players in basketball and will never get a championship. If we had a Wade…. Championship easy because of his leadership. That is what Joe has to understand. In order to win he needs to be the number one guy and take charge. Simple as that. He has the talent around him.

Dreaming of Larry O'brien cast in gold

April 15th, 2010
7:11 pm

Well, I wouldn’t expect any less from a guy who says he is elite (and whose supporters claim he already is). It’s good to hear your star player speak thusly.

Joe is “not affected by his contract status” just like all other star players aren’t. They will all tell you the exact same thing, sometimes using the exact same words.

Joe is an awesome player, and I know he wants this team to perform well in the playoffs.

Having said that, he knows how he performs in this postseason says a lot about what his next contract is going to look like. Have a performance like he did last season, and there won’t be as much leverage in free agency. Of course, this time he’ll actually be healthy for the playoffs. But I’m not buying that “this has little to do with contract status.” It always has something to do with it.

Looking forward to a good performance by Joe and the Hawks.

D Hawks

April 15th, 2010
7:11 pm

JJ is right. The true superstars in the league carry their team to heights greater than the sum of their parts. Joe is healthy this year, and it is time for him to show us his best. I know he’s one of the top regular season players. Now it’s time to claim his postseason moment.

Joe

April 15th, 2010
7:11 pm

Hawks in 5 against Milwaukee and then Orlando in 6.

Jeff Schultz

April 15th, 2010
7:26 pm

Football Ken — Agreed.

Jeff Schultz

April 15th, 2010
7:28 pm

Now you see ‘em: Hah! Pretty funny. Haven’t looked lately.

WestOfAthens

April 15th, 2010
7:43 pm

Atlanta put forward the opportunity for JJ to evolve. In my opinion, the Hawks have made JJ what he is today.

He enjoys his teammates, he says he loves the city, why go elsewhere? Money? Maybe, but money isn’t everything. You have to enjoy your work environment. It is a MUST. Seems like a no brainer to me, or he just loves the drama. The product will dictate value.

Oldtimer

April 15th, 2010
8:00 pm

Hawks win this series easy.
Tiger never wins again.

Astro Joe

April 15th, 2010
8:38 pm

Well, I’m one Hawks fan who does NOT want to hear that Joe may deviate from the script to prove something to himself. The Hawks are essentially an ensemble cast. Expecting the team to function in a manner that produces 5-6 double digit scorers, 2 All-Stars (could have been 3), the probable 6th POY and 53 wins and then suddenly become some “Star + 4″ squad is ridiculous and will surely lead to a disappointing outcome. It’s akin to watching the Falcons function as a run-first offense during the regular season and then expect Ryan to become a post-season gunslinger.

gdg73

April 15th, 2010
8:39 pm

This is the Hawk’s year. Like I’ve been saying for the last couple of years, Joe Johnson is a superstar. This playoff year will prove it. Everybody raves about Kobe and Lebron and they should. But look at the talent on both of those teams. They should be winning for crying out loud. Joe Johnson now has a supporting cast to take away the scoring burden every night. Watch him and the rest of the team take off.

tidog

April 15th, 2010
8:58 pm

Maybe if CMW had a contract extension he ‘d felt more at ease to play Teague, Smith and Collins. What other explanation can there be. Alvin Gentry (Suns) has developed a 10 man rotation. A 10 man rotation!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can we get that guy to Phillips next season.

Rev Rick

April 15th, 2010
9:14 pm

Well I just completed the ESPN playoff simulator and they had us upsetting the Magic and the Cavs to get to the finals to lose to LA! That means it’s going to happen, right?

Anyway, this will be an interesting playoffs for our Atlanta Hawks. The difference maker is going to be Jamal & Bibby. I think with the exception of Dwight Howard, we have the most athletic and nasty (Zaza) front line in the East. Even though we didn’t get another big, I still see the tenacity as a huge advantage for us. Jamal’s going to have to set the tone when he enters. I’m sure after 10 years in the league with not PO games, he’s amped and ready to go. There is no scorer off the bench in the East like the 6th man of the year. Bibby’s just going to have to knock down those open looks he’s bound to get game in and game out.

I would say Marvin is key since you can’t gameplan for someone who hasn’t shown up all season, but I’m realistic enough to know that what we got during the regular season is what we can expect this post season.

Let’s not overlook the importance of the psychological weight that was lifted off this team when Josh slammed home a victory over the Magic, the dominant win over the Lakers, and even the scrub game they played yesterday against the Cavs. They all work in our favor as far as fearlessness is concerned. Expect some positive surprises this year and by all means, by a ticket or two and show up on time!

Thomas

April 15th, 2010
9:41 pm

What’s Joe trying to say? He’s gonna shoot a ton more since he is the “leader?”

Only now when he has a big contract coming up does he decide to be a “leader.” Where the HELL was this mentality the last 5 yrs?

LouFan

April 15th, 2010
9:58 pm

Amen Rev Rick!

rusty

April 15th, 2010
10:03 pm

i h ope jj means he will have a great playoff by playing team ball & not iso joe ball. the differance with kobe,lebron.& wade is is that they go to the basket hard & quick while joe goes slow.when you go hard they have to foul you when you go slow they double & tribble team you i hope jj does not go ball hog like he is capable of. if he ball hogs any one can beat us

David Smith

April 15th, 2010
10:17 pm

I’m glad Joe FINALLY GETS IT that in order to be a leader that he must act like one. Last years excuse of him telling reporters he was tired really irritated me (Especially when the Cavaliers used that info to shut him and the rest of our wounded warriors down) and, to turn down a fair deal (4ys- 60 million) to keep him in a Hawk uniform. Joe is really using the playoffs as a stage to show potential suitors his worth which is great if he brings a championship to Atlanta.