There is still a level of doesn’t-get-it-ness with Joe Johnson. Stars get paid the most because stars are expected to do the most, but that second part is seldom acknowledged by the Hawks’ guard.
“I don’t get all of the glory when we win, so I don’t get to take all the [blame] when we lose,” Johnson said before this playoff series started.
This much is true: The Hawks did not lose game five to Orlando by 25 points solely because Johnson made only two of 12 shots, at least when we even noticed he was on the floor. They all stunk. But Johnson didn’t do nearly enough to prevent the loss – or even collective team humiliation – from happening. And yes, he does deserve a greater share of the blame than Josh Smith or Jamal Crawford or anybody else on the roster because more is expected from him.
Such are the little inconveniences that come with a $123.7 million contract.
Johnson has had one good game (25 points in game one) and one good half (he drew fouls and made some clutch free throws in the second half of game four) in this first-round series. That’s six quarters out of 20. Unfortunately, that seems about par for Johnson in the postseason during his Hawks’ tenure.
They need more from him.
When asked specifically about Johnson’s play in Tuesday’s 101-76 loss to the Magic, coach Larry Drew responded mostly in “we” instead of “he” form.
“Everybody had a rough night,” he said. “They made everything tough. Yeah, they played him tough. They got up in him. They took some things away. They crowded him. They bumped him. These were all things we discussed as a team going into the game. We could not cry to the officials about it. We had to respond to it, and we didn’t do that.”
How should Johnson react?
“Just maintain his composure and play off of it,” Drew said. “They’re playing the way playoff basketball is played. So it’s nothing out of the ordinary. You have to be sharper, clever. You have to do things harder. [But] it wasn’t just Joe. It was everybody.”
Problem is that even in Drew’s intended share-the-ball offense, Johnson should still be expected to take (and make) the big shot, spark a team and show semblance of leadership. Too often, he doesn’t. Too often, he goes 0 for 3.
Johnson, who wasn’t available for comment Wednesday, hasn’t had a great season. Some of that can be attributed to injuries, elbow surgery and a sprained thumb being the primary ones. But great players are supposed to fight through things. Johnson’s scoring average (18.2) and three-point shooting (29.7 percent) during the regular season represented by far his worst numbers since he came to Atlanta. Bad timing, since it follows a summer in which he became the NBA’s highest-paid player.
He was 9 for 16 (56.2 percent) with 25 points in the series opener at Orlando. In the four games since, he has gone a combined 23 for 65 (35.4) with point totals of 14, 21, 20 and 5.
“Joe and Jamal are our main guys who put the ball in the hole,” Josh Smith said. “We depend on them to get us involved at the offensive end, because when they start making shots, it opens things up for everybody else.”
Crawford, who was only 2 for 8 in the last game, said the Magic “stayed longer on the pick-and-rolls. They left room for less isolation stuff with second and even third defenders.”
Orlando likely won’t change defensive strategy in game six. How the Hawks respond will determine their playoff existence. How Johnson responds will further define his career. Because whether he likes it or not, there’s an expectation level that comes with salary and stature and he’s not meeting it.
By Jeff Schultz