Amir Johnson of the Toronto Raptors is one of the most under-appreciated players in the NBA. His ability to guard his own man, show hard in pick-and-rolls, rebound, run the floor and make hustle plays made him a fan favorite player in Toronto. His constant energy and mobility made him a starter, as he started 72 of 77 regular season games for the Raptors.
However, in their first playoff game since 2008, it was evident that the Raptors cannot stick with their usual rotation. To start off, Johnson was assigned to guard Paul Pierce, the “power forward” of the Brooklyn Nets. At the end of the game, Patrick Patterson, who was put in to provide scoring spark off the bench, was covering Pierce. We all know what the outcome was. Pierce scored 15 points including a crucial dagger with 52 seconds left, making it a three possession game.
But it’s not Pierce who is the biggest matchup problem; it is Joe Johnson. He had 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 from the free-throw line. In addition, he grabbed eight rebounds and played a game-high 44 minutes. Johnson has exploitable size advantage over any of the perimeter players the Raptors have. If you put either DeMar DeRozan or Terrence Ross on him, he’ll just post them up, using his size and weight. You can’t put either Kyle Lowry or Greivis Vasquez for obvious reasons. John Samlons gets torched in pick-and-roll situations. There is no clear-cut answer for Johnson if the Raptors want to play him straight up.
There is this one intriguing idea, though. How about playing Landry Fields? Yes, that overpaid dude who averaged 2.3 points per game this season.
I don’t want to say Fields is the answer to stopping Johnson, because I’ve never heard anyone say “Landry Fields is the answer” and it is just wrong to say that. But why not try him? He is a big mobile forward who can run the floor and bring energy. He is not a smart defender, but at least he will give you 110 percent and his size can match up with any big guards in the NBA. Not only does he defend at a decent level, but he rebounds very well for his size. Rebounding will be a crucial part when the Raptors decide to go small and take out one of Johnson or Jonas Valanciunas.
Look, I’m not expecting Fields to play 40 minutes, or even 30 minutes; I’m not crazy. But could he contribute for 10-20 minutes? I think so. Using Fields for five minutes in the first half of Game 2 can be a test run. If his offensive deficiency hurts the Raptors too much, just take him out. But if he does a good job guarding Johnson or Pierce, that is a huge plus for the Raptors going forward.
The playoffs are about making adjustments. I am looking forward to whatever adjustments Dwane Casey makes, and I hope he makes the right ones.