It’s no secret that the Toronto Raptors have taken hold of their opening round series with the Brooklyn Nets due largely to the play of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. But without the steady, low-post presence of Amir Johnson, things would likely be very different heading into Game 6.
After marking his return to the postseason with an underwhelming, offensive performance that saw the veteran total just two points and three rebounds in game one, Johnson quickly alleviated any concerns by storming back onto the stat sheet with 16 points and nine boards in Toronto’s victory over Brooklyn in the second game of the series.
Unassuming yet fiercely determined, Johnson’s time as a Raptor has never been about scoring or compiling statistics. Rather, the former member of the Detroit Pistons was brought into the fold of Canada’s lone NBA franchise to provide rebounding and a defensive presence in the paint prior to the start of the 2009-10 season.
And while Johnson is no stranger to the basket, the crafty power forward has made the majority of his offensive money on put-backs, short drives, and the odd, mid-range jumper during his time with Toronto, but it’s the intangibles that have landed him a key role with this current group of Raptors.
At the moment, Johnson’s duties center around limiting perennial playoff participant Paul Pierce to as little offensive success as possible, a tall task considering that the difference between the two in terms of size, skillset, and approach make them polar opposites at power forward.
But other than learning to use his own offensive weaponry to keep Pierce busy on both ends of the floor, Johnson knows that he needs to capitalize on his size advantage in the final three games, and that some adjustments are purely mental. While at practice on Tuesday, Johnson shared his thoughts on the matter in an interview with the Toronto Star.
”It’s just tough guarding Paul Pierce at the four. Just try to show him different looks on defence and on offence just being more aggressive, I just have to keep it consistent.”
In Game 3, the lofty responsibility of guarding the repeat All-Star limited Johnson to just seven points and four rebounds on a night when Pierce dropped 18 points on the Raptors in Brooklyn’s win. And even when Johnson scored a career playoff-high of 17 points during Toronto’s victory in Game 4, Pierce remained a thorn in the side of the Atlantic Division champs with 22 points, the most that the he has scored in the series.
Far less heralded than DeRozan or Lowry, Johnson’s efforts were the leading factor in Pierce totalling only 10 points in Game 5. But for the remainder of the playoffs, it will continue to be a combination of strong leadership, energy and veteran experience that make Johnson nearly irreplaceable to the Raptors, and favorite of their devoted fan base.
Ty is an NBA writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @abovethefoldTy.