Blocking 3-pointers consistently is not an easy job, but James Johnson has to do it.
The most recent entrant into the Top Plays Theatrefor his ability with the basketball, Johnson is even better on the other side. Since being called up from a D-League stint in late December, he has developed a habit of annoying the best shooters on the wings and in the corners. He is a good shot blocker inside the arc, but shooters aren’t any safer from deep.
As Kevin Durant and James Harden found out multiple times, the 6-foot-9 Johnson has the activity level of a young Gerald Wallace (you don’t earn the nickname “Crash” for nothing) and Josh Smith, using any opportunity to terrorize whoever tries to launch from deep. When a shooter crouches to get in position, he takes it personal, using short powerful bursts and exquisite timing to close space fast.
He does this without fouling, which is perhaps the rub. Many players have the ability. A few have the willingness. But how many are skillful enough to keep pulling it off? James Johnson may not be a household moniker (outside of Memphis anyway), but you better believe that opposing coaches know who he is. The name may be plain, but the man has game.
And so we have our first. The season is barely a week old, but the Horry Scale has been broached. You want a surprise? It came in Miami, which may not be that shocking, but it came from a team that was not expected to contend this season, much less notch a win in Miami.
Before we get too far into this, we should stop and explain. What is the Horry Scale? For those who are new around these parts, the Horry Scale examines a game-winning buzzer-beater (GWBB) in the categories of difficulty, game situation (was the team tied or behind at the time?), importance (playoff game or garden-variety Kings-Pistons game?) and celebration (is it over the top or too chill? Just the right panache or needs more sauce?). Then we give it an overall grade on a scale of 1-5 Robert Horrys, the patron saint of last-second daggers.
With the rules established, let’s check out tonight’s entry, when Jeff Green of Celtics delivered a knockout punch on South Beach to the reigning champions, the Miami Heat. Uncle Green ain’t new to this. But how do we rank it? Let’s break it down…
The old saying goes you play to tie at home and play to win on the road. And in this case, the Celtics played to win. I’m not sure how much more difficult this shot could have been. First of all, shoutout to Gerald Wallace for the inbound pass — he pump-faked to a completely covered Avery Bradley and got Birdman Birdman to briefly jump to his right, then tossed a two-hand, over the head strike to the far corner to Green. This was like Tom Brady throwing a perfect corner fade. Worth noting: Green was being defended on the play by LeBron James, an All-NBA defender. And when James turned his head for just a moment, Green took off for the corner, where he was met by Wallace’s pass and got off a shot without even setting his feet. Did this matter? Nope, not at all, as Green drained a fadeaway corner three over King James to give the Celts the road win. It was actually remarkably similar to Ray Allen’s three from Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. Still, in terms of difficulty, it’s hard to top this one.
Up two, with 0.6 seconds left to play, Dwyane Wade went to the free throw line with a chance to ice the game. His first shot rimmed out. His second shot, still with 0.6 remaining, was missed intentionally. BUT HE MISSED THE RIM. If Wade’s shot had simply drawn iron, the clock would have started, and even if the Celts had grabbed the board, there would have been perhaps 0.3 seconds left to get off a shot, which would have required something going to the rim or an alley-oop. But Wade whiffing on everything meant a violation, and the Celts were able to take the ball out of bounds on their end with no time ticking off the clock. As important as Jeff Green’s shot was, Wade not being able to draw rim was equally consequential in this instance.
Yes, we’re still early in the season, and some may argue that winning in general isn’t that important for the Celtics this season. So really, the Celtics probably didn’t need to win this game. And for the Heat, OK, sure, it’s just another early season game. The loss knocked Miami to 4-3, but three seasons ago they began 5-5 and still made the NBA Finals, so if anything we understand that a game this early in the season doesn’t carry that much weight.
Considering we’re early in the season and there was little at stake in terms of postseason standings or placement, the celebration was pretty fiery. Kelly Olynyk gave a 360 chest bump, and Wallace and Bradley were right there to give hugs. Bonus points to the coaching staff and bench players for their quick arrivals, as well.
GRADE 3 Horrys. It was a ridiculous shot, there’s no denying that. And while the shot rated highly in most Horry Scale categories, we have to dock it a bit due to the game being relatively inconsequential. It was a nice win for the Celts and a tough loss for the Heat, but there’s a lot of NBA left to play. So we’ll give this one three Horrys.
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER – With 7:30 to play in regulation during Game 4 of the Bulls/Nets series, Brooklyn was sitting on a 93-86 lead. The Bulls were having trouble scoring, and the Nets seemed to have the game in hand.
Then, after an inbound pass, Bulls point guard Nate Robinson decided to defend Nets point guard C.J. Watson full-court. Nets forward Gerald Wallace saw this happening and decided to set a pick for Watson, so Watson could get a little breathing room. And then this happened: -
Ouch! But after getting de-cleated, Nate hopped back up and went off: He scored 25 points in the rest of regulation and overtime, and basically carried the Bulls to the amazing win in triple-overtime. -
As Nate said after the game, “I tease coach a lot. It seems every shot I take, he is mad. But I always feel like I’m on fire.”
NBA games can yield some chin-scratching moments. Gerald Wallace, ever the one to attract contact, is driving toward the hoop for an open layup. Then Glen Davis comes. What happens next is pure benevolence:
Though I’m sure he could have done a better job of avoiding contact, catching your opponent in mid-air during a basketball game shows a certain kind of humanity. In a fit of irony, Big Baby took a page out of Keith Bogans‘ book. Earlier this season in Brooklyn, Bogans gave Leandro Barbosa a million-dollar sleeper hold to prevent him from crashing onto the court: a