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.
Welcome to Throwback Thursday here on the All Ball Blog. Each week, we’ll delve into the NBA’s photo archives and uncover a topic and some great images from way back when. Hit us up here if you have suggestions for a future TBT on All Ball. Suggestions are always welcome!
Today’s TBT topic: James and Durant
By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com
For this week’s Throwback Thursday, we look back at the careers of LeBron James and Kevin Durant before the Oklahoma City Thunder visit the Miami Heat tonight on TNT at 8 p.m. ET.
(NOTE:Click the “caption” icon below the photo for details about each moment.)
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — And we’re back. Not even five weekdays since Randy Foyeroused us on a quiet Monday evening, and the Horry Scale has been awakened by a rim-rattling dunk from Orlando’s Tobias Harris.
One thing I’d like to clear up: The Horry Scale does not measure a game-winning shot; the Horry Scale measures several facets of a Game-Winning Buzzer-Beater. So we’re talking about not only the shot, but also the play that creates the shot, the situation and the drama, the celebrations…basically, everything surrounding and including the shot. So when I gave Randy Foye a 3 Horry rating, that wasn’t only a reflection of his shot, which was admittedly remarkable, as I wrote, but also the play, which was awful. Taj Gibson’s lefty layup wasn’t the toughest shot, but that inbounds play was terrific. Basically, everything matters.
Before we get too far into this, we should stop and explain why we’re here: 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.
OK, so you understand? For our records, this is the fourteenth GWBB this season, so our record-setting pace continues unabated. for now, let’s break this shot down…
It was an undefended dunk, the kind of dunk Tobias Harris has probably converted hundreds or even thousands of times in his life. But I doubt he’s ever put one down with literally no time left on the clock. After Kevin Durant missed his jumper that would have put Oklahoma City up 3, Victor Oladipo out-fought Thabo Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson to corral the ball, and by the time Oladipo had it and was heading up court, there were just under 4 seconds remaining. Even though they had a timeout remaining, the Magic played on and took advantage of the numbers. In the next four seconds, Oladipo dribbled the length of the court and got into the paint, where Jeremy Lamb stepped up to cut off his drive. Lamb left Maurice Harkless alone on the baseline, and Oladipo hit him with a bounce pass. Harkless caught the ball with 1.5 seconds remaining, and immediately dished it back to a trailing Tobias Harris, who dunked it home with no time remaining. It was a terrific pass by Harkless, but it was as gutsy as it was fundamentally sound — with such a miniature amount of time left, this game was pretty close to ending with Harris a couple of inches away from a GWBB. But he made it, and the Magic won in thrilling come-from-behind fashion.
The Thunder had an 8-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, but the Magic outscored them 23-14 in the fourth to get the W. There were two things about the situation around this particular play that stuck out to me: 1. Durant shot the ball with about 3 seconds left on the shot clock. I know he was able to get to one of his preferred spots on the court, at the free throw line extended, which is a shot he makes more often than not. But if he’d been able to wait just a second longer, the Magic wouldn’t have had the time to grab the board and do what they did. 2. The Thunder had a small lineup in at the time, and when Durant’s shot went up, Serge Ibaka was the only member of the Thunder anywhere near the rim in a rebounding position. And the long bounce from the miss then took him out of contention for the rebound.
Now that’s a celebration. With no time on the clock, the Magic players knew they could celebrate, so the bench guys rushed the court. The camera work became shaky, like something out of a movie. Harris received a trio of chest bumps, ending with a thunderous hug from Big Baby Davis. Also, you want to see what disbelief looks like? Check out the Thunder bench…
As I wrote above, and I hope you remember this, IT ISN’T ONLY ABOUT THE SHOT. It’s about the entire play, and the accumulated circumstances surrounding the shot. As a dunk, in a vacuum, for an NBA player it wasn’t the most difficult shot. But put everything together, including a lottery team playing the best team in the West, and making a shot while down a point to win the game, and it was a pretty epic play for the Magic. I can’t give this 5 stars, only because this is a regular season game and I have to be able to still go up from here once we reach the playoffs. So instead, I’m giving this 4 Horrys, the same grade to which I retroactively rated Jeff Green’s season-opening shot.
What say you? How many Horrys would you give Tobias Harris’s GWBB?
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — If there’s one thing I’ve learned from attending a dozen All-Star Weekends, it’s that at its core, All-Star Weekend is about the fans. The fans actually select the starting line-ups, and fans travel from near and far to hit up Jam Session and All-Star Saturday Night and the Rising Stars Challenge and, of course, all the parties.
In some broader sense, the All-Star Game is about recognizing the best players from each conference. Sure, there are a couple of rim-rattling dunks and the occasional long-range shot that falls. And if you’re lucky, really lucky, the game is close down the stretch, and then everyone’s competitive juices kick in and you might just get a memorable finale. The main purposes of most participants in the actual All-Star Game? They wear funky uniforms, get a little run in, hang out with their buddies, and then they go back to their own teams for the stretch run and the Playoffs.
But that’s not why I’m watching the All-Star Game. And I think most people tuning in or even attending All-Star are looking to have a similar question answered: Are we not entertained? No matter what the Fun Police tell you, at All-Star weekend, nobody is looking at efficiency stats or plus/minus ratings. We want to see Shaq playing point guard. We want to see Gilbert Arenas joining the Elvis impersonators and dunking off of a trampoline. Simply put: We want the All-Star Game — and the entire weekend, really — to be fun.
So you can argue all you want about who does and who doesn’t deserve to be named to the actual Eastern and Western Conference All-Star teams. Instead, I present to you my annual YOLO All-Stars. (If you didn’t know, YOLO is an acronym for You Only Live Once.) These are the guys who deserve to be All-Stars based on my own vague All Ball Blog criteria. I considered all of the following elements: hilarity; social media proficiency; general swag; likelihood the player will do something memorable; dunking/dribbling/shooting ability; previous Shaqtin’ A Fool appearances; mentions on the All Ball Blog.
To be clear, those categories are listed in no particular order, with no importance or weight to any given specific category. These are just the players I think it would be fun to see in an All-Star Game. If we want to be entertained, these are the players that will give it to us. Meet your 2013-14 NBA YOLO All-Stars…
EASTERN CONFERENCE Starters
C – Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers — Always a blast on Twitter, and a man who appreciates good humor.
F – Chris Bosh, Miami Heat — Will be in charge of all videobombing.
F – LeBron James, Miami Heat — Not only is he a force on Twitter, which is good enough to qualify for the YOLO All-Stars, but he’s also the reigning MVP, so that wins him an invite.
G – J.R. Smith, New York Knicks — In the YOLO All-Star Game, untying shoes will be encouraged.
G – Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers — UNCLE DREW!
Bench Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks — The Greek Freak is perhaps the most unconventional athlete in the league, so you never know what he’s going to pull off next. He also loves smoothies, and with the All-Star Game being played in the newly-named Smoothie King Center, what could be more perfect? Amir Johnson, Toronto Raptors — One of my favorites on social media. Andray Blatche, Brooklyn Nets — Eurostep! Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons — Will be in charge of Vine videos throughout the weekend. Metta World Peace, New York Knicks — Still the best. Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers — He may not have made the actual All-Star Game, but I can’t knock his hustle. Besides, he dunked on a ref, which is awesome. Kevin Seraphin, Washington Wizards — Anyone with a pet snake named Snakey and a skeleton that rides a Segway is a lifetime YOLO All-Star.
WESTERN CONFERENCE Starters
C – Robin Lopez, Portland Trail Blazers — He’s a nerd and he’s proud of it.
F – Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves — We’ll have him making coffee for everyone.
F – Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder — If LeBron is on the East, we might as well put KD on the West.
G – Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers — My favorite dribbler in the NBA.
G – James Harden, Houston Rockets — The beard is fun on its own, but Harden’s also made a heavy push into social media the last few years. Maybe he can perform at halftime.
Bench Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers — You can’t have a YOLO game without Swaggy P. Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers — Founder of #4BarFriday. Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies — Perhaps my favorite NBA player to challenge his team owner to a game of one-on-one. Matt Bonner, San Antonio Spurs — Broken nose and all, Bonner is always entertaining. Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors — Always a candidate to dunk on someone. Or to review an episode of “Breaking Bad.” DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings — Hard not to select someone who’s nickname is “Boogie.” JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets (Injured) — Really the perfect player for this game. Nate Robinson, Denver Nuggets (Injured) — Go long, Nate will throw you the pineapple.
So there’s my YOLO All-Stars. Who would you put on your YOLO All-Star team? Let us know below in the comments!
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — There is no player in the NBA these days more flammable than Kevin Durant. With his running mate Russell Westbrook out injured, Durant is averaging 37 points per game in January, the Thunder have reeled off five straight wins, and Durant has established himself as a legitimate MVP candidate. With some downtime on the plane as the Thunder travel to Boston, Durant held an impromptu Q&A on Twitter…
I'm gonna answer a few questions..haven't been on twitter in a while so go ahead, look forward to hearing from everyone— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) January 23, 2014
It hasn’t been the easiest time for the Denver Nuggets. Injuries to Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, JaVale McGee, an eight-game losing streak and a bizarre Andre Miller-Brian Shaw feud has rendered their season’s course rocky.
But one constant has been the Manimal, the dreadlocked warrior born by the name of Kenneth Faried. Is he an offensive juggernaut? Uh-uh. Does he make the occasional boneheaded play? Uh-huh. It doesn’t matter…because he gives you one thing that negates any of his negatives.
He gives you highlights. On Thursday night, the Thunder came into town and the Nuggets thoroughly dismissed them. But as the saying goes, you can’t make an omelet without cracking some eggs and Oklahoma City broke a few on Faried:
Though Durant broke his right ankle and Jackson threw down a basketball on his noggin, his sticktoittiveness shouldn’t be lost. He may get stuffed by John Wall at the rim, but he’ll make the game-saving block and game-winning bucket in the same game. All evidence points to a man who stays focused on his vengeance, one fast-twitch stride at a time.
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Even if your stocking was filled with coal, NBA fans got a pretty nice day of presents yesterday with a great slate of games on Christmas Day. There were improbable shots, crazy outfits — the works, really. And, perhaps most noticeably, there were some awesome dunks (including at least one player-submitted dunk). So here at the All Ball Blog, we decided to ask you: Who had the best Christmas Day giving-and-getting combination?
The history of NBA players in the movies is a long and varied tale, with differing results. Just in my lifetime, we can go from Michael Jordan in “Space Jam” to Shaquille O’Neal in “Blue Chips” and “Kazaam” to, more recently, Kevin Durant in “Thunderstruck”. Even though reigning MVP LeBron James has had a hand in various entertainment industry pursuits the last few years, he had yet to make his true big screen debut.
But according to a report from Deadline.com, LeBron is teaming up with popular comedian Kevin Hart to make his first flick. Hart, who over the last few years has become a fixture at NBA events and All-Star weekends, will co-write the movie with his writing team, and the movie will film next summer. The story, at least from initial reports, will cast James in a role he would seem to know pretty well …
[Hart will] then star as a man who lives in the shadow of his NBA superstar brother (James), but gets a chance to prove himself when he and some pals attend a weekend fantasy basketball camp in Miami. Hart is certainly dominant in the stand-up arena, but posting up against this screen sibling could be dangerous. Hart is under 5’3″ while James is a towering 6’8.” That kind of sibling size differential hasn’t been seen since Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in another Universal comedy, Twins. They’ll sign a director when Hart and his cohorts turn in the script.
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — At this point, the legend of Kevin Durant famously includes an underlying thread about his basic inability to not participate in sports, even when he has a day off. During the lockout he was constantly popping up at summer league tournaments, and just a few weeks ago he played in a flag football game in New York.
So perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised about this story from NewsOK.com. Last Thursday night, the Thunder hosted the Clippers and won 105-91, behind a big 28 point, 8 assist night from Durant. The morning after that game, NewsOK.com editor Matt Carney went to his local YMCA to get some shots up, and stumbled across Durant and some of his friends playing some casual pick-up ball. As Carney writes…
There Kevin Durant was, the morning after dropping 28 points in a late game against the Clippers, playing half-court ball with his buddies (each of them big enough to discomfort somebody sitting next to them on an airplane), talking noise and completely disregarding the “NO DUNKING ALLOWED” sign pasted to the window of the gym. The Y employee at the desk made me promise not to bother him, so I checked out a ball and headed to the other end of the court to practice corner threes and otherwise pretend like one of the two greatest basketball players on the planet wasn’t at the other end performing feats of scoring magic that I normally can’t afford to watch up close.
Spectators filed in. One woman tried to interrupt the game for an autograph and was promptly ushered out by a member of the Y staff. But by the end of it, there was just the four-on-four game at one end and me and another random guy at the other end, shooting.
Even if Durant wasn’t playing all-out, it’s a fun read, particularly as Carney starts secretly hoping he’ll get called into a game to play alongside or even, gulp, against Durant.