BOSTON – Prior to the Boston Celtics’ regular season finale against the Milwaukee Bucks, Amir Johnson was running a little behind schedule.
As Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens instructed the players that the team’s pre-game shootaround was about to start, Johnson made his way on to the floor just in time.
Lately, Johnson’s play has been on a noticeably higher level than earlier this season.
And his timing – on the eve of the playoffs – could not be any better.
As much as we’ll talk about keys in Boston’s first-round series against Chicago being the Isaiah Thomas versus Rajon Rondo matchup, or Jimmy Butler against his former college teammate Jae Crowder, Johnson’s below-the-radar play could be what puts the Celtics over the top in their best-of-seven first round series against the Chicago Bulls.
“We need Amir to be really good,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “His athleticism, his ability to stretch the floor with those shots, but also his ability to roll and rebound and finish at the rim. We’re going to need him to play at a high level.”
Indeed, the traits that Stevens rattled off are things that Johnson has been doing all season with little fanfare or attention paid to them. And as we’ve drawn closer to the playoffs, Johnson’s play has gotten noticeably better.
This season, he’s averaging 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57.6 percent from the field. In the month of April, his rebounding is down to 4.0 per game but both his scoring average (7.4) and field goal shooting (65.2 percent) are on the rise. His minutes have been limited this season, but the same can not be said for his impact or durability which is evident by him playing in 80 games this season.
All that court time has had a toll on his body.
“No excuses but I’ve been sick for a few weeks,” Johnson said. “I had (some) fluids, IV in me, had to go to the hospital for that.”
Johnson added, “It really helped me a lot; kind of gave me life.”
The day after he went to the hospital, he responded with a 16-point, 5-rebound game in Boston’s 112-94 win over the Bucks.
“Just for me knowing to pick up my game and knowing the playoffs were coming and every game counts,” Johnson said.
And when Game 1 arrives on Sunday, you can bet the Celtics will be leaning on Johnson to contribute as he has done all season.
He has shown a knack of giving the Celtics solid play at both ends of the floor, evident by his team-leading net rating of +8.0.
And he’s eager to continue providing whatever the Celtics need in the playoffs.
“I feel like it starts with my energy,” Johnson said. “If I’m running the floor, running into screens, rebounding, or whatever our defensive coverage is … if I’m playing at a high level, it picks up the rest of the team. I’m one of those guys who definitely has to come with a high level of energy in the the game.”