More from Game 1: Quick Reaction, Game Recap, DeMar DeRozan breakdown (I don’t recommend watching this).

I had a dream about Joe Johnson last night.

It was nothing weird, in so far as dreaming about NBA players can be anything but weird. He was just kind of around, and was pointing things out to me as Game 2 of this series was on. How he was able to do so while simultaneously being on the court was unclear, but maybe we hooked up to study footage after the game. He didn’t provide any incredibly insight or anything, he was just kind of there.

I don’t know what to make of it, but I’m going to use it as an introduction and a way to segue into discussing his game because, wait for it…as much as he was in my dream on Saturday, he was the Raptors’ nightmare earlier that day. Nailed it.

We knew that Joe Johnson was going to be a problem in this series. Joke as we may about his credentials as a seven-time All-Star (I mean, look at this) – he averaged 15.8 points with a 15.5 player efficiency rating, and he unforgivably bumped Kyle Lowry from the team – Johnson is still very good at age 32. He shot 40 percent on threes, 70.5 percent at the rim, 50.2 percent between three and 10 feet and 47.3 percent from 10-to-16 feet. Only in the 16-foot-to-3-point area was Johnson even “mediocre,” shooting 35.9 percent. He shot 48.3 percent on drives, 42.1 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts (40.7 percent on catch-and-shoot threes) and 40.7 percent on pull-ups. He’s decent in isolation, great as a pick-and-roll ball handler, excellent posting up, and effective on the move in screens and hand-offs. There’s very little that Joe Johnson doesn’t do well on the offensive end.
joe shotchart
And so, like I said, most identified him as a potential match-up problem. Paul Pierce at the power forward spot forces the most tough decisions on coach Dwane Casey, who has to allow Amir Johnson to check him and risk the loss of help defense (not the biggest deal since Brooklyn shoots within five feet less than any other team, though they have four players in the top-100 for points scored on drives per game) or put a wing on him, going small with a lineup the Raptors don’t thrive with (especially if Jonas Valanciunas is going to play this well, because it means Johnson, one of the team’s best players, is relegated to a smaller role). But it’s Johnson who poses the biggest problem of “how do we guard him,” because DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and John Salmons all have their flaws defensively. All caveats due about Synergy play classification, but have a look at where Johnson does his damage compared to how Raptors wings defend:

Play Type Johnson O-Rank DeRozan D-Rank Ross D-Rank Salmons D-Rank
Isolation 74 1 (lol) 89 59
P&R Handler 24 64 201 110
Post-Up 34 208 45 23
Spot-Up 29 120 240 91

Put DeRozan on Johnson and he’ll post him up, using his 25-pound advantage. Put Ross on him and Johnson will work off ball to create spot-up opportunities, leaning on Ross’ relative inexperience and occasional missteps. Put Salmons on him and Johnson can put him in the side pick-and-roll, where Salmons becomes an unfortunate match-up if switched on to Kevin Garnett or Pierce (and, despite the most balanced ranks, Salmons did a poor job on him on Saturday).

There are options, but none are particularly strong. And so Johnson shot 8-of-13 for 24 points on Saturday, adding four assists, getting to the line and boasting a +15 mark in his 44:30 of playing time. Let’s see how he got his.

First Quarter
11:49 – Johnson takes a hand-off from Paul Pierce that acts as a screen, allowing Johnson to cut to the left elbow. Amir Johnson had slid over to help on the drive, letting Johnson find Pierce for an open three.

7:45 – Johnson poses DeRozan on the left block, takes three dribbles toward the basket and draws a shooting foul.

5:45 – Johnson takes a pass from Deron Williams above the break and immediately goes around a Mason Plumlee screen. John Salmons ends up trailing behind Johnson, having failed to go above the screen effectively. Jonas Valanciunas has dropped below the free throw line to contain the drive, and Kyle Lowry is showing help but stays close enough to Williams that he can recover in the event of a pass. Johnson actually slows down enough for Salmons to get back in front of him but Johnson lowers the shoulder, creating enough room for a one-handed floater in the lane.

5:06 – Johnson gives the ball to Williams under their own basket, Williams drives the length of the court for an and-one and somehow Johnson is gifted an assist. All-Star scoring, that.

4:38 – Johnson gets the ball on the inbounds and uses a Plumlee screen to get a step on Salmons. Valanciunas once again drops to prevent the drive, allowing Salmons to recover. Once again, though, Johnson uses the short-iso situation to bully Salmons, posting him above the circle on the right side and turning around off-glass.

4:00 – Johnson isolates Salmons and then begins to post from the right elbow. DeRozan slides over to double, leaving Shaun Livingston. Lowry panics and leaves Williams to help on the cutting Livingston, leaving Williams open for a three that Lowry’s too late to close out on. You just can’t double-team the post, tough as the match-up is.


Second Quarter
7:40 – Johnson uses a down-screen from Williams to create space off of Salmons, curling into the lane for a Kevin Garnett pass. Patrick Patterson helps and contests well but Johnson nails the floater over top of him.

1:10 – Johnson uses a Williams back-screen to lose Salmons on the baseline, leaving him wide open for a pass from Paul Pierce under the bucket.

0:30 – Williams drives and the Raptors collapse, leaving two open shooters in Johnson and Alan Anderson. Luckily, Johnson misses the relatively clean look.


Third Quarter
10:00 – Straight post-up for Johnson on DeRozan. Johnson gets the ball on the left block, pushes DeRozan back two steps but misses the turnaround.

8:30 – Johnson gets the ball up top on DeRozan and uses a hard Garnett screen to get into space. Valanciunas corrals the drive but Johnson pulls up from the right elbow and makes. Not much they could do here given the effectiveness of the Garnett screen and the fact that Valanciunas can’t get close to Johnson’s hip or be blown by.


6:45 – Johnson again gets the ball up top on DeRozan and this time uses a Plumlee screen, but DeRozan gets over top of it and is able to get back on Johnson…except that he never gets in front of him, he just stays at his side. Johnson makes yet another floater.

5:14 – Johnson comes off a Plumlee down-screen on DeRozan and gets the ball from Williams, takes two dribbles to the left elbow and pulls up. Pretty clear miscommunication between DeRozan and Valanciunas.

4:00 – Johnson uses a Plumlee screen to try and shake Ross but he does a decent job staying with Johnson. Valanciunas helps, too, and Johnson airballs a floater…into the hands of Plumlee for a basket.

Fourth Quarter
11:10 – Johnson poses DeRozan on the right block late in the clock (we think), pushes off and steps back but misfires.

10:10 – Johnson poses DeRozan just below the left elbow and the Raptors hedge pretty aggressively ready to help, forcing Johnson to the left block. He then takes two dribbles to the center and misses a floater over DeRozan and the helping Chuck Hayes. Bad decision by Johnson not to find a shooter, but can you blame him?


5:05 – Lowry tries to draw a foul on Williams, forcing Patterson to switch onto him. As Lowry tries to recover on Williams, Patterson’s man – Pierce – pops open at the top. DeRozan leaves Johnson in the corner to close out, and Pierce finds him for what seemed like an open three, but Patterson does an excellent job to hustle on to him. Patterson and Valanciunas then seem to miscommunicate, though, giving Johnson way too much space for another floater.

1:45 – Johnson screens for Williams and then pops above the break to receive a pass. DeRozan is only a step behind but Johnson catches him recovering, gaining the first step in the opposite direction. Johnson pulls up rather than drive into Valanciunas’ help and DeRozan gets a hand on the shot.


Johnson primarily worked from post-ups, as is the standard for the Nets’ inside-out offense. By my count, he was 2-for-5 on straight post-ups but was also sent to the line once and dished an assist. He has a very clear strength advantage on DeRozan here, and one thinks he’ll adjust for Game 2 and opt to move DeRozan inward more rather than just creating enough space for a turnaround.

He also did a fair amount of damage off the ball, shooting 3-of-3 off screens or as a cutter and dishing one assist, too. He hit a spot-up three and used another spot-up three situation to drive for a floater.

Finally, Johnson didn’t use the pick-and-roll a great deal, and when he did he often opted to change his plan and go back to posting up. Valanciunas did a nice job sealing off drives but it’s still risky to have him drop to far below the screen because of Johnson’s ability to pull up from mid-range.

Guarding Johnson isn’t an easy proposition, because the Nets are far too balanced to double jim – and we saw what happens when a second defender pays him too much attention – and putting a bigger man on him isn’t all that palatable because Pierce can then pick apart the smaller wing. I’d like to see Ross get more of a chance on Johnson, but the answer is going to have to come at least in part from DeRozan doing a better job. We’ve seen DeRozan get lost when constantly screened in the past but he didn’t do a terrible job when put on the block, so there’s some hope. In any case, Casey will have to adjust the looks he throws at Johnson, because this was simply too easy for him.

Share this:
  • RobertArchibald

    Don’t get why we’re playing Amir on Pierce instead of Joe Johnson. Switch DD to Pierce and Amir to JJ. Joe Johnson generally plays closer to the basket than Pierce does, allowing Amir to stay a lot closer to the paint to provide help. Amir on Pierce all series will kill our chances. Let JJ get his and zone in on everyone else.

    • matthew nelson

      I thought the same thing. Everything was a little floater inside…those would be tough against Amir and would force him outside.

    • jakdripr

      Interesting idea, let’s see if Casey tries that out. I was suprised when he used Amir on KD, and even more surprised when it worked so let’s see if the same will be the case here.

    • BlakeMurphy

      I think what you’d see pretty quickly is Pierce putting DeRozan on the block, which would create it’s own set of problems. They’d use Joe in more spot-ups and pull Amir away from the basket, where he’s less valuable.

      Worth a look, but I’d imagine Pierce could exploit it pretty quickly.

      • RobertArchibald

        I’m ok with Pierce on the block and with Johnson spot-ups. No need to double PP on the block which stops some of their ball movement. Feel like it’s a good way to hide DeMar’s terrible lateral movement when guys face him up. If JJ beats us from the outside, then so be it.

        Think the bigger issue is if Casey will change any matchups. He’s a guy that doesn’t deviate from routine very often. Definition of insanity might do us in this series, if that’s the case.

    • mountio

      Totally agree. For all the talk about what to do against Pierce .. other than a few shots down the stretch (which I give PP full credit for, dont get me wrong, he was great when he needed to be), PP didnt exploit us that much throughout the game. JJ on the other hand, we had no answer for. He either backed us down for the floater, which he didnt seem to miss or found the open man. The stats dont seem to seem to pick up the fact we had to double him after the first quarter and while he might not have got an assist … he got the offense going every time. Id be all for Amir on him ..
      To Blakes comment of PP posting Amir, Im not so sure. PPs game has always been step backs and drive bys … hes never really developed much of a post game, and Id take my chances there vs the JJ floater barage

      • RobertArchibald

        Good points on Pierce. I’m not scared of him. If Raps are up 10 in the last 3 minutes, PP’s ‘clutch-ness’ is a non-factor. JJ is a streaky scorer. If he’s on, he’s almost unguardable. If he’s off, I’d let him shoot open jumpers to his heart’s content.

    • Gary Gill

      Totally agree Robert. Amir isn’t that much of mobile defender always going to the perimeter. Piece can easily blow by him to the hoop.

  • Bryan Colangelo

    I’m sure this is a wonderful article Blake, but if I read it I will just want to into a ball and die inside.

    • Yo

      Hey – are we gonna get a professional nba playoffs presentation or do we have to put up with that Rob guy from the curling coverage the whole time?

      • Rapchat

        HAHAHA “that Rob guy from curling coverage”- Rod Black. He is annoying, I agree. Although I want to strangle them all at times.

        • Gary Gill

          Yeah he annoys me at times as well. Stick to the cfl rod black.

          • Gary Gill

            Jack Armstrong is annoying too at times. With his clownish behavior at times.

  • Eunys

    I was in the ACC yesterday..that was painful..Raptors did not deserve to win!! Good thing now is that they lost by 7 points and this was the best the nets could give (even at home) and that was our worst..let’s keep our fingers crossed for the good adjustments! but Damn this Toronto coach team is really not good!

    • Gary Gill

      Hope toronto can win we’re the higher seed technically!!!

  • Trip

    Can someone tell me what happened to Landry Fields ?? Did he kill Casey’s dog
    or something cuz he has to be a better option than salmons at this point…

    • MoPeteRules

      john salmons played with less energy last night than the blackout of 2003. landry’s energy on defense alone is worth it, not to mention he’s an incredibly active cutter on offense which means either: a) he’d tire out those old brooklyn legs on defense as they chase him around, or b) they don’t chase him around and, as uncle drew once said, ‘he gets buckets’

      • Rapchat

        john salmons played with less energy last night than the blackout of 2003-

        Incredible. HAHAHAHAHAHA

        • Gary Gill


  • DDayLewis

    “as much as he was in my dream on Saturday, he was the Raptors’ nightmare earlier that day. Nailed it.”


  • nickfromtime

    Landry Freeeeeaking Fields, god damn he’s ideal for these kind of matchups, big mobile G/F who can run the floor and make cuts extremely well, does some damage on the boards, plays above average defence (the effort is at least always there) and he’s generally got a great bball iq… besides if he’s playing minutes at the 4 that will negate the fact that he can’t hit longrange shots…. I literally cannot begin to understand why he hasn’t gotten a look, what could he possibly have done to deserve not getting any minutes at all, this guy is not a scrub by any means, he could definitely contribute if even for 15 minutes I mean god damn

  • Pingback: Playoffs update, Knicks/Woodson | Basketball Intelligence()

  • Pingback: Game 7: 5 for 5 | Brooklyn's Beat()

  • Pingback: How Joe Johnson Picked Apart the Raptors | Blake Murphy Sports Writing()