A Tip of the Cap To Joe Johnson

A Daily Babble Production

We're going to keep it fairly short and sweet today, folks.  Largely because I'm just as stunned as anyone else out there.

There will be plenty of time to vent over the next couple of days, and rightfully so, for there is plenty to vent about.  The Celtics have certainly done their share to contribute to ending up in the position in which they currently sit, and CelticsBlog (among other places) certainly offers the forums for us to air our grievances.

But before we spend most of the next 48 hours focused on the green, it's worth remembering that there are two teams in this series, and though the Hawks put out a second consecutive great effort as a unit last night, there is one man on that other team whose performance is particularly deserving of our respect and admiration.

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We can wonder why Ray Allen was the man guarding him throughout most of the fourth quarter, or why the Celtics didn't change their rotations, or whether or not Doc and Tommy Thibs should have had something brilliant up their sleeve.  But sometimes, the thing to do is simply to tip one's hat and give credit where credit is due.

In the fourth quarter last night, Joe Johnson gave me a feeling that I don't get all too often while watching any NBA basketball, and certainly a feeling that I experienced rarely if ever this season with these Celtics: This guy isn't going to be stopped.

For twelve minutes of Atlanta Hawks glory, Johnson had found the overly cliched concept that is the zone.  By the midst of the fourth quarter, we observers knew he was going to get the ball nearly every time down for the Hawks, and we had the sinking feeling that he was going to score and that there wasn't much to be done about it.

It didn't matter what the man had to do.   If the Celtics gave him any space within the hash marks, he was putting the rock up and in.  If they didn't give him any space, Johnson simply created his own -- both near and far from the basket.  His crossover that put Leon Powe on the floor gave him the space for a wide-open step-back trey.  When it was Ray Allen guarding him and sticking with him, Johnson had no problem driving straight into the teeth of the defense in the paint and then contorting his body to any degree necessary to slink his way through to the cup for an acrobatic lay-in.  Or pulling up just shy of the defense in the lane.  Or slipping around a screen down the wing for a baby jumper.

The stats are impressive enough -- that the man outscored the league's best team on his own in the fourth quarter, by a 20-17 count -- but the box score will never convey the feeling that came with watching Joe Johnson do his work last night.

So while we take the next day and a half to wonder what the boys in green need to do to get their mojo back, it's worth taking a few moments to pay some homage to an opponent's performance that was truly exquisite.

Heck of an effort, Joe.  Just don't let it happen again, and we'll be good to go.

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