BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 04: JaJuan Johnson #12 of the Boston Celtics passes the ball as Dennis Horner #31 of the New Jersey Nets defends on January 4, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Celtics defeated the New Jersey Nets 89-70. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The Celtics are in need of productive big men. So it was frustrating from a certain standpoint to see our first round draft pick sitting on the bench for the first third of the season. I personally wasn't mad at Doc because (despite some fans' opinion of his history with young players) I figured if the kid could play defense he'd be out there. If the game was too fast for him, he would just be a liability.
But he is starting to get some run now - in part due to the revolving door of injuries but also because he's earning his time in practice. So far, he's done well with that opportunity.
Johnson admitted his nerves flared a bit when Rivers first told him to check in, but any jitters quickly dissipated after a few trips up and down the floor. Following his first stint of important minutes in a Celtics uniform, Johnson received nothing but praise from his coach and his teammates.
"JaJuan's playing great," said Rivers. "You know, he's just active and athletic. He's just active and he trusts his shot. And that's good for us, too."
Added Pierce: "I always talk to the younger guys and always tell them to be ready, because it's a long season and your number's going to eventually get called at some point or another. And you have to be ready. And [Johnson]'s shown that he's getting better throughout the course of the year and staying ready, and it showed tonight how comfortable he was. He's learning the plays, he's learning the system, and he really looked good tonight."
If he can continue to contribute, he'll actually put himself ahead of Avery Bradley's learning curve. That would be encouraging. It would also make me feel a little bit better about the next generation of Celtics. I've always thought Johnson had the talent, but it is up to him to make the most of it. The sample size is too small right now, but so far so good.