Amir Johnson was an animal in the fourth quarter.
The veteran grinder did all the dirty work for the Boston Celtics down the stretch as they frantically tried to stay above water and hold on against the Portland Trail Blazers, snagging three offensive rebounds, five total rebounds, dishing out two assists, drawing three fouls and scoring three points in the final frame.
Having him rise to the occasion late in this loss put head coach Brad Stevens in a bit of an odd situation because Johnson isn’t a guy he typically relies on down the stretch. Johnson is currently averaging 4.4 minutes per fourth quarter, which actually puts the starting power forward behind bench bigs Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk. Zeller has been out with a sinus infection for a few weeks now, but Johnson’s strong showing did wind up keeping Olynyk on the bench for the final nine minutes of regulation and all but the final two seconds of the five minute overtime period.
We’ve seen Stevens essentially exile guys like Olynyk and Johnson to the bench on nights where they aren’t playing well, so to play without Olynyk for a stretch is something that happens, but the big issue is that he was playing really well. The seven foot Canadian shot a perfect 4-for-4 from the field en route to scoring ten points and snatching eight rebounds in 25 minutes off the pine; a performance that saw him earn a team best +6 on the evening.
It’s very understandable for Stevens to keep riding the hot hand late in regulation when Johnson was on a mad tear and grabbing every loose ball in sight, but the overtime period is where Olynyk’s benching can be questioned. It literally took zero seconds to realize that he had cooled off a bit as he was whistled for a foul on the tip off to start overtime. Johnson was also called for an offensive foul on the Celtics first possession and he committed a costly turnover with 1:59 left and the team down by two points when he dropped a pass from Isaiah Thomas and subsequently had the ball roll between his legs and out of bounds.
There really is no wrong decision when it’s all said and done, but it did backfire and opens things up for question. Johnson’s strong play forced Stevens into breaking his usual rotation and going away from a good looking Olynyk and Johnson wound up laying an egg in overtime as Boston lost their second straight game to a team with a losing record.