Joe Johnson's 'fun' Celtics moment late in game vs. Cavaliers caps off 'surreal' journey back to NBA

12:14 AM

It's been 20 years since Joe Johnson made his NBA debut, but he still knows how to score.

Johnson, who earned the nickname "Iso Joe" for his scoring prowess in those situations over the course of his long and decorated NBA career, scored the final points of Boston's victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers by burying an isolation jumper over the outstretched arm of the Cavaliers.

"We know what he is," Udoka said. Everybody said it as they walked in the locker room. That's what he is and he's always been, so that's not going to change.

The shot ended a crazy 24 hours for Johnson, who became the second-oldest player in the NBA and the only current NBA player who played against Michael Jordan.

He returned to the Celtics almost 20 years after the team that took him 10th overall in the 2001 NBA Draft traded him away, setting a new record for time between games with the same team.

It's amazing to be back here 20 years later. It's still hard to believe.

The NBA has been ravaged by the omicron variant of COVID-19 and many players have been given the chance to return to the league. The NBA has relaxed the rules for signing replacement players in order to make sure teams have enough bodies to play.

Johnson has been back in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, working out with his son, who is playing high school ball, wondering if he will get another chance at playing in an NBA game. Since being cut by the Detroit Pistons at the end of training camp, Johnson has been out of the NBA.

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Since the last Celtics game, Joe Johnson has been with the team for 19 years.

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He has been on the court since then, winning two Big3 titles, and playing in the AmeriCup for Team USA, but he wasn't optimistic that someone would give him another chance to extend his NBA career.

"I didn't have high hopes, but I wouldn't say give up," Johnson said. My son keeps me in the gym. We work and work and work, and I always talk to him, "Just work." Even when you can't see what's next, you have to keep working.

Johnson got another chance because of the flood of replacement players coming back into the NBA. He was sitting with his daughter when his agent called.

Schwartz told him that he might get a call to join the Celtics. He was told to take a flight to Boston three hours later after getting a call.

Johnson said it was a no-brainer. I take care of his body. I'm in good shape. I was ready to take on that challenge.

"My agent asked me what I thought, and we just kept moving." I'm ready for anything.

Udoka said the goal in signing veterans like Johnson and Miles was to have veteran experience on the bench, and to continue playing the team's young rotation players, such as Payne, Nesmith and Langford.

After being serenaded with "We Want Joe" chants from the crowd, Udoka sent Johnson to the scorer's table, giving him his first NBA appearance since playing a few minutes in Game 7.

Udoka said he heard them. I would have liked to get him in sooner, except the lead got down to 12 or so, but that was the plan to get those guys some run, if possible."

Johnson looked like he did throughout his NBA career when he got onto the court after three years away. He said that he has been working out with his son and doing hot yoga since he retired from the NBA, and he looked great.

Jaylen Brown, who scored 34 points to lead Boston and grew up in Atlanta, said that Johnson still has a lot in the tank. I've watched him before in the Big3 and he still looks like he's got something left in the tank, so I'm happy to have him on board to hear his advice. I think it's great.

The Celtics made sure that Johnson would have it on the final possession of the game, after spending a couple possessions deferring to the other players on the court. Johnson used a screen from center Bruno Fernando, snaked to his left, got Anderson onto his left hip, and let it fly with a high-arcing jumper.

The shot fell through the basket, setting off a celebration that would have been mistaken for a game-winner.

Johnson said that the league was a pick-and-roll one. It's hard to stop guys like that once you master the pick-and-roll. You can make plays out of that. I never lose sight of that. I can see how they play the pick-and-roll from the game. If I'm in the pick-and-roll, you either have the floater or the midrange game.

"It went down," he said with a laugh.

It was a fun moment in an otherwise dull game between two teams that were dealing with several absences due to COVID-19. It was another chance for Joe Johnson to extend his NBA career, one that he was thrilled to get placed in front of.

It's fun to come in the game and be effective, but to have them chanting my name like that, and obviously come out and us get the win first and foremost, that's weird," Johnson said. You just try to enjoy the process and live in the moment, man, at my age.

I'm just living in the moment right now. It's fun.