Joe Johnson will start tonight for the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3, but he likely won't be at full-strength when they look to take a 2-1 series lead against the Bulls.
Johnson aggravated a plantar fasciitis injury in his right foot sometime during the first quarter of Monday night’s 90-82 Bulls win, and he did not participate in this morning’s shootaround in Chicago—head coach P.J. Carlesimo joked that Johnson “listened intently.” Johnson was, however, seen about an hour before tip-off testing out his foot on the United Center floor.
Depending on how long of spurts he can play on the tender foot, his 16.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in the first two contests of this series will be crucial. More important are the near 37 minutes he played this season, including a 40-minute performance three nights ago in a Game 2 loss.
Carlesimo hinted that Johnson—like Bulls center Joakim Noah, who is battling the same injury—will be on a minute-restriction.
“If Joe can play we’ve got to just evaluate, see what he looks like, how much he’s gonna be able to give us and just go from there,” Carlesimo said 45 minutes before tip, when Johnson was still listed as a game-time decision. “Honestly, we didn’t anticipate this. We thought it was going the other way—it was going the other way, until I guess the first quarter the other night, so we just deal with it.”
Carlesimo said former Bulls guard C.J. Watson would have started in Johnson's absence, but the 29-year-old reserve will continue to be a spark off the bench for Brooklyn. In the first two games of the series he scored 24 points and handed out six assists (to zero turnovers) in 50 combined minutes. With Johnson likely playing fewer than his season average, Watson's play will be a major factor for a Nets' offense limited to 82 points on Monday.
Reserves Keith Bogans and MarShon Brooks would likely see an uptick in minutes if Johson can’t go as well.
Johnson may have received some inspiration from his counterpart Noah, who continues to battle through the painful injury. The first-time All-Star has been limited in both games this series, but has still managed to average 7.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in 19.0 minutes. That's something that hasn't surprised Carlesimo.
"I want to give credit for playing, obviously, when he’s got a serious injury, but at the same time he’s got such an aggressive player, he’s such a talent, such a competitor, that I’m not surprised when he plays well," Carlesimo said. "I just think he’s an excellent player, he’s one of the best competitors in the league, so when he does anything good it doesn’t surprise me."
Knowing Noah's limitations, combined with similar restrictions for Johnson has Carlesimo relying more on his team's frontcourt to provide a scoring punch. That, the coach said, will require a tougher style of play than his team showed in Monday night’s loss.
“We need to play a lot better, we need to play with a lot more physicality and a lot more aggression,” he said, “and regardless of whether Joe plays or Joe doesn’t play, we gotta be ready right from the beginning, especially that first six minutes.”
And while Carlesimo did call the United Center “one of the more difficult buildings in the league to play in,” his team may have a small advantage in that they went 23-18 away from the Barclays Center, tied for the sixth-best mark in the NBA this year.
“I think the fact that we’ve played well on the road all year gives us reason to be confident, but at 7:30 it’s not gonna make any difference. The road has been good to us, and hopefully it will be.”