Find out how No. 52’s diligent work ethic has paid dividends on both ends of the court. Plus, Coach Smart and Kings players provide a scouting report on defending the Celtics.
James Johnson knew his buzzer-beater against N.Y. would find the bottom of the net the second it left his hands.
“I’ve been practicing a lot of shots, but you can never prepare for the last shot like that,” he said postgame. “But as soon as it left my hands, I knew it was good.”
While the Wake Forest product been renowned for his defensive prowess – averaging 1.5 blocks and one steal over the last six games – he’s grown increasingly more confident in his offensive arsenal after being shifted to power forward, where he’s utilized his versatility and high basketball IQ.
“He’s skilled-enough to still keep the floor spaced and put the ball down on the floor, he’s big enough to where he can guard some of the bigger fours (power forwards) and then those fours who can play off on the perimeter,” said Kings Head Coach Keith Smart.
“I think now, driving to the basket, being able to make plays from the four, moving the ball along to some open guys on the perimeter – he has that kind of skill and you don’t take that away from him. I think the four has settled him down a little bit, because as a perimeter player, the ball comes to you right away to make a decision.”
Veteran John Salmons has made a similar assessment of No. 52’s performance at the new position.
“I think Travis (Outlaw) and I were talking yesterday – (Johnson) might’ve found his niche on this team at the four,” he said. “Hopefully, he can keep it up and that just adds another dimension to our team.”
Smart praises Johnson for putting in countless hours in the gym while also working on his mechanics with Kings Assistant Coaches Alex English and Bobby Jackson.
“One thing we knew already about him is that he is a worker, and he’s done that all year from day one when he came in,” said the Kings leader. “The guy does so much work shooting the basketball – that’s why it was so fitting last night that he hits the game-winner based on all the shots he’s taken during the course of practice.”
After making 35.2 percent of his field goal attempts over his first 22 appearances of the season, No. 52 has rediscovered his touch, scoring in double-figures in four of the last six games while shooting 49 percent from the floor.
“I’m definitely rolling now,” he said after notching a season-high 17 points against the Knicks. “A couple of (shots) have been going down for me, so (I have to) keep working how I’m working, take game-rhythm shots and hopefully they continue dropping for me.”
His teammates unanimously agree Johnson couldn’t have picked a more opportune time to connect on his first three-pointer of the season.
“We tease him all the time about his shooting,” said DeMarcus Cousins smiling. “It was his first one of the year and I’ll take it every day.”
“We kept track (of his three-point attempts),” affirmed Isaiah Thomas with a chuckle. “We know. He knows. I (joke) with him all the time about it.”
The 6-foot-9 forward says he has a clean slate following his timely heroics.
“Scrap whatever my percentage is now,” he said. “I’m one-for-one.”
– Tyreke Evans, who’s missed 11 of the last 14 games with a left knee injury, was back on the practice court Saturday morning, and according to Smart, went through team workouts with no restrictions.
“He went through some work that we had today, five-on-five, then some four-on-four after practice,” said Smart. “(His status for Sunday’s game will depend on) how his body reacts tomorrow morning. Then, we’ll make a decision from there.”
– Smart and Kings players believe a major factor in finding success against Boston on Sunday will be controlling the tempo.
“We have to focus on trying to do what we did (against N.Y.) – get out the gates really fast, take the right shots (and) play good defense,” said the Kings leader. “We can’t allow Paul Pierce or guys like that to play at a high level right off the bat.”
“Obviously, they don’t have Ray (Allen), but they still have Jason Terry and veteran guys, and some young guys with (Jared) Sullinger and Courtney Lee,” said Jason Thompson. “The key is still running, playing to our pace and not to play to theirs (in) the halfcourt. We’ve got to contain (Rajon) Rondo with the ball.”
Salmons, who’s faced Pierce 36 times including the postseason, says the 10-time All-Star is one of the toughest players to defend in the League.
“A lot of guys, they’re one-dimensional and you can take away certain things,” said No. 5. “But with him, he has so many different moves and shots that he can make, you’ve got to honor every fake, so it’s hard to stay in front of him.”
Salmons held Pierce to 19 points on 33 percent shooting (0-for -5 from long range) in Sacramento’s last home game against Boston – a 120-95 victory on Mar. 16, 2012.
– Knicks center Tyson Chandler complimented Cousins on his strong inside presence and all-around performance following Sacramento’s victory over N.Y. No. 15 recorded his ninth double-double of 2012-13 with 15 points and 10 rebounds, in addition to tallying five assists and three steals.
“He has a nice game down low,” said the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. “He has potential to be a good young player.”
Catch Cousins and the Kings take on Kevin Garnett and the Celtics at Sleep Train Arena on Sunday at 6 p.m. Click Here to get two tickets for just $49 and score a postgame Evans group photo with the #BeatTheGreen Special.