June 12, 2009
Derek Fisher had struggled through the first three games and three quarters of the 2009 NBA Finals. Missing his first five three point attempt of the pivotal game four, Fisher typically didn't hesitate to launch his sixth and seventh attempts during the most crucial points of the game.
In typical Fisher style, both bombs swished through the net and broke the back of the Orlando Magic.
Watching Derek Fisher's clutch performance last night brought back memories of another veteran point guard from a generation earlier.
Dennis Johnson of the Seattle Supersonics, Phoenix Suns, and Boston Celtics is remembered as one of the most clutch players of all time.
Though Johnson is a five-time All-Star, he was only selected to the All-Star game once (1985) in his most coveted role as Boston Celtics point guard for seven seasons. The seven years he spent with Boston was the third incarnation of his legendary career.
Already an NBA Champion, Finals MVP winner, All-Defensive Team member, and respected offensive force as a shooting guard for the Supersonics and Suns, Johnson was brought to Boston mainly for his gritty defensive abilities in 1983.
After winning the championship in 1981, the Boston Celtics had suffered disappointing losses to the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks. It was apparent that Boston's fragile backcourt had broken and was finally in need of a change.
Celtics General Manager Red Auerbach had been watching a largely successful but tumultuous shooting guard lead the Supersonics to a championship in 1979 and the Suns to a Pacific Division title and All-NBA first team status two years later.
Affectionately referred to as "DJ", with explosive "rocket-launcher legs", Johnson was known early on in his career as a hardcore slam-dunking finisher around the rim and a defensive stalwart in an era with some of the more dominant back court's in NBA history.
After four consecutive All-Star appearances, All-NBA and All-Defensive team selections, DJ's offensive numbers decreased to 14 points per game in 1983. Many were writing him off as egotistical, a bull-headed player that couldn't get along with coaches.
Red knew he needed such a bull-headed player to contain the great ego's of the most dominant front court of all time, Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Cedric Maxwell and 6th man, Kevin McHale. Red also knew he needed a defensive powerhouse to get past the physical play of offensive menace 76ers guard, Andrew Toney.
A trade was executed to send Rick Robey to Phoenix for Dennis Johnson, who would be asked to play point guard. The ever-versatile veteran had no problem adjusting, and immediately brought steadiness to a team of stars.
Boston won its 15th championship in Johnson's first year, and DJ's fervid defense inundated Magic Johnson in the NBA Finals and forced him into various offensive mistakes that Magic described as "costing L.A. the series".
In 1985, DJ was selected to his fifth All-Star team. He improved his offensive numbers to 15.7 points per game and 6.8 assists per game while continuing to reek havoc on the NBA defensively and garnering his second straight all-defensive second team honors.
Johnson, always respected for his clutch performances, hit his most famous NBA Finals buzzer beater, a 19-footer off a pass from Larry Bird as time expired. This shot, coupled with his last-second (extremely difficult) layup off Bird's steal from Isiah Thomas in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, were Johnson's most memorable moments.
Though DJ has won the Finals MVP in 1979, he was noted as saying that the 1987 steal by Bird and consequent game-winning layup were his "personal favorite plays of all time".
Though age had begun to dig into the veteran's war-torn legs and ankles, he was still selected first-team All-Defense in 1987 for the last time.
Though Dennis would remain competitive, starting for another four seasons, his numbers declined steadily until his eventual release from the team in 1990.
On December 13, 1991, the Boston Celtics forever retired the number three in honor of DJ. During the ceremony, Larry Bird called Dennis "The best teammate he ever had," Magic telegraphed a message declaring DJ "the best backcourt defender of all time."
Dennis Johnson tragically passed away on February 22, 2007. He is known throughout the league as one of the most under rated legend's of all time.
Dennis Johnson's legacy includes:
- Three-time Champion
- One-time Finals MVP
- Five-time All-Star
- Two-time All-NBA player
- Nine-time All-Defensive Team
- 14-time (and counting) Basketball Hall of Fame Snub
Though Fisher and Johnson's clutch performances are similar, after re-exploring Dennis Johnson's career in detail, I realized that Fisher's career accomplishments do not compare to the accolades achieved by DJ before he even became a Celtic.
I am ashamed to say, it seems as if I had forgotten just how illustrious the legendary guards career had been.
Johnson has been eligible for the Hall of Fame induction since 1995. They have snubbed him for 14 years.
Looks like I am not the only one who should be ashamed...
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