LOS ANGELES — The end result seemed inevitable anytime Utah guard Joe Johnson had the ball in his hands. Even as the Clippers sensed what he would do, there were very few times when they stopped it.
Having earned the nickname “Iso Joe” during his 15-year NBA career, the 35-year-old Johnson has shown in this first-round series against the Clippers that his production is hardly an isolated incident. Johnson scored 14 points in Utah’s 96-92 Game 5 victory over the Clippers on Tuesday night at Staples Center, but that doesn’t properly explain his value.
“His baskets, because of the timeliness of them, really lift the group,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s so willing and wanting to take those big shots.”
Johnson hit plenty.
He nailed a 3-pointer that widened the gap to 83-78 with 2:59 left to prompt Clippers coach Doc Rivers to call a timeout. Nearly 17 seconds after re-entering the game, Johnson nailed a fadeaway in the lane to give the Jazz a 92-87 lead with 19.2 seconds remaining. In the Clippers’ Game 4 loss, Johnson scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter. In the Clippers’ Game 1 loss, Johnson made the game-winner over center DeAndre Jordan and forward Jamal Crawford as time expired.
“We got to slow down Joe Johnson. He’s been killing us every game now,” Clippers guard Austin Rivers said. “He keeps making big shots after big shots. We’ll figure out something.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers argued somewhat that his team already had figured out something. After citing Johnson’s 6-of-14 mark from the field, Doc Rivers argued,” I would take that.” He then argued that Utah guard Gordon Hayward “set the tone” with his team-leading 27 points on 9-of-16 shooting.
About 90 minutes before tip-off, though, Doc Rivers offered a different diagnosis. After stressing the need to make Johnson “miss shots,” the veteran coach also outlined the importance of denying him his sweet spots and downplayed the ones he made that were contested.
“If this were the regular season, you would keep saying if he’s going to keep making those shots, then we’re going to keep playing that way,” Rivers said. “But in the playoffs, you make adjustments. We will.”
The Clippers did not adjust enough in Game 5. Will they in Game 6? Perhaps easier said than done considering Johnson’s 6-foot-7, 240-pound frame.
“He’s a guard, but he’s a…