After missing the Phoenix Suns’ final six games of the regular season due to a right wrist sprain, backup forward Cameron Johnson returned at a much-needed time for his team’s 99-90 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs on Sunday afternoon.
In nearly 23 minutes, Johnson was one of four Phoenix players to score in double figures with 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting (2-of-5 from 3-point range). He also finished second on his team with six rebounds — three of which came on the offensive glass — helping the Suns win the battle on the boards 47-33 against Los Angeles despite having a size disadvantage in the frontcourt.
On a Zoom call with reporters following Monday’s practice, Johnson said it was “great” to return to action, especially in a playoff environment with more than 11,000 fans in attendance.
“Getting back out on the court, first home game in a while, just to see all the fans there was great,” Johnson said. “The atmosphere was incredible to play in and it was a lot of fun.”
When asked about his wrist injury — he had it taped up on Sunday and Monday — Johnson said he began experiencing pain “sometime in April” and played through it before deciding to rehab for the postseason.
“I just wanted to put myself in the best position I can for these moments,” Johnson said. “But obviously, any time you get an injury it can be frustrating. At this point in the season, it can get frustrating. You can say it’s my shooting hand, so it’s more frustrating.
“We did a lot of work with the left (hand), ball was out, floaters, dribbling, passing. So that’s good work, and a lot of lifting, movement stuff. Stuff that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. You just got to take advantage of it, maybe a negative experience and try to see the opportunity.”
Johnson appeared confident when his number was called Sunday, calmly burying his first 3-point attempt in transition to give the Suns a 30-21 lead with 1:48 left in the first quarter. His second triple curbed a minor run for the Lakers at the end of the second quarter, giving Phoenix a 53-43 advantage before halftime.
Cam Johnson had a seamless return from injury yesterday. Did things on both ends, like he has all season. pic.twitter.com/WtfROa5PcA— David Kevin (@theIVpointplay) May 24, 2021
Johnson’s efforts on the glass, however, might have been his most important contribution. His six boards only trailed starting center Deandre Ayton, who had 16, and gave Phoenix an important edge over the taller Lakers.
Remarkably, the Suns finished with a 21-10 advantage in second-chance points despite the Lakers being tied for ninth in that category during the regular season. Phoenix also limited Los Angeles superstar forward Anthony Davis to just 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting and seven rebounds, an effort Johnson was directly involved in while bringing secondary pressure to Davis in help-side rotations.
“It all comes down to us just being locked in each possession and competing,” Johnson said of the Suns’ keys against Davis and superstar forward LeBron James. “And I think if we continue to do that, it covers up a lot of things. And whatever your scheme may be, whatever your game plan may be going into that game, just that constant communication, that constant rotation and movement.”
The Suns will look to take a 2-0 series lead tonight when they face the Lakers at 7 p.m. MT on TNT. On Monday’s Zoom call, Phoenix coach Monty Williams said it will be key for his team to continue to play “great team defense” on Davis, as he likely won’t have an off day like Sunday again.
Johnson could be called upon again to contribute to the Suns’ efforts on defense and on the glass. With starting point guard Chris Paul’s effectiveness yet to be determined while playing through a right shoulder sprain, Johnson will need to quickly release his shot off the Lakers’ rotations and cut off the ball to open the Suns’ spacing if Paul faces extensive pressure.
Collectively, Williams hopes his team will stay together no matter what adversity they may face.
“It goes without saying, we’re the team in the Western Conference for sure that has the least amount of experience,” Williams said. “So we can’t get caught up in whatever is going on, we have to stay the course.”
Johnson offers perspective on Paul injury
Johnson was directly involved in the play that resulted in Paul going down with a right shoulder contusion, trying to position himself for a defensive rebound as James towered over Paul for a finish.
Here's the play where Paul went down #Suns pic.twitter.com/aCewbjoGSJ— Trevor Booth (@TrevorMBooth) May 23, 2021
On Monday, Johnson recapped his point of view on the play, as it appeared Paul’s injury occurred when they bumped together.
“When it happened and he hit the ground and I had looked, I thought something happened before, so I didn’t even know,” Johnson said. “Whatever happened with the contact, I didn’t mean to clock him or anything. I just think it was just bodies kind of got tangled up. Obviously, it wasn’t anything intentional or anything and it wasn’t terribly high-impact. It was just good to see him come back into the game and see him continue to fight through that.”