Want to win a championship? You’ll need help from your entire roster, you’ll need some breaks to go your way, and you’ll need your “x-factors” to perform. Whether those factors are the ability to adjust, the capacity to execute, and/or the players’ understanding of the environment in which they are playing, it isn’t easy. Winning in the NBA is hard. Winning in the playoffs is harder. The Phoenix Suns are making it look easy.
Entering the playoffs, the thought that Cameron Johnson would need to play consistently well if the Suns wanted to advance was not foreign. Rotation players with his skill-set — shooting, size, hustle, and defense — are incredibly valuable.
The 25-year old second-year forward from the University of North Carolina has continually delivered throughout this playoff run for Phoenix, having averaged 7.5 points on 46.6% shooting and 42.5 3PT%. That might not seem like much, but when you are contributing 5-of-5 shooting in the Western Conference Finals, your impact is magnified.
Johnson has been big for Phoenix as they navigate the playoffs and is continually mentioned by national pundits as a great pick for the Suns in the 2019 NBA Draft. Part of my has to LOL and part of my loves that they have to eats their words. All of them.
“He was the best shooter in the draft,” broadcasters on ESPN said during the Tuesday night broadcast. Funny how that didn't matter when James Jones drafted him with the 11th overall pick. The kid who was the “draft’s biggest ‘reach’ pick of the night” per The Athletic, has been a vital part of the Suns run through the 2021 playoffs.
Johnson was on the court on Tuesday night when one of the most memorable Phoenix Suns moments in recent memory, the “Valley Oop”, occurred. Following the 104-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 2, Cam shared his thoughts on the team’s poise, the ‘Valley Oop’ play call, and what this playoff run has meant to him.
On the poise of the Suns, especially when the game became choppy at the end:
“That’s the main thing we’ve been talking about this whole playoffs is keeping our poise. No matter what’s thrown our way, no matter what obstacles we may have to face. Good shooting days, bad shooting days, calls going our way, not going our way, balls going our way, not going our way.
“The big thing we’ve emphasized is keeping our poise. When the rubber meets the road you gotta show up when it counts and I think we did a good job of that tonight.”
On the Valley Oop play and the following 8-minute real-time delay while officials sorted things out:
“Man, it was crazy. Unbelievable play call by coach. Unbelievable execution by everybody. Book, incredible screen. Jae, incredible pass. And DA to finish it off.”
“I was a little bit more off to the side. We were talking about is it going to count? Is it not going to count? What are we going to do? How much time is on the clock? It transitioned quickly from there into how are we going to guard them on these last 0.7 seconds? Lineups were all messed up. They were trying to sub in and out.”
“We got that all figured out. Then just had to finish it off. It was a crazy 8 minutes for sure, It felt long. It felt like 30. I’m glad that went our way.”
On the play call and execution of the Valley Oop:
“Coach got a big bag of tricks, a deep bag of tricks. That was drawn up on the spot and then executed really well by our guys. Coach got a deep bag of tricks. A lot of plays for a lot of different situations. He brought this one out, I don’t think we’ve ever run it before, I don’t think we’ve ever seen it before. I don’t think they had any idea that something like that would come. A lot of credit to coach [Monty Williams] right there.”
“It’s just an incredible pass, put it perfectly where it needed to be. He’s just a calming, steady, consistent guy. He’s tough, he brings that grittiness to the team. You can always count on him to make plays. A lot of little things too, defensive stuff, and obviously something like that pass comes up big in the end.”
On Cameron Payne’s performance spelling Chris Paul:
“Unbelievable. Without CP, that’s a big part of our team missing. And he’s done a fantastic job of getting in there and making things happen. It makes it a lot harder to guard the rest of us. He was really on the attack today, finding guys, getting buckets. Proud of him, really happy for him.”
On the fans and the team:
“You got to give a big, big, big, big shout out to the fans. They’ve been incredible this whole entire playoff run and they were incredible these past two games. They were incredible tonight. That’s a big part of our home court advantage. I think it’s real. We’ve done a really good job of just locking in and showing poise and making plays when we need to make them.”
“I’m really proud of this team and I’m really grateful to be a part of it. It’s something really special and it’s nothing I take for granted at all.”
The road ahead will continue to provide opportunities for the backup forward. If this team wants to brings home their first ever NBA Championship, Johnson will have to continue to execute. Expect him to continue to step up to the challenge and knock down the shots. Why? Because his maturity is a value asset.
And his shot is oh so sweet.