The Phoenix Suns sorely missed their usual starting power forward, Cameron Johnson, over the last few months.
Johnson, who is in the final year of his rookie contract and will become a restricted free agent next season, ascended to Phoenix’s starting power forward spot to begin this season in place of the team’s starting forward from the last two seasons, Jae Crowder. He performed well in the Suns’ first seven games, when he averaged 14.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals and shot 44 percent from the 3-point line.
Cam Johnson checks in for the first time since November pic.twitter.com/IvRbyKolYD— NBA (@NBA) January 20, 2023
The Suns found a way to manage without Johnson in the interim and at one point had the best record in the Western Conference (15-6). But with All-Star guards Devin Booker (groin) and Chris Paul (hip soreness) out and backup guards Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet, Phoenix was severely undermanned and needed increased contributions from who it had available.
Johnson’s return is much-needed for the Suns, who got a key victory with their 117-112 win over the Brooklyn Nets Thursday night. Johnson received a standing ovation once he checked in to the game off the bench and played just under 22 minutes, which may or may not have been over his designated restriction (Suns coach Monty Williams said, ‘Next question,’ when asked about that after the game.)
Johnson had 19 points with six rebounds and two assists. He also had a steal and a block and shot 4-of-10 from the field (2-of-6 from 3-point range).
Love to see Cam Johnson back attacking dude just goes without fear pic.twitter.com/awlqlgRSBZ— j (@jhardy252) January 20, 2023
“I just thought he brought a level of juice to the arena that we hadn’t felt in a while,” Williams said. “When he got off the bench, you could feel the fans and the community like, ‘That’s our guy.’
“(Suns starting forward) Mikal (Bridges) saw his twin come into the game and he was like, ‘Let’s go.’ I thought it was awesome, I really did, to have your fans emotionally wrap their arms around a guy that has grown up in this city and watched him battle through a tough injury and have him check into the game and feel the love from the community, from our fans, I thought it was awesome.”
Here is everything Johnson said after his comeback performance.
(On if he had fun coming back from injury...)
“A ton, a ton. Just the feeling of getting back out there, getting up and down and coming away with a win, a lot of fun.”
(On if he was expecting an ovation when he checked into the game…)
“Not really. It’s great, I appreciate it though, it just shows how much this arena, this city, these fans care and I appreciate it so much. Gave me juice, think it gave the team a little juice, but I just want to say, I missed 37 games, can’t tell you how good it felt to back out there.”
(On if making his first shot helped with the nerves...)
“For sure; kind of was wide open, so felt good, just stuck to the fundamentals, hit that one, had a couple more that I left out there that I felt like I should have made or done something a little different. But overall, just glad to get back out there and glad to come away with a win.”
(On his excitement of coming back in when he thought his night was over...)
“Through the roof. Just like, ‘OK, another chance.’ Cause it’s like, you’re out for a while and you watch and then you watch what you’ve done in the past and then you watch the game, ‘OK, I can do this. OK, I can do that.’ And before you know it, you got a list of things like, ‘I can be better in this area or I can find shots, points, assists, rebounds in this area. Steals in this area.’ So, it’s like you’re out there and something happens, “Ah I shouldn’t have done that.’ So, like next time I’m in that position, I get that opportunity, you know what I mean? So just being able to play, being able to log multiple stints out there, just helps me process the game as a whole and build upon everything.”