I tend to agree with the assessment made a couple months back by Trey Kerby at The Basketball Jones that Ivan Johnson should be one of everybody's favorite players. There's so many reasons to root for Johnson — the novelty of his status as a 28-year-old rookie who appeared on the NBA scene as if from nowhere (perfectly enough) in this weirdo lockout-shortened season; the eccentricity of a legitimate NBA forward who rocks diamond fronts during games and freely admits he doesn't really watch basketball; the underdog narrative of a player who went from overseas-and-D-League journeyman to key frontcourt rotation piece on the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks this year, pretty much through hard work, toughness and sheer force of will; and so on. It's hard to find reasons to root against a guy like that.
Unless you're Nick Young, that is. If you're Nick Young, and you were the object of Johnson's frustration following a terrible turnover during the Tuesday night matchup between his Hawks and your Los Angeles Clippers, then it's OK to not be such a big fan of his. For a little while, at least.
Johnson had six points, seven rebounds and a pair of blocks, including this clean and monstrous erasure of Young, in the Hawks' 109-102 home win over the Clippers. The win helped Atlanta (39-26) maintain a one-game lead in the standings over the Boston Celtics (38-27), whom they'll face in the first round of the playoffs, keeping them in line to snare home-court advantage in the series despite Boston's claim to a higher seed as the champions of the Atlantic Division.
Where the two teams will start the postseason will be determined Thursday night when the Hawks face the Dallas Mavericks and the Celtics take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Things will kick off at the Highlight Factory if Atlanta wins or Boston loses, but the combination of a Hawks loss and a Celtics win sends the series to the Boston, since the clubs would finish with identical win-loss records and Doc Rivers' team owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The loss ended the Clippers' pursuit of the Pacific Division crown, won for the fifth straight year by the Los Angeles Lakers. More importantly, though, it dropped the Clippers to 40-25, the same record held by their first-round opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies. If the Clippers drop the second half of their season-closing back-to-back on the road against the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, the Grizz will just need to beat a reeling Orlando Magic team at home on Thursday to steal home-court advantage away from L.A. entering their series. A Clippers win at Madison Square Garden locks down the No. 4 seed, though, because Vinny Del Negro's squad took two of three from Memphis during the regular season.
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