Amir Johnson stepping up for Celtics in Crowder’s absence

Boston Celtics' Amir Johnson (90) looks to shoot against Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams, left, during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Amir Johnson looks to shoot against Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams, left, in TD Garden on March 16.
Michael Dwyer/AP

Amir Johnson is the highest paid player on the Celtics roster, but he has struggled living up to his $12 million salary for much of his first year in green. His production has been inconsistent in Boston’s starting frontcourt, leading to a steady decline in his minutes, especially in the second half of games. Without him, Brad Stevens has elected to go with smaller lineups that helped propel the Celtics up the East standings.

Jae Crowder’s ankle injury has taken away some of that small-ball flexibility for Stevens in the past week, leading the head coach to turn back more regularly to Johnson for a boost in the frontcourt. The 28-year-old big man delivered just that Sunday night against the Sixers, posting a season-high 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting in Boston’s 120-105 victory. The win snapped Boston’s four-game losing streak and pushed the team back into the No. 5 spot in the East playoff race.

Johnson was limited to just 24 minutes in the win due to foul trouble, but playing time and production has been on the rise for the 6-foot-9 forward in the past week. He’s played over 20 minutes in four straight games for the first time since January, averaging 10.8 points and 8.8 rebounds during that stretch, a solid bump from his season averages of 7.1 ppg, and 6.1 rpg.

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“I think since the second half in Indiana, he’s been awfully good,” Stevens told reporters in Philadelphia. “So we’re going to need him to continue to be that way. He just gives us a different level of athleticism down there, and an ability to not only challenge shots, but also finish tip-ins and lobs.”

Johnson has taken advantage of those close looks around the basket to shoot a scorching 75 percent from the field (21-of-28), including a nifty dunk off a fancy feed from Isaiah Thomas on Sunday.

With Crowder expected to miss at least one more week with his high ankle sprain, the Celtics will need to see increased contributions from Johnson if they want to keep pace in the race for home court advantage in the East.

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