PORTLAND – After days of playing Dirk Nowitzki on the scout team in practice, Trail Blazers rookie forward Chris Johnson finally got a chance to play against the Mavericks’ All-Star Thursday night in Game 3 of this playoff series.
And he didn’t disappoint.
Johnson joined Blazers star Brandon Roy as one of the surprise heroes of the Blazers’ 97-92 win, playing huge fourth quarter minutes off the bench in relief of both Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge to help the Blazers pull to within a game (2-1) in the series.
No one was happier for the D-League Defensive Player of the Year than the men he relieved, Camby more than anyone since taking Johnson under his wing when Johnson signed with the Blazers as a free agent March 14. His 6-foot-11, 210-pound protegé looked like Camby-lite, grabbing three rebounds, blocking two shots and altering a couple of others in his six minutes of crunch time action against the Mavericks.
“Chris came in played well and you always get happy for guys like that, who work so hard behind the scenes,” Camby said. “You never know in this league when your number is going to be called. And tonight he played well when his number was called.
Johnson is one 45 former D-Leaguers working in the playoffs, a list that includes Mavericks guards Jose Barea, Roddy Beaubois, Dominique Jones and forward Ian Mahinmi. Johnson has plenty of D-League alumni company in his own locker room with Luke Babbitt, Earl Barron, Armon Johnson and Patty Mills all have logged time in the D-League.