Thursday , May , 12 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Notebook: Loss of Johnson hurts Suns big time

(Sports Network) – Not only did the Phoenix Suns lose Game 2 of their
Western Conference semifinals series to Dallas, 108-106, at America West
Arena, they lost guard Joe Johnson to a nasty eye injury.

The 23-year-old Johnson suffered a displaced fracture of his left orbital bone
when he was fouled hard by Dallas’ Jerry Stackhouse driving to the basket late
in the first half. He landed face-first on the court and was cut near the left
eye. Johnson , who stayed on the floor for several minutes as an intentional
foul was called, made 1-of-2 from the foul line before exiting the contest
with the injury.

Johnson, who has not missed a game since the 2001-02 season, is expected to
miss Games 3 and 4 of the semis at American Airlines Center. A date for
his return to the lineup is unknown.

The 6-7 Johnson scored eight points in Game 2 against the Mavericks before
leaving with the injury. In six games during this year’s postseason for the
Suns, who swept the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the first round,
Johnson has averaged 19 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

“He’s an integral part of our team; there’s no doubt about that,” said Phoenix
head coach Mike D’Antoni after Game 2s loss. “Jimmy Jackson stepped up and
played a great game, and we’re okay with that. We have Jimmy, and Leandro
[Barbosa] will come in and do a good job.”

Jim Jackson, 34, scored nine points in 34 minutes of action for the Suns in
Game 2 for Phoenix. The 13-year veteran, who has averaged 8.8 points during
the Suns first six playoff contests, was 3-for-4 from beyond the arc in the
loss.

“We had a lot of missed opportunities, I had one, Steve (Nash) missed and
Amare (Stoudemire) and that’s six points right there,” said Jackson after Game
2. “When you struggle all game and try to get back into it those are the shots
that you end up missing because there is really know flow. Again, you have to
give credit to Dallas, they came in here and did what they wanted to do, they
got to the free throw line, post up more and that’s what they did.”

Phoenix’ three All-Stars Shawn Marion, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire all had
solid performances in Game 2, but could not lead the Suns to victory.
Marion ended with 23 points and 15 rebounds, while Stoudemire netted 30 and
pulled down a game-high 16 boards and NBA MVP Nash scored 23 and dished
out 13 assists.

“I always want to try and get my teammates going, but on a night like tonight
where things weren’t going that well I tried to be a little more aggressive,
makes some shots, and give us some confidence in some area,” said Nash. “We
expected a much better game out of the [the Mavericks], and we got it.

“Michael Finley was terrific and overall they were a lot better tonight. We
didn’t play great. It was kind of a role reversal — we were flat in the first
half, indecisive at times and got away from what we like to do.”

Dirk Nowitzki, who made the game-winning shot with 6.8 seconds remaining in
Game 2, finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds for Dallas, while Finley
scored a team-high 31 and handed out five assists.

Johnson is an unsung hero for the Suns. He is not a star like his three All-
Star teammates, but Johnson, who averaged 17.1 points in the regular season,
is able to hit the open shot and could be Phoenix’ best defender. Johnson is
the consummate team player and is the perfect fit for the high-powered
offensive attack of the Suns.

“It’s always tough,” said Nash about losing Johnson. “Joe’s been averaging a
bunch of points, he’s one of our best defenders and he’s obviously a terrific
player. Obviously we missed him (in the second half of Game 2), but I think we
did a great job of rallying together and playing better in the second half. We
weren’t very good in the first half, and we kind of got ourselves back in the
game, but overall we weren’t that good tonight.”

As crazy as this may sound, the loss of Johnson could be the downfall of the
top-seeded Suns.

DAL PHO