Immediate impact: Cam Johnson brought spacing to Suns offense in injury return

Jan 20, 2023, 8:32 PM | Updated: 9:01 pm
Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson (23) drives as Brooklyn Nets guard Cam Thomas (24) defends dur...

Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson (23) drives as Brooklyn Nets guard Cam Thomas (24) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Phoenix Suns forward Cam Johnson put up 19 points and six rebounds on Thursday night against the Brooklyn Nets in his first game back since Nov. 4, but the gravity he created in the arena and on the court can’t be told with numbers.

Entering Thursday’s game against the Nets, the Suns had lost nine of their last 10 games and had won two games since Dec. 19. During that 10-game stretch, the Suns were also the 30th-rated offense.

With Johnson’s return came breakout games from wing Mikal Bridges (28 points and nine assists) and center Deandre Ayton (24 points and 14 rebounds). A big part of that is how much easier Johnson being on the floor makes it for the rest of the core.

“Oh yeah, I miss that. I’m still surrounded by shooters when Cam wasn’t there but having him now, I’m surrounded by the ‘shoota,’ you know what I’m saying?” Ayton said.

“Just having Cameron, having that fire on him to where if you try to not guard him while I’m in the post, he’s going to let it fly and he’s going to put it on the ground and make the right play.”

Johnson said he was excited to be back after being out and spending his time constantly thinking of ways he could improve his game. Thursday night, he was able to put his thoughts into action to help his team find a rhythm.

“They’d switch a lot, so (DA) was able to dominate that paint and what did he have 14 rebounds? Yeah, that’s huge,” Johnson said. “I think Mikal, a bunch of his nine assists came from just lobbing it down to DA and when you have somebody like that who puts so much pressure on the defense and a team like that, it allows us to take advantage of what they’re doing and really stresses them out.

“Because they want to switch, they want to kind of get into you, make you uncomfortable, take away some conventional scoring methods. But when you have somebody like DA that you could just dump it down to on those mismatches and really count on him to score, it’s a big help.”

After Thursday night’s win, the Suns sit as the 11th seed in the tight Western Conference standings and only a game behind the sixth-seeded Utah Jazz. With Johnson healthy and Devin Booker and Chris Paul getting closer to returning, the Suns are looking to get back to full strength for the second half of the season.

“Cam coming out, yeah, it’s definitely cleared up the air for us a little bit. I’m sure it’s taken some type of stress off of Monty as well … most definitely Cam being on the team has definitely given us a breath of fresh air I should say,” Ayton said.

“Where teams aren’t so focused on certain players in the game and just playing the game honestly and having Cam I know for sure our team’s gonna play honest.”

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