Damian Lillard scored a career-high 59 points in the Portland Trail Blazers' 101-86 win over the Utah Jazz on April 8. He did it without a turnover, scoring the third-most points without a throwaway since 1983, and the win pushed Portland a game and a half past the Denver Nuggets for the West's eighth seed.
It was a great night for Lillard, maybe the best of his career.
But instead of keeping the game ball for himself, the 26-year-old point guard made a noble decision. Lillard sent the rock to Joe Johnson, who scored the 20,000th point of his highlighted career at the Moda Center.
"I know I was going to take the game ball, but I think it was [his] 20,000th point,” Lillard said in his postgame interview. “So I told them to give it to him. You know, it's an accomplishment for him as well."
Why would he do that?
Johnson has been an inside-outside scorer since he was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 2001. He was so good, Boston had to trade him in his rookie season to Phoenix, where he later went on to average 18 points per game for the 2004-05 "Seven Seconds or Less" Suns team -- a team he believed could have won the championship had a freak fractured orbital bone not sidelined him in the playoffs.
Johnson spent seven seasons dominating defenders with the Atlanta Hawks, who in-part built an offense around his dangerous one-on-one skill set. He averaged 21 points in his time as “Iso Joe” in Atlanta, becoming one of the more reliable players in crunch time with 12 game-winners between 2003-04 and 2007-08.
That was the ninth-most clutch shots made during that span, and he kept nailing those buzzer beaters when he continued his career in Brooklyn.
Johnson eventually went to Miami for half a season, then signed a two-year contract to help mentor the young Utah Jazz into contention. But through it all, Johnson can still play. Just ask the Los Angeles Clippers, who were victimized by another ISO-Joe dagger in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
Johnson's scored more points in his 16-year career than other active veterans like Jason Terry, Tony Parker, Zach Randolph, Chris Paul, and Jamal Crawford. It's also more than legends like John Stockton, Bernard King, Magic Johnson, Chris Webber, and Grant Hill.
Now, the credentialed guard has brought his veteran wisdom to an improving Jazz team with the West’s fourth-best record. He's averaging just under 10 points this season, but shows up when they need him most.
Johnson has paid his dues in the NBA.
He's an OG, having given buckets to Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James alike. Johnson's a bona fide hooper. That's why Lillard showed love on Saturday night, and that’s why his young Jazz teammates are blessed to have him.
It was only right for Lillard to pay his respects to a predecessor by turning the game ball over to a player who had put the time in. Just like it was only right for us to show him some love with this post.
Here's some of the best highlights of Joe Johnson's career:
When a rookie Joe Johnson dropped 16 points against Michael Jordan
When he scored 42 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter, against the Celtics
When he buried the Detroit Pistons with a dirty step-back buzzer-beater
When he banked in a game-winner against the Nuggets
When he made a buzzer-beater to take the Milwaukee Bucks into overtime, THEN hit a game-winner
When he destroyed Jusuf Nurkic's ankles
When he made Paul Pierce look like silly putty
When he showed no respect for Dwyane Wade's hand in his face
When he became Jesus and scored 29 points with eight threes in ONE QUARTER
And, of course, when he sunk the Clippers in Game 1
Happy No. 20,000, Joe.