Imagine this: Before Thursday night, in the history of the Nets, only two players had come off the bench to record at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game — Jayson Williams in 1997 and Mike Gminski in 1980. They added a third on Thursday night when Alize Johnson had 20 points and 21 rebounds in a 130-113 victory over the Pacers in Indiana.
He was overshadowed by a 42-point, 10-assist performance by Kevin Durant, but it was a remarkable achievement for Johnson, who spent much of this season in the G League before getting a couple of 10-day contracts with the Nets and then receiving a three-year deal worth $4.1 million.
Guess who enjoyed Johnson’s performance as much as anyone? That’s right, Durant, because it typified the sort of performance the Nets’ supporting cast has produced in shorthanded situations.
"I love everything about Alize — who he is as a person, his approach to the game, his work ethic, his story, his journey, everything about him," Durant said. "I want to see him do well out there. I can tell coming back to Indiana, a place that drafted him, he wanted to come out there and play well.
"Being away from the team for a few days [because of health and safety protocols], you could tell that was on his mind a bit. It’s a good way to welcome him back to the group — 20-20 off the bench. He was just everywhere. I’m very excited for Alize. Glad he’s a part of our team and I want him to continue to keep building on this."
Johnson figured to get substantial playing time when the Nets completed the second game of a back-to-back against the Trail Blazers on Friday night at Barclays Center. Coach Steve Nash said he expected Durant to sit out Friday night after playing 36 minutes on Thursday night.
Nash certainly is a member of the Alize Johnson fan club. "Incredible stat line," he said. "He plays with energy and brings it every night. It’s impressive that he can collect that many rebounds and score in a role where we don’t run anything for him. Really happy for him given that he wasn’t even in the league a month ago and here he is putting up incredible stat lines."
Johnson was the Pacers’ second-round draft pick in 2018 and got into 31 games with them in two seasons. In 13 games with the Nets, he was averaging 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds and shooting 60.7% from the field despite a 1-for-5 mark from three-point range.
"I was excited to play, get back to where it all started," Johnson said. "I felt it when I was coming on the plane and the energy from the time I walked into the building . . . I really didn’t play much when I was here, and I was ready to go out there and prove to everybody that I belong in the NBA."
When asked if Johnson might gain a regular rotation spot at playoff time, Nash cautioned that the stars likely will play longer and the rotation will be shortened. "But we have confidence in Alize as someone that will go in and defend and grab rebounds and run the floor and do things that definitely add when you get into the playoffs and you need a spark," he said. "We have confidence in him, but it’s hard to say right now what the rotation would be in the playoffs."