Joe Johnson caps NBA return with classic ‘Iso Joe’ bucket

“Iso Joe” is back like he never left.

Joe Johnson proved he can still score in isolation when he sunk the final Celtics bucket in a 111-101 win over the Cavaliers on Wednesday in Boston.

Johnson, who turned 40 in June, drained an isolation jumper over Cleveland forward Justin Anderson for a 111-98 Celtics lead with 23 seconds left in regulation.

The Boston bench roared with loud cheers while the home crowd went wild. It only took Johnson being in the game for two minutes until fans began cheering his name — something he described as “surreal” after the game.

Celtics coach Ime Udoka called Johnson “a bucket” and said, “That’s what he is and he’s always been, and so that’s not gonna change.”

Before Wednesday’s game as a Celtic, Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, hadn’t appeared in an NBA game since the 2018 playoffs with the Houston Rockets. 

Johnson, whom the Celtics drafted 10th overall in 2001, reminisced on his storybook return after making his NBA debut two decades ago.

“It’s amazing to be back here 20 years later. It’s still surreal to me,” he said after the game.

It was just 24 hours prior that Johnson got the call to travel to Boston to join the team amid a league-wide outbreak of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

In a move to keep the season on track, the NBA eased the rules governing signing replacement players via hardship waivers so that teams will have enough active players. Throughout the month of December, rosters have been ravaged and retooled due players testing positive for the virus and/or entering the NBA’s health and safety protocol.

Joe Johnson takes a shot in the fourth quarter for the Celtics
Getty Images

Johnson’s return to the NBA makes him the second-oldest player on an active roster, behind Heat veteran Udonis Haslem.

“He’s still got a lot in the tank if you ask me,” said Celtics star guard Jaylen Brown, who score 34 points in the win against Cleveland.

Johnson’s return came after it was reported in April that the Bucks were interested in bringing him in for a workout. Milwaukee had a roster spot open at the time.

The former Net signed with the Pistons in September 2019, following a summer stint in the BIG3 league, but Detroit ended up waiving him a month later.

Right now, Johnson is “just living in the moment” in an oppotunity he admittedly “didn’t have high hopes” about before Boston called.

“At my age, man, you just try to relish every moment, enjoy the process and live in the moment,” Johnson said.