Perhaps no player has been hurt more historically by our obsession with “Big 3’s” than Dennis Johnson. DJ was one of the great point guards of the 80’s. 21 years ago today, the Celtics traded Rick Robey and a couple of draft picks for Johnson. It proved to be the wise move, as Johnson’s toughness and defense helped the Celtics finally beat the 76ers.
Johnson had already made multiple All-Star teams, All-Defensive teams, and even won a Finals MVP (with Seattle in ’79) when the Celtics acquired him. He went from being a high-flyer in Seattle, to a pure scorer in phoenix, to a dominant all around point guard with Boston. His carer development is quite remarkable. He would go on to win two titles with Boston, make another All-Star game, and appear on four straight All-Defensive teams. To put it simply, Dennis Johnson was one of the best guards of the 80’s.
Below are his numbers during his prime with the Celtics (’83-’88) in comparison to other top point guards from that era. (Note: we didn’t have the advanced defensive metrics back then that we have access to now, just keep in mind not only was Johnson an outstanding defender, he was one of the few players in the 80’s who actually played defense)
Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas are outliers since they’re probably the two best point guards of all time. When you consider that DJ made an all-defensive team nearly every year, you sort of have to call him the third best point guard of the 80’s. The Celtics -even with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish- don’t win the ’84 and ’86 titles without Johnson. It’s that simple.
DJ’s most famous moment in green was during the ’87 Eastern Conference Finals agains the Isiah-led Detroit Pistons. With the Celtics down one and a few seconds left, Larry Bird stole Isiah’s inbounds pass and famously threw a pass falling out of bounds to Dennis Johnson making the perfect cut. Johnson converted a difficult lay-up which has gone down as one of the most famous moments in NBA history. Every has seen it and heard the call. If you haven’t…
That play alone made Johnson a Celtics legend, albeit a relatively unknown one.
DJ finished his Hall of Fame career with 5 All-Stars, 3 Titles, a Finals MVP, 2 All-NBA appearances, and 9 All-Defensive teams. Dennis Johnson is not only one of the most important players in Celtics history, he’s one of the best point guards of all time. Note that Bird called DJ the greatest teammate he ever had,
Celtics fans will remember Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, Dave Cowens, Bill Sharman, Tom Heinsohn, John Havlicek, Jo Jo White, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett before they remember DJ.
That’s fine. I’m sure Johnson is more than happy with his three rings, countless awards, and the love of his teammates.