The thing about young players is they can get a little bit ahead of themselves, a lesson second-year Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson learned the hard way. Atlanta fell 130-121 against a Los Angeles Lakers team missing stud big man Anthony Davis. But they still had LeBron James.
James was celebrating his 38th birthday and, in many ways, looked every bit his age early in the contest.
His slow start coincided with a fast one from Johnson, a much-needed confidence booster.
Alas, it was not to be as James finished with 47 points, the second-most he has ever scored on his birthday. The most he has ever scored on his birthday was 48 points which also came against the Hawks but this time it happened to follow a bold message from the Hawks youngster going into halftime.
Jalen Johnson’s comments on LeBron James come back to bite Atlanta Hawks
“Sometimes he gets caught sleeping,” Johnson told Bally Sports Hawks reporter Lauren Jbarra going into halftime with the Hawks up 67-62, “so just reading where he’s at and then moving accordingly from there.”
Johnson went into halftime with 10 points, five rebounds, two steals, and one block. That outburst included a nice defensive read that Johnson turned into a breakaway slam.
Asked if he was hearing footsteps as he made his move toward the basket, Johnson responded with a confident, “Nah”.
“I’m playing basketball,” he told Jbarra. “I’m not scared of nobody out there.”
Perhaps Johnson wasn’t scared, but James was just getting started. While Johnson would go on to score just five points on 1-for-3 shooting (4-for-6 in the first half) and grab a pair of rebounds, James – who went into halftime with 18 points on over 53% shooting – scored 29 of his 47 points after the intermission.
Per NBA.com tracking data, 12 of James’ points came against Johnson on an efficient 5-of-6 clip including 2-for-2 from beyond the arc.
James scored 18 of his points against Onyeka Okongwu (63%) and had another eight points against John Collins as he took advantage of Clint Capela missing his third game in a row and the sixth time in the last seven games — the Hawks are 2-4 in the games he’s missed in that span.
“He’s the greatest of all time,” Okongu said of guarding James per Kevin Chouinard of Hawks.com. “Me and John being in foul trouble doesn’t help, either. He’s just a physical specimen going downhill. It’s so hard sometimes; you have to foul him. He’s a tough cover. We’ll see him again a week from today.”
It wasn’t just James as L.A. outscored the Hawks 74-56 in the paint and 55-41 on the glass.
They also outscored the Hawks in transition 23-5, something Johnson said the Hawks needed to address at halftime but never materialized. For what it’s worth, Johnson went 3-for-4 on James while the rest of the team was 4-for11.
It’s unlikely that James was made aware of Johnson’s comments at the break. But the sequence of events that followed fit perfectly in the up-and-down season that the Hawks have had to this point. They have lost three straight, four of their last five, and have a 5-9 record this month as they have battled through injuries on top of inconsistency.
Add in the continuous reports of off-court drama and it makes it that much more disappointing that Johnson and the Hawks were once again unable to capitalize on a strong start.