Stanley Johnson ‘ready for the moment’ against Knicks

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Not only did Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson step in, he stepped up.

With starting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope out with a core muscle strain, Johnson logged career highs in points (22) and minutes (44) in his second career start in Thursday’s 111-105 victory over the Knicks.

In addition to stuffing the stat sheet with nine rebounds and tying a career high with five assists, Johnson showed he could handle a larger role —and come up big.

After the Knicks erased a 27-point deficit and cut the Pistons’ lead to 89-88 with 5:13 left in the game, Johnson scored on a contested layup over Knicks center Robin Lopez to make it 91-88.

A little more than a minute later, he made a mid-range jumper off a pick-and-roll play for a 95-92 edge.

“Amazing,” Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson said of Johnson. “We needed a collective effort and for everybody to step up big, especially missing (Caldwell-Pope).

“Stanley came in and he was ready for the moment. We talked about it on the plane (Wednesday), the game plan coming in between us two, how we were going to approach this game. He did everything that he told me he was going to do. He’s definitely somebody who has the utmost confidence in himself and he’s one of those who says he’s going to do it then goes out there and competes.”

Johnson said despite the adjustment of playing with the starting unit and guarding opposing starters, he’s up to the task to fill in for Caldwell-Pope, third in the league in minutes (36.9) and regarded as one of the team’s best defenders.

“I knew I was going to walk into heavy minutes, so for me going into the game it was how do I keep up (Caldwell-Pope’s) defensive intensity, and offensively we don’t play the same,” Johnson said. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to play his way, but I thought I could help out on both sides and just keep it up.”

On defense, Johnson held former Pistons guard Arron Afflalo to five points on 1-for-5 shooting in the first half. Afflalo got the better of him in the second half, going 7-for-10 to finish with 24 points.

“I thought (Johnson) was tremendous,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s fearless, getting better all the time, not afraid to make plays. He got it handed to him a little bit on the other end. He was playing hard but Afflalo showed him what the NBA is about.”

Following Thursday’s victory, the Pistons announced Caldwell-Pope will be out until he’s evaluated after the All-Star break. For Johnson, that means a chance to emerge the next three games before the break, starting Saturday against the Indiana Pacers.

It’s the type of moment that he has been ready for all season long.

“There’s no difference in preparation,” Johnson said of starting and coming off the bench. “You prepare yourself to play, prepare yourself to be a superstar every day. You can’t prepare to be underneath people, so I try to prepare myself every day to be better than I was the next day.”

Pistons at Pacers

Tip-off: 7 tonight, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

TV/radio: FSD/WMGC

Outlook: The Pistons have allowed 100 or more points five straight games. ... The Pistons have lost 13 of their last 15 to the Pacers on the road, including a 94-82 defeat on Jan. 2. The Pacers hold a 2-1 edge in the season series. ... Paul George (23.1 points) and Monta Ellis (14.3) lead the Pacers.