Cleveland — Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson doesn’t see what all the hoopla is about.
After his performance in Game 1, with nine points and eight rebounds in the loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he became a media focal point of the series, with his defense on LeBron James, and the thought that he may have gotten under James’ skin.
Johnson didn’t back down from the challenge of guarding James and held his own against the four-time NBA MVP.
James finished with 22 points, six rebounds and 11 assists, but more importantly, his Cavaliers won the season opener on Sunday. Johnson doesn’t see why he’s gotten so much attention for his play, though.
“I don’t understand that. I played him a good couple possessions — he had 22, 11 and 6, and that’s a good game, in my opinion,” Johnson said Wednesday morning. “If I had a game like that, I would be happy with myself and wouldn’t be worrying about what a rookie did to me on the defensive end for a couple possessions.
“I just go out every night and compete; all the media stuff hyping it up is just for a storyline; it’s got nothing to do with what’s out there going on.”
In the days since Game 1, James got some questions about Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy’s comments about James getting all the calls from referees and the defense Johnson played against him.
“Stan has gotten the better of me in a playoff series before, in his Orlando days,” James told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s not about me vs. Stan; it’s about his teams versus the teams that I’ve been on. I’m not having an individual matchup with Stan or an individual matchup with Stanley (Johnson) or any other Stan they can possess. It’s about getting my guys ready — and that’s all that matters.”
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Van Gundy lamented not playing Johnson a little bit more, opting to keep Tobias Harris in the game for longer stretches. Johnson was 3-of-3 on 3-pointers and allowed Marcus Morris to move to guard Kevin Love, a lineup that Van Gundy said worked well against the Cavs.
Johnson said he relishes the opportunity to play against James and has learned from their meetings in the regular season and is improving his technique of trying to be more aggressive on James.
“I love it, honestly. I want to play against the best players in the world. From the first possession in the last game, he was a lot different than he was in the regular season and I liked it,” Johnson said. “I want to compete and get better as a player. I’m only a rookie so all this experience I’m getting now can only help me for later.
“While I’m here now, I might as well make good of the opportunity I have to show what I can do against the best in the world.”
Van Gundy was frustrated — and fined $25,000 for his comments to ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters — with how physical James was able to be without offensive fouls being called. Johnson said he’s not buying into the strategy of trying to draw charges on James — and certainly doesn’t practice it.
“Never; you’re not going to get (the calls),” he said. “I don’t to get a fine talking about referees, so that’s all I’ll say.”
Van Gundy stopped short of criticizing the referees again, when asked about whether they can try to draw charges on James to get him in foul trouble.
“It was pretty clear the other night that it was impossible to do,” Van Gundy said.
He wasn’t surprised that Johnson stood up to James and had a good first showing.
“He hasn’t backed down from anyone all year. LeBron tried to get physical with him and that’s not going to bother Stanley at 19, 20 or 25,” Van Gundy said. “He’s a tough kid who looks forward to the challenges. LeBron’s got a lot more experience and LeBron’s the best player in the world.”
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