Tar Heels in NBA: On career night, Johnson overcomes confrontation with Randle, makes history with winning 3 at buzzer

By R.L. Bynum

Who needs All-Stars Chris Paul or Devin Booker when you have the tough-minded, clutch Cameron Johnson?

Johnson did it all for league-leading Phoenix on Friday night, scoring 38 points and nine 3-pointers, both career-highs, in only 28 minutes off the bench. He banked in a game-winning, buzzer-beating 3 to push the host Suns to a 115–114 victory over New York.

“Just thankful that it went down,” said Johnson, who rolled his ankle on the next-to-last play. “I love my guys. They really fought from top to bottom. That last play says one thing but we are not in that situation without the group of guys that we have.”

Johnson joined Portland’s Damian Lillard (2019 in a playoff game against Oklahoma City) as the only players in NBA history to hit a game-winning 3-point buzzer-beater with at least nine 3s in a game. Johnson’s previous career-high was 24 points but he scored 21 Friday in the fourth quarter alone.

The Suns won their second consecutive game without Paul and Booker.

All of that came after a pair of confrontations with the Knicks’ Julius Randle that left him angry and Randle ejected.

Alec Burks had given the Knicks a two-point lead seconds earlier by splitting a pair of free throws. Phoenix’s Cam Payne drove down court and passed to Johnson, whose shot from 31 feet out was long but rippled the net after going off the backboard.

“I was kind of ahead in the pack, so I slowed down and got behind him and he did a pitch back, which we do a lot,” Johnson said. “Kind of made eye contact with me, he flipped it back and I had a clean sight to the hoop with a dribble to take. I looked at the clock, so I had enough time before I caught it and just tried to let it go and try not to be short and definitely shoot it long.”

Johnson’s nine 3-pointers tied a franchise record and the most off the bench in team history. He also had career-highs for field goals made and attempted (11 of 16) and free throws made and attempted (7 of 8). Aron Baynes on March 6, 2020, against Portland and Channing Frye on April 11, 2011, against Minnesota are the only other Suns with nine 3s in a game.

Cameron Johnson’s portion of the postgame press conference starts at 24:33.

“I just wanted to get under it,” Johnson said of the final shot. “I didn’t want to have any regret when it came to that shot. So, a lot of mental energy went into that last one second before the shot. Some physical, too, just trying to not let it go short and, by the grace of God, it went in.”

Johnson put up a career-high 32.0 game score for his sixth of at least 20 this season and the third consecutive game after not doing that once in his first two seasons. He had the best game score of the 195 NBA players who played Friday night, the most points and the most 3-pointers. His best previous game score was 24.9 in a 21-point game on Dec. 23 in a win against Oklahoma City.

Johnson’s 38 points are the most by any NBA player this season with 16 or fewer field-goal attempts.

“Hopefully, I can top it eventually,” said Johnson. “But, for now, I’ll put that at the top.”

During the third quarter, Johnson collided with Randle as he attempted to box out on a 3-point attempt by the Knicks’ Evan Fornier. Randle stormed into Johnson’s chest. After referee Dedric Taylor tried to break it up, Randle shoved Johnson again and made contact with Taylor in the process. Johnson and Taylor both got technical fouls but a second technical against Randle for an unsportsman-like act got him ejected.

“That was the first technical of my career, but I just thought I couldn’t stand for that,” Johnson said. “Whatever I did to deserve that was one thing, but I just couldn’t stand for that.”

Johnson had the last laugh, too.

“I had the opportunity to continue playing and he didn’t,” said Johnson, who said the incident boiled over because of a feud that had been brewing between the two over multiple games. “The emotions were very high. Just, as a man, you’re not going to take that. It’s just a very emotional moment. And, to me, this seemed very out of pocket.”

In the first quarter, Johnson got the wind knocked out of him and went to the dressing room briefly after Randle’s shoulder went hard into Johnson’s chest with no foul called.

“To me, it felt cheap,” Johnson said of the first-quarter play. “And that hurt, really hurt. Knocked the wind out of me. Kind of got me at the edge of my ribs, toward the bottom of my spine in a sensitive spot. You’re thinking a lot of things in that moment. But one is like, can I even breathe right now? So when I got back, it was tender. I took a hit to it again. Just a lot going on.”

During a January episode of the “Carolina Insider” podcast, Puff Johnson talked about the physical, intense back-yard battles he had with Cameron growing up. On the court, however, Cameron’s demeanor has rarely been like it was on Friday night.

“I like to think I remain very, very level-headed in our games,” said Cameron Johnson, who talked about his battles with his brother on Friday’s episode of the “Carolina Insider.” “And that’s kind of what I’ve hung my hat on for 26 years now. It’s just remaining level-headed and being able to deal with those things with the level head. But, for better or worse, sometimes you got to adjust. Sometimes you just can’t let stuff fly because people will continue to take advantage of that.”

Phoenix coach Monty Williams said the incident sparked his team, which trailed 86–76 at the time.

Here is Cameron Johnson’s shot chart from Friday’s 38-point game against New York.

“I told our guys after the interaction that happened — ‘OK, we’re going to win this game,’ ” Williams said. “We just had to have the mental fortitude to take it one possession at a time. It was amazing to see our group, the huddles, every time out, it never felt like we were out of it.”

Johnson also had career-highs for field goals made and attempted (11 of 16) and free throws made and attempted (7 of 8).

The 11 field goals equaled his best college total when he scored 26 points on Feb. 20, 2019, for Carolina in an 88–72 victory at Duke. His best 3-pointer total in college was seven when he scored 27 points at Wake Forest on Feb. 16, 2019, in a 95–57 victory. Johnson’s career-high in college was 32 points on Jan. 30, 2018, in an 82–78 loss at Clemson.

Paul (averaging 14.9 points and 10.7 assists per game) is out with a thumb injury and may miss the rest of the regular reason and Booker (averaging 25.6 points and 4.6 assists per game) is in the NBA’s heath-and-safety protocols.

Phoenix (51–12) has opened up an eight-game lead for the league’s best record over Golden State, which has lost three consecutive games.

The Suns play at Milwaukee at 3:30 Sunday in a rematch of last season’s NBA Finals in a game that will air on ABC.

Cole Anthony put up his seventh double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 rebounds as Orlando won 103–97 at Toronto for the Magic’s third win in four games.

That ended a nine-game losing streak against the Raptors. It was Orlando’s first win over Toronto since a 113–98 victory on Feb. 24, 2019.

“That’s a game that potentially at the beginning of the year we might have lost,” Anthony said of Friday’s win. ”It shows the maturity, it shows the growth, especially when we’re a couple of men down, too.”

It was Anthony’s fifth double-figure rebounding game after not doing that once during his rookie season, when he also didn’t have any double-doubles.

”The energy was awesome,” said Anthony, who dished out four assists. ”We held them under 100. That’s a great night. That’s a very good offensive team.”

Coby White had three points, four rebounds and two assists in Chicago’s 118–112 home loss to Milwaukee. Tony Bradley didn’t play for the fourth time in the last five games.


Danny Green had his sixth scoreless game of the season, taking no shots and pulling down one rebound in 16 minutes of Philadelphia’s 125–119 home win over Cleveland. For the fifth time in the last six games, Ed Davis didn’t play (coach’s decision) for the Cavaliers.

In the G League, Justin Jackson had 17 points, three 3-pointers, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals but his Texas Legends (the Mavericks’ affiliate) lost on the road to the Sioux Falls Skyforce (the Heat’s affiliate) 110–92.

Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic guard
103–97 win
at Toronto — Started; 36 minutes, 15 points, 5–14 FG, 1–6 3FG, 4–5 FT, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 turnovers, -2, 11.5 game score
Season statistics —
50 games, 17.3 points, 39.3 FG%, 32.7 3FG%, 85.6 FT%, 5.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists
Up next — 8 p.m. Saturday at Memphis; 7 p.m. Tuesday vs. Phoenix
Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings forward
Off Friday
Season statistics — 60 games, 17.4 points, 47.2 FG%, 41.7 3FG%, 83.3 FT%, 6.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Up next —  5 p.m. Saturday at Dallas; 10:30 Monday vs. New York
Tony Bradley, Chicago Bulls center
118–112 loss
vs. Milwaukee — Didn’t play (coach’s decision)
Season statistics — 46 games, 3.1 points, 58.7 FG%, 66.7 FT%, 3.7 rebounds, 0.5 of an assist
Up next — 7 p.m. Monday at Philadelphia; 7 p.m. Wednesday at Detroit
Reggie Bullock, Dallas Mavericks guard/forward
Off Friday
Season statistics —
53 games, 8.4 points, 40.6 FG%, 36.2 3P%, 85.0 FT%, 3.4 rebounds, 1.1 assist
Up next —
5 p.m. Saturday vs. Sacramento; 8:30 Monday vs. Utah
Ed Davis, Cleveland Cavaliers center
125–119 loss
at Philadelphia Didn’t play (coach’s decision)
Season statistics — 20 games, 1.1 points, 64.3 FG%, 37.5 FT%, 2.3 rebounds, 0.3 of an assist
Up next — 7:30 Sunday vs. Toronto, ESPN; 7 p.m. Tuesday at Indiana
Wayne Ellington, Los Angeles Lakers guard
Off Friday
Season statistics — 37 games, 6.4 points, 39.1 FG%, 39.1 3FG%, 4–5 FT, 1.7 rebounds, 0.6 of an assist
Up next — 8:30 Saturday vs. Golden State, ABC; 8:30 Monday at San Antonio
Danny Green, Philadelphia 76ers forward
125–119 win
vs. Cleveland — 16 minutes, 0 points, 1 rebound, +1, -0.1 game score
Season statistics —
44 games, 6.2 points, 40.0 FG%, 37.6 3FG%, 12–14 FT, 2.3 rebounds, 1.0 assist
Up next — 8 p.m. Saturday at Miami; 7 p.m. Monday vs. Chicago
Cameron Johnson, Phoenix Suns wing
115–114 win
vs. New York  — 28 minutes, 38 points, 11–16 FG, 9–12 3FG, 7–8 FT, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, +9, 32.0 game score
Season statistics —
60 games, 12.8 points, 47.5FG%, 44.8 3FG%, 87.3 FT%, 4.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists
Up next — 3:30 Sunday at Milwaukee, ABC; 7 p.m. Tuesday at Orlando
Nassir Little, Portland Trail Blazers wing
Is out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder
Season statistics 42 games, 9.8 points, 46.0 FG%, 33.1 3P%, 73.4 FT%, 5.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists
Theo Pinson, Dallas Mavericks guard
Off Friday
NBA season statistics —
16 games, 1.8 points, 28.1 FG%, 24.0 3FG, 44 FT, 1.2 rebounds, 0.8 of an assist
G League season statistics —
14 games, 15.7 points, 40.4 FG%, 38.6 3FG%, 84.8 FT%, 4.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.2 steals
Up next — 5 p.m. Saturday vs. Sacramento; 8:30 Monday vs. Utah
Day’Ron Sharpe, Brooklyn Nets center
Off Friday
Season NBA statistics 32 games, 6.2 points, 57.7 FG%, 28.6 3P%, 58.5% FT, 5.0 rebounds, 0.5 of an assist
Season G League statistics 4 games, 18.0 points, 47.8 FG%, 33.33P%, 85.7 FT%, 9.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 2.6 blocks
Up next — 1 p.m. Sunday at Boston, ABC; 7 p.m. Tuesday at Charlotte, BSSE
Coby White, Chicago Bulls guard
118–112 loss
vs. Milwaukee — 24 minutes, 3 points, 1–4 FG, 1–4 3G, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnover, +13, 2.2 game score
Season statistics — 44 games, 13.6 points, 45.1 FG%, 40.3 3P%, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists
Up next — 7 p.m. Monday at Philadelphia; 7 p.m. Wednesday at Detroit
In the G League
Justin Jackson, Texas Legends forward
110–92 loss
at Sioux Falls Skyforce (Heat affiliate) — Started; 32 minutes, 17 points, 6–15 FG, 3–10 3FG, 1–1 FT, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 turnovers, -21
NBA season statistics — 7 games, 2.1 points, 33.3% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 1.0 rebounds, 0.3 of an assist
G League season statistics (2022) — 14 games, 22.4 points, 39.5% FG, 38.2% 3FG, 82.5 FT%, 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists
Up next — noon Monday at Birmingham Squadron (Pelicans affiliate); 8 p.m. Tuesday vs. Salt Lake City Stars (Jazz affiliate)

Photo via @Suns

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