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A more mature Shenise Johnson makes an immediate impact for Indiana

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Fever win Game 1 (0:52)

Briann January has 19 points and six assists as the Fever steals home-court advantage in the WNBA Finals with a 75-69 victory over the Lynx. (0:52)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Indiana guard Shenise Johnson writes poems that are sometimes meant to last and other that are meant to go away shortly after they're created.

"I like to express myself as an outlet, a stress-reliever. So I'm not punching walls or doing anything like that," she said, chuckling. "It allows you to evaluate, to write something down and release it.

"Then, it's over and done with and I can do what I please with it. I can throw it out, burn it, or I could keep it and reread it."

Johnson has been an important part of the puzzle in her first season in Indiana. After three seasons of never quite being comfortable with her role or her future in San Antonio, the team that drafted her No. 5 in 2012, Johnson has clicked into place with the Fever.

She had 10 points, five rebounds and three assists in Indiana's 75-69 Game 1 victory Sunday over Minnesota in the WNBA Finals. Those are numbers that almost exactly match what Johnson, a 5-foot-11 guard, brought to the Fever throughout the regular season. And it's what the Fever can expect from her in Tuesday's Game 2 (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).

"Throughout my career, I pride myself in being consistent and efficient," Johnson said. "I'm not really a volume shooter. Overall I have more of an opportunity here in Indiana. There are times I have to be aggressive, so I pick and choose my spots. At the same time, I'm a playmaker, not just a scorer."

Johnson was obtained in a trade in March, as the Fever sent 2015 first- and third-round picks to the Stars. The first pick turned out to be No. 6 Dearica Hamby, who averaged 6.1 points and 4.1 rebounds, showing promise as a rookie in San Antonio. The other pick, No. 30 Dragana Stankovic of Serbia, didn't play in the WNBA this year.

In return, Indiana got a full-time starter at guard who brought quickness and a multidimensional game. By any measure, the trade has turned out very well for the Fever and for Johnson.

"This is what we hoped for," Indiana coach Stephanie White said. "You think about her potential in the open floor and to create shots. She does a good job of not only making plays for herself but for others, too.

"The biggest thing -- and the most proud I am of her -- is just her growth on the defensive end. Her attention to it, her urgency about it, how she values it. Because in the beginning of the year, that was more her struggle. We certainly expected the offensive output that she's had, and I am very happy about the defensive end."

That's the type of player Johnson has wanted to be for a long time. She grew up in Rochester, New York, but would visit her father in the summer in Detroit and go see Shock games when the franchise was still located in the Motor City.

"Deanna Nolan played both sides of the floor so well," Johnson said of the former Shock standout. "She had that pull-up, midrange game and could go to the basket. And she played defense. I want to be known for doing both."

As a youngster, though, Johnson missed her dad not being nearby back in Rochester. She had a certain edge to her, a defensiveness and anger that was really about self-preservation. It resulted in some difficulties getting along on teams. Sometimes, she'll readily admit now, she didn't do herself any favors.

It wasn't really until her senior year in high school that she fully realized the educational opportunities that were available through basketball. She knew she had to dial down some of her angst. It was fuel for her, but it could also burn her.

"Like, how much is enough?" Johnson said. "You realize, these people -- the coaches, the teachers -- they're not your enemy. You have to figure out who the enemy is, or if there is one at all. That's something I had to mature and grow into."

All of which is why she chose a college so far from Rochester: the University of Miami. She could have gone to Syracuse, or someplace else relatively close. But she wanted to be on her own in a new environment. Hurricanes coach Katie Meier and her staff meshed well with Johnson.

"I pushed for it; you have to go where your gut and your spirit connect to," Johnson said. "Katie -- from a genuine standpoint, building character not only on the basketball court but off -- was really important to me. Because those things were really important to her, too."

Johnson was a three-time All-ACC first-team pick and started all 131 games of her Miami career. She finished with 2,262 points (17.3 PPG average), 1,020 rebounds, 556 assists, 401 steals and 90 blocked shots at Miami.

Then as a rookie in San Antonio, she averaged 5.6 points and 17.1 minutes of playing time. Her second year, she started to blossom, starting 24 games and averaging 11.0 points and 27.3 minutes. But last year seemed more like her first season, as she no longer started and was averaging 10 minutes less per game.

Which was why news of an impending trade to Indiana perked up Johnson. She quickly heard from various Fever players, including Tamika Catchings.

"The biggest thing -- and the most proud I am of her -- is just her growth on the defensive end. Her attention to it, her urgency about it, how she values it. ... We expected the offensive output that she's had." Fever coach Stephanie White on Shenise Johnson

"You can tell that everybody there knows what is happening and what is expected with that team," Johnson said of her perception of the Fever even before she arrived. "I immediately felt accepted."

Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said she sees in Johnson a player who has taken advantage of more time on the floor to show what she can do.

"I was a fan of Shenise out of Miami, for sure," Reeve said. "She was a skilled player, and I thought she would be a good WNBA player. It's hard to develop players from the bench, because it isn't until you're in the trenches with them, in the heat of the moment in games, that you really learn about a player.

"Where they develop is overseas. And it also depends on which team you're on."

Johnson definitely has improved with her overseas experience, something that Minnesota guard Renee Montgomery said she noticed because they faced off in European competition.

"Everybody in this league is a talented player, but it depends on how the team is able to use you," Montgomery said. "In Indiana, she's gotten a chance to show what she can do."

While Johnson has quickly come to feel at home in Indianapolis, she acknowledged that Rochester will always be her real home. She is a fan of another very accomplished female athlete from that city, soccer star Abby Wambach.

"She does a lot of things in the community," Johnson said. "She definitely is someone I look up to and want to follow in her footsteps."

Between the WNBA and overseas seasons, Johnson has just handful of days to go back to Rochester. But the city remains in her heart. She thinks particularly of the people -- her mother and siblings, her teachers and coaches -- who stayed patient with her when she was growing up. And she also feels closer than ever to her dad, saying that their relationship now is "flourishing."

"When I look back, I am also thankful for the three years I had in San Antonio," Johnson said. "Because I was able to observe and learn. I was playing with Becky Hammon, and got to watch her walk the walk and talk the talk. Now I'm playing with somebody like Tamika Catchings, who is the same way. This is a great place for me."

Johnson felt tears well up Sunday just before the start of Game 1, as the national anthem was being sung at Target Center. The emotions didn't affect her play, as she was pretty quickly all business in the victory after shaking off a little bit of the jitters. But she did allow herself to truly feel it just before tipoff.

"I was nervous -- dreams coming true right before my eyes," Johnson said. "Watching the crowd, the atmosphere, the sincerity. It was just a special moment."