Vivlamore reporting from Cleveland. Here is my game story from the Hawks win over the Cavs Sunday so you may comment.
CLEVELAND – All the Hawks needed was one good quarter out of Joe Johnson.
They got that – and more.
Despite being thinned by injury, coach Larry Drew was cognizant of putting too much stress on Johnson’s troublesome left knee. However, the All-Star scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the first quarter en route to a 103-87 victory over the Cavaliers Sunday at Quicken Loans Arena.
By the end of the first 12 minutes, in which Johnson played every one, the Hawks had built a 12-point lead. Johnson was 4 of 5 from the field, including hitting all three 3-pointers, and had four assists. He scored the Hawks’ first seven points after the Cavaliers scored the first four points of the game. It would be their only lead.
The lead grew to as much as 17 points in the second quarter with Johnson on the bench for a good portion resting the knee that recently cost him six games with tendinitis. The Hawks would lead by as many as 19 points, before withstanding a third-quarter 18-5 Cavaliers run that saw their advantage trimmed to six points. Johnson answered with two straight baskets as the Hawks went on an 8-0 run and pushed the lead back to double-digits.
“I just try to take what the defense gives me,” said Johnson, who ended up playing 35 minutes. “It wasn’t anything special I was out there doing.”
The Hawks (26-19, 13-13 on the road) have won two straight as they go into Monday’s key Eastern Conference matchup with the Celtics at Philips Arena.
Although injuries forced his hand to a degree, Drew has switched to a starting lineup that features Johnson at small forward, with Kirk Hinrich at shooting guard and Jeff Teague at point guard. It’s paying dividends. Johnson is averaging 25.7 points in the past six games since returning from the knee injury. Teague finished with 18 points Sunday. Hinrich, who is averaging 9.5 points over the past nine games, finished with 14 points.
“We are doing what we have to do with all the guys injured,” Hinrich said. “It seems like, depending on what day it is, someone is hurt, someone is back. We are just trying to hang in there.”
Drew said he challenged Teague to be more aggressive in the second half and take on the challenge of facing Cavaliers star rookie point guard Kyrie Irving. Teague scored 13 of his points after intermission, including several drives to the basket.
For his part, Teague likes the three-guard approach.
“I like playing with Kirk,” Teague said. “He is going to help you out on defense. He’s going to knock down shots. He raises the level of intensity on the floor. It makes me pick up my energy because I see him playing so hard.”
The Hawks improved to 15-2 when Johnson scores 20 or more points.
It appears the three-guard approach may be around for awhile.
“It gives us another guard who can really defend,” Drew said. “It takes [Johnson] off the ball a little bit but we are still able to run things through him. With both Jeff and Kirk in the backcourt it gives us some versatility at the guard spot.
“With Kirk in the lineup, especially at the very beginning, he really gets after it. It just makes us much more aggressive and gives us another guy with the ability to break you down off the dribble. It gives us another guy who can catch and shoot. So far it has worked out.”
Josh Smith struggled offensively, finishing with just seven points on 3 of 15 shooting. Smith had more assists (season-high tying nine) and rebounds (eight) than points.
The Cavaliers (16-26), who lost for the third straight time, were led by Alonzo Gee with 20 points. Irving added 19 points and Antwan Jamison had 17. The Hawks had six double-digit scorers in a 27-point win over the Cavaliers at Philips Arena on Jan. 21.