Joe Johnson finding his rhythm — and so are Hawks

The look says it all as Joe Johnson sinks a jumper to seal the Hawks' four-overtime win over Utah Sunday night. (AP photo)

The look says it all as Joe Johnson sinks a jumper to seal the Hawks' four-overtime win over Utah Sunday night. (AP photo)

There is a tendency in pro sports to measure pro athletes by the number of digits in their paychecks. It follows that expectations of what Joe Johnson is supposed to be reside somewhere just south of Zeus-ian.

So let’s start with this: Yes, Johnson makes a lot of money. He will continue to make a lot of money. He probably has an ATM in his pantry, just to the left of the case of Beluga caviar.

He is the only person in Atlanta who this week will drive past that billboard that reads, “Mega Millions: $356 million” and think, “You know, I just don’t know if I want to fill out all of that paper work for another direct deposit account.”

But in what is turning into a rather remarkable Hawks’ season, Johnson has been far more than a dollar sign with ears lately. The guy known for 2-ton-W-2, with too few big moments and too few big games, has been a relative wonder on the court.

Johnson scored 18 points in a perfect eight-for-eight first quarter Sunday night against Utah. Then the legs went dead, or so we thought. On a night when the Hawks continued to amaze — winning a four-overtime game on the third night of a back-to-back-to-oh-my-back — Johnson provided the most  jaw-dropping of moments.

He scored eight points in the fourth overtime. He did not take a rest in any of the OTs. He finished the night with 37 points. He  played 55 minutes, 23 seconds of playing time, bringing his three-night total to 126 miutes. There might’ve been a five-mile swim in there, too, but nobody can remember. The Hawks won 139-133 win over the Jazz at Philips Arena and, with this latest spasm, are now 10 games over .500 (30-20).

Zaza Pachulia cracked later that players were dragging so much, “It looked like a 40-and-over game” down the stretch.

Coach Larry Drew said, “I know they were out of gas because I was out of gas.” And he was a suit.

The ultimate survivor was Johnson — again.

Like many players coming out of the lockout, Johnson started the season slow. Like many in this hellish condensed schedule, he had to sit out games (six) with an injury (knee). Unlike many, he has emerged of late a different player. In 11 games since returning from knee tendinitis, Johnson has averaged 24.5 points on 50-percent shooting. Compare that to his scoring averages (16.3, 19.8, 14.5) and field goal percentages (43.6, 43.6, 39.3) in December, January and February, respectively.

Josh Smith had been this team’s best player this season, particularly since Al Horford was lost for the year. But Johnson now is doing something he has been criticized so often for not doing – carrying his team when it’s needed most.

“When we lost Al, [Johnson and Smith] had to elevate their games for us to still win at a high level,” coach Larry Drew said. “The other guys could kind of piggyback on them. I know they felt a little bit of pressure, that they had to take on more of a burden.”

Johnson conceded Sunday what Drew suspected – that his left knee started bothering him long before he went to the bench in late February. He said the pain began a month earlier, less than 20 games into the season. “But it was in and out,” he said. So he kept playing.

He missed six games in a seven-game stretch, including the All-Star break, a span of over two weeks. That benefited him in more ways than just rest. “It gives you a different perspective on the bench, a different view,” he said. “You’re able to see things that you can be better at than when you’re on the court. I could see where the double teams were. I just tried to come out and be more efficient.”

He was more than that down the stretch. It was Johnson who hit a three-point shot with seven seconds left in the second overtime to extend the game (again). Ultimately, Drew knew who would decide his team’s fate.

“We were running every option through Joe,” he said.

Good choice.

By Jeff Schultz

71 comments Add your comment

Big Lou

March 25th, 2012
10:19 pm

Big Lou

March 25th, 2012
10:24 pm

“He probably has an ATM in his pantry, just to the left of the case of Beluga caviar.”

Good line.

Heck of a game. I loved every moment of it–very memorable. Jeff, have you seen the past few games? Joe has made late shot after shot.

Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there… WITH A CLUTCH GENE!


March 25th, 2012
10:26 pm

There’s too much talent on this team for them to keep being mediocre in my opinion.

Najeh Davenpoop

March 25th, 2012
10:31 pm

He’s been ballin’ since he came back from injury. He’s always going to be overpaid, but as long as he’s getting the most out of his talent, who cares? If someone offered to overpay me I wouldn’t say no.


March 25th, 2012
10:36 pm

Larry Drew should be a Coach of the Year candidate in all honesty. I don’t always like his X’s and O’s, but what a job he’s done holding this team together through a ton of injuries.

4 OT Thriller

March 25th, 2012
10:36 pm

Was at game! I’m exhausted. Took my wife and two boys…we had a blast. It was there first game. Great weather. 6pm start. Flatbreads. Cokes. Wings. Peanuts. 4 OTs. And, bought 2 mini basketballs for $12 each ($24 total).

One of my sons, the oldest, usually doesn’t appear to have a great time at sporting events with me (though his Dad played pro baseball with NY Yankees). But, today…he screamed and yelled the entire game. He’s was loving it. Heck, my wife was dancing and getting into it.

I’m glad we one. I know we got our money’s worth. Both boys, 11 and 8, were asleep by the time we hit North Druid Hills exit heading toward Norcross (The Forum). Thanks Atlanta Hawks for a truly remarkable game. Way to fight for the ATL!

4 OT Thriller

March 25th, 2012
10:38 pm

Sorry for spelling errors. Hard to type on cell phone.

It was their first game (not there).
I’m glad we won (not one).


March 25th, 2012
10:41 pm

I played for the Red Sox myself…

Seriously, glad the family enjoyed it so much.


March 25th, 2012
10:42 pm

thanks jeff for giving the guy cred. both josh and jj and others have been balling hard playing mainly to their strengths since that slump in early feb. back to high water mark of plus ten. i didnt figure we would see it again.


March 25th, 2012
10:43 pm

This team isn’t mediocre when Joe and Josh decide to show up, play with heart and use some sense.

That’s what’s so dang frustrating about them though.



March 25th, 2012
10:44 pm

Proud of the Hawks tonight… really showed some heart!


March 25th, 2012
10:48 pm

4 OT it sounds like a blast. Thanks for the commens. I may take my family down for a game.


March 25th, 2012
10:49 pm

One minute I dislike the Hawks then they go out and show some heart like over the past couple of games. These dudes need to stop playing with my emotions!


March 25th, 2012
10:57 pm

Its nice to see the rotation taking shape as we near the playoffs.
I love the idea of 1.Teauge, 2.Kirk, 3.Joe, 4 Josh, 5.Zaza with..LD bringing Marvin in off the bench. My hope is that LD see’s that Collins is a waist of mins and casts him away to the end of the bench and lets “Mr.9to5″ continue to get more time..
For this first time since this “core” has been together, I feel like we FINALLY have the supporting cast to hold it down when Joe & Josh need a blow. I’ll take Marvin, Ivan, Willie, T-Mac, and the occasional Stackhouse sighting against any ones 2nd unit.
Hawks getting it together ppl, these guys are going to gel and really make a push for the 4th seed.
We’ve got a great chance to do anything once the playoffs get here…and just imagine if we get AL back!!! #ComeToPlay


March 25th, 2012
11:00 pm

Amazing (and quite fortunate) win and great effort… at this point it makes you wonder what kind of season it could have been if (i) it weren’t for the lockout and brutal schedule and (ii) a healthier squad with Horford. I believe 60 wins could have been within reach.


March 25th, 2012
11:05 pm

@ TimG: Absolutely – Horford will find a way to make an impact, even if it’s just coming off the bench. He is too competitive and too hard-working to do otherwise.

The Hawks could really give any team in the East a tough time come playoff time. I just hope they continue to get healthier …


March 25th, 2012
11:17 pm

That’s a good point, hawkfan. We’ve played the Heat and Bulls really well. I think two of our Heat losses were very close, and we won there once. The Bulls loss was narrow and we beat them pretty handily twice if memory serves. If we can get Al back, look out.

New Orleans 'Inhales'

March 25th, 2012
11:19 pm

This dissing of Joe Johnson has gotten out of hand. It’s not like he’s Jon Contract, um, KONCAK!


March 25th, 2012
11:29 pm

Pretty good for a team thats reminded of being down a man all the time.

steve brown

March 25th, 2012
11:30 pm

I’m one of those boycott guys due to ASG, however, it is getting harder and harder not to root for these players. Hell, way to go Hawks you made us proud!


March 26th, 2012
12:10 am

Heck of a game fellas. Great heart tonight.


March 26th, 2012
3:46 am

What up Phil? ;-) Don’t look now but look who’s in reach of having home court against everyone except San Antonio or OKC? Ro-oh!!!


March 26th, 2012
4:42 am

Its good to see Joe emerge as the clutch closer this team has desperately needed since JC1 left. JJ is a hard working dude. Much success for the remainder of the season and postseason.


March 26th, 2012
5:10 am

Proud of this team! Way to fight guys! Keep it up!


March 26th, 2012
5:15 am

Great Win, period!!! LD – Coach of the Year?

JJohnson showed why he gets the Zeros…..
LD developing a pedigree…show him the money…
ZaZa – 15pts., 20reb. – isssheed!!!
Marvin – just wont go away – hang in their Marvin..
Teague starting to figure it out…

Back to LD – 1st time head coach – lowest paid…
Minus Horford – Dead man walking – Not!!!
LD showing what he’s made of – and I like it…
He’s managed an infirmary to 4th in East….

Bigger names fall like flies…Del Negro, Westphal, D’Antonio, McMillan..
LD just keeps on winning… .500+ record not good, but…
Minus blown FTs, layups, 18pt. leads – they’re right there…

And its not luck, its not happenstance, its not despite him…
Yes, we have a couple great players who have stepped up…
Look at ball movement, fresh plays, depth, player development…
Yes, player development: ZaZa is back, JSmoove, Teague are surging…

Now, he’s developing his playoff rotation…Hinrich, Green, Collins, Ivan…
You barely notice the absence of Pargo, Vladi, TMac…why?
All have contributed to big wins this year…why? LD

Not to take away from JJs great performance, but why now?
LD inserted Hinrich and slid JJ to SF, teams punished for doubling now…
JJ getting better 1-on-1 looks – give the man his props…

He knows what he’s doing…in fact, LD for Coach of the Year!


March 26th, 2012
6:30 am

You write like a 3rd grader who had Snickers for breakfast.


March 26th, 2012
6:36 am

I’m telling y’all, it’s all about having him in that “3 guard” lineup, which I think is really just a regular lineup since Joe is really a SF. Yes, he shoots (normally) like a 2 and can handle the rock like a 2, and he does have more advantages posting up smaller 2s, but it ain’t like his bread a butter is found down on the blocks. And, yes, it also means he has to guard bigger guys at the 3, but I prefer to see that since there aren’t too many SFs that are taller AND stronger than Joe… but there are plenty of 2s who are quicker than Joe, which negates the size advantage he has on the other end when those quicker 2s gotta guard him (especially since he doesn’t use much of a back-to-the-basket game). Let’s just recognize that the Hawks are a much better squad with Kirk and Jeff mixing and matching who does what each night depending on the other team’s backcourt, having Joe with quickness and perimeter advantages over most 3s in the league, and then you get the added bonus of strengthening your bench by bringing Marvin in as your 6th man.

Ok, don’t go crazy on me yet, y’all. I know that Marvin is Marvin, but I think his mentality is better coming off the bench (he’s kinda laid back personality-wise and coming off the bench knowing his minutes will be dictated by his impact instead of simply handing him 30+min/night just cuz that’s what starters are supposed to get…) it makes him focus better and become more aggressive, which have always been his main problems when you get right down to it. Plus, having Marvin as your 6th man provides flexibility cuz if any of the 1,2, or 3 guys get in foul trouble, Marvin can come in and you just rotate around who’s left of Kirk, Jeff, or Joe to fill out the backcourt… and against some teams Marvin can actually play the PF spot.

I’ve been screaming for the Jeff-Kirk-Joe-Josh-(wish it were Al, but…)-Zaza starting lineup since Kirk got his legs back under him after missing first 18 games. Not that I’m a bball savant or anything, but it just seemed like the best option since Marvin was always the weak link of our starting five… and that includes Zaza, who’s had a better year filling in at starting C than most of us give him credit for. Kirk isn’t really a bench guard (comes in fast and loose, willing and able to score in bunches and/or push the pace) but rather more of a natural PG (son of a former coach) who will consistently get the team in the correct offensive sets, makes good defensive rotation calls, is sort of a coach on the court, and (most importantly) takes some of the pressure off of Jeff for having to “run the team” instead of being instinctive, athletic, and aggressive… the three things which tend to result in Jeff having a good game and a positive net effect on the team overall. While I don’t want Kirk coming off the bench, I sure as hell don’t want Jeff coming off the bench, either. Too much raw ability and talent that will only come to fruition with PT.

When healthy, we got Pargo and Green who are quite capable of playing PG, especially when Tracy is out there with them to help take care of the rock as a point-forward kinda player. So it never made sense to me for Drew to rotate Kirk and Jeff in and out for one another. In the beginning, sure, because Kirk had to get his legs and stroke back after shoulder surgery (I’ve had shoulder surgery and a spinal fusion, and the shoulder was tougher to come back from believe it or not), but now that Kirk is ballin’ again, it’s a beautiful thing to watch Kirk and Jeff play together with each utilizing what he does best and hiding the deficiencies of the other (Kirk’s lack of quickness to stay in front of the super-fast PGs and his inability to get into the paint and cause havoc, while Jeff’s indecisiveness and sometimes outright stupid plays end up hurting his confidence… and there ain’t much worse for a team than a starting PG who’s down on himself). Another bonus is that this lineup keeps Joe from having too much ball-handling responsibility, which wears on him over the course of a game & also keeps him from falling into the Iso-Joe bad habits that he developed under Woodson’s “if Joe don’t do it, then we’re f’ed” philosophy.

There’s no doubt that Joe is having a very nice run of games since he’s had some time to get that knee healed up, but let’s not forget the benefits he’s receiving by starting at the 3 alongside Jeff and Kirk… and let’s also not forget what all of this is doing for the team as a whole: racking up Ws!!!


March 26th, 2012
7:05 am

IcecoldATLien – Agreed for the most part –

Gotta watch Hinrich – tweaked hamstring again, cost us last year…

It’s playoffs or bust for Tmac – gotta get right by playoffs…
Stackhouse, Dampier are going to be luxuries come playoffs…

Side note: Look at what LD is doing w Vladi…
6′10 shooter now contributing close to basket, 3 offensive reb other night…

If we get Big Al back in time to get a rhythm, we could be dangerous…
It’ll cost Ivan/ZaZa some minutes but we’ll leave that to LD…

Team taking on the personality of the coach – tough, perserverant, underdogs


March 26th, 2012
7:26 am

I’m going to say something that I don’t say often, good article Schultz. I think that with the struggles that this team has had this year (many of which stemming from injuries, this unholy schedule, no respect from the officials…etc), it’s easy to miss what an extraordinary job this team has done. Now granted, beating New Jersey and Washington, that’s not going to open many eyes, but last night, they took out a playoff team that had been playing great ball and simply refused to quit. (And don’t lose the job that, everyone’s favorite draft pick, Marvin Williams did, and has been doing off the bench.) I think that Sunde put a much better team together this year than anyone will ever give him credit for, and I believe this team has more heart than anyone thought that they did. I mean, be honest, after that last long road trip, this team looked dead in the water, but now, even without Horford, they’re starting to look like a team that could challenge for the three seed in the east, and a team that secretly, Chicago and Miami would just as soon bypass in the first round. Now, I’m not saying that Atlanta could take either of those teams, but I believe if they play up to snuff they could give them one heck of a limp on their way through… What bothers me most though is that this team REALLY deserves to have a solid home base, and some respect around the league, but I don’t know if they’ll ever get it, and I’ll never figure out why.


March 26th, 2012
8:02 am

Great win. Josh and Joe have been incredible, especially Josh. Hope we don’t trade him. Now, Marvin, who is underappreciated by most Hawks fans, is a very solid SF. Playing better on second unit because he is getting shots. Talent has always been there but only got 6-8 shots per game as a starter over the last 2 years. Clearly in the top half of SF in the league. Can anyone name 15 better SF’s? Hope we don’t trade him unless we can get a real center in return.


March 26th, 2012
8:12 am

RA I agree with you. “This team REALLY deserves to have a solid home base, and some respect around the league.” The problem is as Hawks fans, we’ve been bitten so many times. Every time I embrace this team, they’ll go out and lose by 35 or 40 at home. All though I must confess, that hasn’t been the case this year. I also must say that I’m putting aside the issues that I have with the ownership group and will get behind these guys, they deserve it. As a matter of fact, I plan on attending a couple of games to show my support. Y’all better jump on the bandwagon while there’s still room. GO HAWKS!!!


March 26th, 2012
8:28 am

I know this team will put up the usual stinker soon but they sure look different. I am bgeginning to think they could make a serious run. They play wirth energy and resolve most of the time and are SO much better with JJ at the 3.

Phil Lunney

March 26th, 2012
8:33 am

How many times last night did you think the Hawks were done? At the end of regulation and in each of the first 3 OT’s, it looked like they were going to let Utah escape. Great heart from everyone from Zaza, number “0″ and all those metioned above. I hope Al gets to return this season to this group of guys. Keep it up guys.


March 26th, 2012
9:13 am

Games like that will win over many fans.

Go Hawks.


March 26th, 2012
9:32 am

Trade Josh NOW while his stock is up. What a boneheaded player. Jacking up jumpshots and he obviously has not worked on his low post game. what a dumb a$$ player. Cannot remeber when I saw a dumber player.


March 26th, 2012
9:45 am

When the Hawks are playing good ball nobody in Atlanta wants to talk about them, but let the Hawks go on a losing streak and they make the front page of the newspaper. Atlanta is just a bad sports city we got three teams here that are perennial winners, if any other city had the teams we had they would be happy. Joe might no be Kobe or Lebron but he’s definitely a star, he proves it every night taking double teams scoring 30 and sinking last second shoots like he did once again last night.


March 26th, 2012
10:02 am

Joe will go back to SG when/if Al come back this year. Zaza will remain at C, why would u take him out with the way he’s playing… To keep Kirk at SG, seriously


March 26th, 2012
10:16 am

Enter your comments here


March 26th, 2012
10:36 am

ESPN is at it once again!

The Hawks and Jazz probably played the game of the year last night and ESPN, ESPN 2 (with Skip Bayless and the “2 Live Stewed Beefs”) and Mike N Mike in the Morning are all talking about:

1. Tiger Woods
2. Kentucky vs Louisville

3. Teebow!


March 26th, 2012
10:37 am

Zaza isn’t a starter in this league he’s a solid backup, if you watched the game last night he has trouble defensively. Al Jefferson isn’t even one of the bigger centers in the NBA and he totally out muscled Zaza, plus you got to have some scoring punch off the bench. The reason Drew went to this line-up is because he has too many guards that need to be on the floor. Pargo backs Teague, Green backs Kirk, Marvin or Tracy backs Joe, Ivan backs Josh, Zaza backs Horford.


March 26th, 2012
10:42 am

Dr. Jekyll was in the house on Sunday. Judging from the +/- stats, the Hawks bench played really well offensively. Derrick Favors line is mystifying, however. Tremendous offensive efficiency in only 18+ minutes and he has the worst +/- in the game. Looks like he’s playing to get out of Utah.

Dr. Warren

March 26th, 2012
10:46 am

Hate to spoil the party, but doesn’t this happen every year? Explain how this group will advance farther than the second round.


March 26th, 2012
11:01 am

this not about guys on this blog, they are proud ed Atlanta pro sports this is about vast majority rest, hey wake up, civil war is over, hawks playing all seasons butts off and you not paying attention, somewhere in remote Siberian villages cared more about your teams than you are. OK continue to be national laughingstock. couple more month and your beloved dawgs criminals come to play (sorry a lot of them be suspended for different infringements) and you be happy again. agree hillbilly f… this hawks, braves and falcons. don’t worry about the rest sport world which compared you with ancient arrogant people.

1 4 GT

March 26th, 2012
1:12 pm

I hate the dumb popup at the bottom of the page. I assume it is on all the blogs. I have decided to just ignore it since the advertisers base their decisions on it’s $ value to them, indicating how many readers the blog has. I’ll bet you that clicking on the down button also registers as a “HIT”, so if WE will ignore it, it will lose it’s appeal to the advertisers using this offensive way of pestering folks and maybe they will let it expire. The popup advertisements are just as obnoxious as telemarketers calling at all hours. Shuck ‘em all!!!!


March 26th, 2012
1:12 pm

I was at work and had to tape the game. My DVR stopped recording during the 3rd OT and the Hawks were down by four. I was very disappointed, and thought they lost. When I got on the internet WOW – GREAT WIN!!! I am happy for the team and I think overall this team has to rank next to some of the best Atlanta Hawk teams. Would love to see an article to see what others think..


March 26th, 2012
1:58 pm

Really, I’m the type who gives credit where credit is do. Jefferson had a good game last, just like Zaza had a good game (20 rebound + clucth free throws) what more do u want from a STARTING center. Millsap had a good game, should Josh move to being a solid backup. Just saying


March 26th, 2012
2:03 pm

The two Atlanta teams with a .695 winning percentage are the 1986-87 Hawks and 1993-94 Hawks. This team is only playing .600. Without pulling all the team stats, player vs. player
57-25, coach Mike Fratello – edge Fratello
Forwards – Dominique Wilkins and Kevin Willis In his third season, Willis averaged 16.1 pts and 10.5 rebounds. Yet because of his short arms, he was not much of a shot blocker. Willis only took 4 treys, and he actually made one of them. Yet, Josh is averaging 18.2 and 9.7 – and having a career year. He almost averages 2 blocks per game – advantage Smooth
Dominique Wilkins vs. Joe Johnson: If LD would have continued with Marvin Williams starting, no reason to debate. Wilkins averaged 29 ppg with 6.3 trb 3.3 ast and 1.5 steals. Joe 19.3 ppg, 3.7 trbs, 3.8 ast and .9 steals. A closer look will show that Johnson is turning into the team leader although allowing other teammates to get involved. – Advantage Wilkins
John Koncak/Tree Rollins vs. Al Hortford/ZaZa Pachulia: Koncak and Rollins shared the center position. Rollins much more defensive minded leading the team with 1.9 blocks. Yet, he was an average rebounder at 6 trb. Koncak did have a good run at the end of the season, but neither player averaged more than three baskets per game. ZaZa lacks athleticism and certainly making the Woody Harrelson/Wesley Snipes 1992 basketball movie stereotype become reality. Horford is an all-star, and has averaged almost a double-double every season. – advantage Horford/Pachulia
Randy Wittman vs. Kirk Hinrich: Hinrich numbers look pretty paltry, averaging only 7.3 ppg along with 2.2 trb. Yet, as a starter over the last 10 games Hinrich averaged 11.2 ppg. Wittman, (for you younger Hawk fans you saw him coaching the Wizzards) was the third option for those Hawks. He was a great long range shooter and he was relied on to stretch the defense. Yet, Hinrich is a much better defender and can dribble a basketball – advantage Hinrich
Doc Rivers vs. Jeff Teague: Yet another former Hawk who is a coach – and Doc was pretty good. He averaged 12.8 pts, 10.0 ast. Rivers also had something Teague does not have yet- a clutch gene. You could depend on Doc to hit the big shot to win a game (despite shooting .19% for 3 point land). Teague has the speed of Doc’s replacement Spud Webb and the athleticism. Yet, Doc was the glue. – advantage Rivers
Bench. Battle, Levingston, Webb and Carr could each start – and did at some points of the season. Pargo, Green, Johnson… much better upgrade than the past. –advantage 86-87 Hawks.


March 26th, 2012
2:17 pm

Mike @10:37, granted nobody will confuse Zaza’s defensive ability with that of Dwight Howard, but Horford would not haved fared much better against someone the size of Jefferson. These extra large guys are why Collins is on the team and I would have expected more of him (and maybe Dampier) in this matchup.

Hawks are sometimes frustrating with their occasional flops against teams they should dominate, but nobody can say they (or Utah) have no heart after last night. It was worth delaying bedtime for.


March 26th, 2012
2:24 pm

I believe Zaza has elevated his game as well.
*[just not his vertical]

Mr Mojo

March 26th, 2012
2:48 pm

One thing is for sure this team has showed some mental toughness this year that is did not in past years. Last year they would of never won that game last night. It is amazing we can still get the 3rd seed even with Horford out almost the whole year and all the other injuries we have had this year. Hawks will be a tough out in the playoffs for anyone.