Talk about something improbable happening. When news broke that Joe Johnson would have to undergo elbow surgery it was thought that he would be lost for four to six weeks. News first broke that four days ago that Johnson was spotted on the Hawks practice court shooting jumpers. Still it came as a major surprise when it was announced shortly before Friday night's tip off that Johnson would be making his return to the lineup a mere 15 days following surgery.
The AJC's Ken Sugiura broke the news of the return before the game and Johnson had this to say:
"The therapy just went great, the swelling’s gone down," Johnson said. "We’ve just been shooting (with) no pain. It’s just feeling great, so I just didn’t feel like it was necessary to wait another two weeks and leave the guys hanging out there like that when I can really get out there and give ‘em everything I got."
Perhaps Johnson sensed that the Hawks needed a lift having lost three of their last four games and were without the services of Jamal Crawford who sat out his second straight game with a sore back. Yet when the game started there Johnson was in his familiar shooting guard spot with a protective sleeve with an elbow pad protecting the surgically repaired elbow.
His appearance might have gave the Hawks a lift as they grinded their way through a 90-85 victory. The familiar lineup started, and the scoring was balanced across the board with all five starters ending up in double figures. Johnson, Marvin Williams, and Al Horford all ended the night with 16 points. Josh Smith tossed in 12 while Mike Bibby added 10 of his own.
Jeff Teague led all of the bench players with 15 minutes of action and finished with five points and four assists in what is hopefully his return to the regular rotation. The ball movement that was absent in Boston last night returned tonight as the Hawks chalked up 24 assists on 36 made baskets. Johnson led the way with eight assists. Joe finished the night 5-14 from the floor and only he really knows if he is rushing back or not. I commented in the game thread that every time he missed I wondered if it was because of the elbow. It is something to watch going forward but you can't deny the lift he gave the team in tonight's game. Lets just hope that it was the correct decision to return this fast.
There was much talk while Johnson was out as to how he would fit in once he returned to the lineup. It is a small sample size but I saw the Hawks go to him in some iso situations early in the fourth quarter but they were running the motion at crunch time with Marvin Williams getting two key baskets down the stretch.
What can you really say about this victory? Charlotte came in a mess but always play the Hawks tough it seems and tonight was not any different. It is these types of games that we often overlook as wins but magnify as losses. If it is possible to have a must win this early in then this game was one. Atlanta had dropped three out of four and desperately needed to right the ship. The schedule doesn't get any easier as they are right in the middle of another four games in five nights stretch that will see the Hawks travel to New Jersey for an afternoon game with the Nets on Sunday before returning home to take on the Magic on Monday. With that backdrop, this game and the game at New Jersey on Sunday are even more important.