It's hard to say the same thing over and over, but once again the Hawks offense came off the tracks late in a game, and their defense played too sporadically to overtake a steady Milwaukee Bucks team at their place, losing 98-95.
To accomplish the feat, the Hawks had to lose another decent lead in the fourth quarter, due in large part to missed free throws (2 from Al Horford, 1 from Josh Smith), poor defense, and another Joe Johnson takeover of the game in the fourth quarter.
First, credit where credit is due---just because the Hawks left Luke Ridnour, John Salmons, and Carlos Delfino open so many times doesn't automatically mean they make those shots. They combined for a 9-18 three point shooting extravaganza to help overcome a 52-45 percent shooting deficit against the Hawks.
And when he wasn't scoring from the outside, Salmons was wearing out Josh Smith going to the basket. The Bucks looked for that switch often in the second half, where Salmons scored (25) of his (32) points. When the Hawks tried to clamp his scoring, it usually left Delfino or Ridnour open for their shooting business.
Still, the Hawks were able to maintain control despite the rally and was trading baskets with the home team behind Josh Smith re-discovering that jump shots are not how he made a leap forward this year and Joe Johnson taking advantage of every single defender that MIL threw at him.
Then, with a minute and a half left in the game, the Hawks scored their final points. Johnson backed down another smaller defender and shot over them inside. After another Josh Smith foul attempting to defend Salmons and the subsequent free throws, Johnson found himself considerably further out than his previous possession, but did not allow the significant increase in the degree of difficulty deter him from firing a twenty-something foot fallaway without even thinking about passing the ball. It missed.
Johnson compounded the misfire by becoming Mario West at midcourt, overplaying Salmons to the point of grabbing him and picking up a foul with (12) seconds left. We can debate whether Dick Bavetta should have called it, but Johnson didn't need to be pushing the envelope at that particular point in the game, especially at that place on the floor. All it did was highlight that not even Joe Johnson was convinced that he alone could keep Salmons from getting to the hoop again.
After Salmons put the Bucks up two with his free throws, Johnson again dribbled what was left of the clock down to the nub, forcing another shot and missing, sealing his team's fate.
Johnson took (11) of the team's last (16) shots, Jamal Crawford's last second attempt included. He was hot, for sure, but the team doesn't need to engage in Joe-only fourth quarters as they did in 2005-2006. The Hawks have been very successful moving the ball through all sort of skill sets in games versus have Joe try to win games for ATL. I am not buying Johnson's post game press comments that the team looks to him to do this kind of late game hijackery of the ball.
Al Horford did a great job closing the game the night before against San Antonio and Tim Duncan but is suddenly a wallflower, getting (and making) only (5) shots against a slower Milwaukee front line?
Josh Smith has been very effective late in games, both in the high post and low post, evidenced by his own back to back buckets in this very same fourth quarter, only temporarily breaking Johnson's hold on the quarter. The only times he is not effective late is when Joe is isolating and Smith ends up wide open in the corner and missing a jump shot.
Jamal Crawford has been good as well late in games, often mirroring Johnson's own touch for getting tough baskets when defenses are able to bog down the ATL offense.
Again I'll say it---Joe was feeling it, which might have empowered the whole "take the game over" mentality. But there were equally times in the game when Jamal, Josh, or Horford was hot and didn't stop Johnson from vetoing their "feed him and fan him" runs by controlling the ball himself and deciding it was time for him to shoot, electing to end such hot streaks.
Perhaps this is an issue that is native to great players like Joe---the talent and associated ego that serves to bring so much on behalf of the team can lend itself to such outcomes. Joe decided that he was hot and effective enough to decide the game on his own. He purchased this with his status and role on the team and, in turned, owned the outcome, win or lose.
I don't feel this is necessary, but until something changes, there will be games like this where even though there are equally (or more) effective means of getting fourth quarter buckets, the price of having a player of Johnson's status is that those options are subject to being muted in the shadow of Johnson's attempts to try and make plays on his own.