Coming off a disappointing loss to the Chicago Bulls at home on Wednesday, the Atlanta Hawks entered Friday's game not only hoping to defeat the New York Knicks but to spoil their former head coach, Mike Woodson's return to Philips Arena for the first time since 2010. The Hawks jumped out to a great start in the first quarter by building an 28-20 point lead behind Joe Johnson's 12 points and Josh Smith's 10 points as they combined for 22 of the Hawks first quarter points. In the second period, the Hawks bench continued to produce as the New York Knicks made it into a competitive second quarter; however, Atlanta built their lead to 12 points at the half, which was 52-40
In the third quarter, the Knicks lead by All-Star Carmelo Anthony and rookie sensation Ivan Shumpert, who was also making his first return to Atlanta since leaving Georgia Tech for the NBA Draft, cut the deficit to as little as seven points; however, Joe Johnson hit a few clutch shots late in the period to hold off the Knicks and towards the end of the quarter, Carmelo Anthony hit a clutch three pointer to trim the deficit to a five point game headed into the final quarter.
As the fourth quarter began, the Knicks seemed to be gaining momentum as they cut the Hawks lead to as little as two points at 80-78 with 8;17 remaining in the game. After the New York rally, Joe Johnson and Willie Green would combine for two clutch baskets to give the Hawks an eight point lead with less than six minutes remaining and J.R. Smith would respond with a huge three pointer to cut Atlanta's lead back to five points. After the Hawks called a full timeout, Willie Green responded by hitting two clutch shots to extend the Hawks lead back to ten with 3:41 remaining in the basketball game. New York couldn't respond to the big lift from Willie Green as he would hit one more big shot and Joe Johnson would add two more free throws as Atlanta earned a big victory over the New York Knicks.
For the Hawks, Joe Johnson lead the way with 28 points and added six rebounds and three assists on 10-20 shooting from the field. Josh Smith was also productive with 23 points and posted six rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. From the bench, Willie Green provided a huge lift for the Hawks tonight with 20 points on a incredible 8-9 shooting from the field, which included 2-3 from three point range and Marvin Williams added 13 points, six rebounds and two steals and blocks.
Atlanta now improves to 31-22 on the season and is currently the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference with 13 games remaining in the NBA regular season. The Hawks are looking like a team that is trying to gain momentum heading into the playoffs as their remaining opponents on the schedule holding a combined winning percentage of less than .500 so earning victories are key to the seed Atlanta receives for the playoffs.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME:
Tonight, Joe Johnson gave the Hawks a boost early in the first quarter as he posted 12 points to help Atlanta open up with an early lead over the New York Knicks. In the third quarter, Joe Johnson hit a few clutch shots to distinguish the momentum that New York was building in order to keep Atlanta in the lead going into the final period and in the fourth quarter, Johnson scored seven points to give the Hawks a much needed win. When the Hawks can get this effort from Joe Johnson game in and game out, this team can beat some of the elite teams around the NBA and recently, the 11th year shooting guard have put together some great games. Since his return from injury earlier this month, when Johnson goes for 20 or more points, the Hawks are 6-2 as a team. In order for this team to be very successful, he needs to continue to deliver in big games such as tonight's victory if the Hawks will beat elite teams in the NBA.
The progression of Josh Smith as one of the best power forwards in the NBA continued tonight as he helped Joe Johnson in the first quarter by adding 10 early points to begin the dominant game they had against a very good Knicks team tonight at Philips Arena. Smith finished the basketball game with 23 points, which proved to be a huge boost for the Hawks as they earned a huge win against New York. In the month of March, when Josh Smith averages 20 points per game, the Hawks are 9-5 and now that Joe Johnson is back, he is receiving some help in the scoring department and now that Al Horford is approaching his return next month, the Hawks could really take flight heading into the NBA playoffs. Josh Smith is also starting to use his talents to the best of his abilities by becoming a defensive mismatch in the paint and when he is playing up to his abilities, he is one of the hardest players to defend in the league.
BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE OF THE GAME:
The performance of the veteran shooting guard was great tonight as Willie Green posted 20 points and was an incredible 8 of 9 from the field and 2 of 3 from long range. Eleven of his points came in the fourth quarter as his clutch baskets carried the Hawks to victory. This was a huge coming out party for the player who missed a lot of games in February and early March due to a recent back injury and now that Green is back, this provides much needed depth on the bench as Jannero Pargo continues to recover from his own injury. If the Hawks could get that effort from Green like he did tonight down the stretch, Atlanta will be in a better position to win basketball games and not have all of the pressure on Joe Johnson and Josh Smith.
The Hawks are traveling overnight to Philadelphia to take on a Sixers team who is currently the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and Atlanta is currently 0-2 against this team and getting a win would help their playoff seeding and provide confidence for the team in case these two teams meet again in a playoff series. Tip-off is at 7:30 PM on Sportsouth. Until next time, LET'S GO HAWKS!!!!