Atlanta Hawks' color analyst Dominique Wilkins said it all when he said late in the 4th quarter that "Joe Johnson was smokin'." Johnson caught fire for the Hawks hitting a variety of pull up jump shots, tough three point shots, strong driving lay-ups, and floaters in the lane.
Once again in this game, the Hawks dominated the offensive boards. Josh Smith led the way with another monster double-double. Smith finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds. Smith's passing has been great this season and he has been a key to the Hawks league-leading 9-2 start.
The biggest disappointment of the night was the late arriving and non-existent Hawks crowd. The home crowd (those fans that actually took the time to show up) sat quietly in their seats for three quarters.
Philips Arena was so quiet that I heard Greg Oden's joints creaking. A fan eating nachos a couple of rows behind Portland's Coach Nate McMillan politely asked McMillan to move to his right during a free throw.
During a Hawks' third quarter time-out, I thought I overheard game official Steve Javie giving a pep talk to Allen Iverson on a cell phone call. You could actually hear Juwan Howard's goatee growing. I mean it was quiet circa Philips Arena in 2005.
Portland's 3-2 zone gave the Hawks problems all night long. Trail Blazer Assistant Coach Dean Demoupoulus is a zone guru and he dialed up the right zone coverages. The Hawks usually knock down threes and force teams out of the zone, but those shots were not falling. To beat this zone, you have to flatten out on the baseline and post up a player on the block.
The Hawks could never make the adjustment, but, in the 4th quarter, Joe turned up the offensive intensity. Portland almost had to play man and the Hawks were able to exploit some match up advantages.
Al Horford was able to take Oden off the dribble. J-Smoove drove on Juwan Howard. Joe simply torched Brandon Roy.
Possibly, the Trail Blazers do not know that most teams are doubling Joe down the stretch of games. Joe must have had flashbacks to the Boston playoff series in 2008 when the Celtics refused to double team him. Johnson can score on almost anyone one-on-one.
Portland has a similar problem to the Hawks in that their best player Brandon Roy has to guard the other team's best player when they really need a stop. Johnson just overwhelmed Roy tonight in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Smokin' Joe finished the game with 35 points and 9 assists to rescue a victory from the jaws of defeat. Hopefully, on Wednesday versus the Miami Heat, more Hawks fans will see the game and help keep the Hawks undefeated at the Highlight Factory.