ATLANTA (AP) - If there were any Hawks fans still mad at Joe Johnson after last season's playoffs, he took a big step toward patching things up Saturday night.
Johnson scored 14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter to lead Atlanta to its third straight win, 99-95 over the Washington Wizards in the Hawks' home opener.
Mindful of the booing he faced locally in a four-game sweep by Orlando last spring, Johnson went out of his way to praise the sellout crowd of 18,729.
``It's great to see everybody come out and show their support,' Johnson said. ``We really appreciate that.'
Against the Magic, Johnson had a miserable series and ticked off Atlanta fans when he said after a Game 3 blowout that he didn't care if they ``showed up or not.' They did for the finale, booing Johnson all night in another lopsided loss.
Some wondered if Johnson would return to Atlanta, but he quickly agreed to a maximum deal for some $124 million to keep together a team that has improved its record every year for the past five.
After opening with wins at Memphis and Philadelphia, the Hawks provided the home fans with their first look at a team that features largely the same roster but a new motion offense under rookie coach Larry Drew.
Not surprisingly playing on back-to-back nights, Atlanta got off to a sluggish start. Jamal Crawford and rest of the reserves sparked the team in the second quarter, then Johnson and the starters finished off the Wizards, who lost their 10th straight to the Hawks despite 28 points from rookie John Wall and 24 from Al Thornton.
The game was tight all the way, but Johnson hit a huge 3-pointer with less than 3 1/2 minutes remaining. Trying to free himself from Thornton's tight defense, the Atlanta star went with both a crossover and behind-the-back dribble before simply taking one step back - behind the arc - and letting go a shot that hit nothing but net for an 89-84 lead.
``Joe, man, he made some tough shots,' Thornton said. ``I guess that's why he's an All-Star and gets paid what he gets paid.'
The decisive blow came with less than 2 minutes to go. Al Horford slipped around the slightest of screens by Mike Bibby and Josh Smith spotted his teammate breaking toward the hoop. He delivered a perfect lob pass that Horford slammed home to make it 95-87.
Horford flexed in front of the Hawks bench, while Smith took off down the court pumping his fist. Horford finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, while Smith also had 10 boards to go along with 12 points.
Wall did his best to keep the Wizards in the game, scoring 10 in the final period and duly impressing the Hawks with his speed, athleticism and surprising strength.
``I'm not going to have a great game every night,' Wall said. ``I hope people understand that.'
Johnson took over down the stretch, shrugging off a 5-of-15 performance in the first three quarters.
``I'm a shooter,' he said. ``I've got to keep shooting.'
Even after finishing third in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks have been sort of the forgotten team in their own division with all the hype surrounding Miami's Big Three, defending champion Orlando's quest to keep the crown and Wall's arrival in Washington as the top overall pick.
For now, it's Atlanta on top at 3-0.
``We were the third seed last year for a reason,' said Crawford, who scored 15 points. ``But those other teams are getting the hype for a reason. I just hope we'll continue to shine under the radar - and go into the playoffs the same way.'
With Thornton scoring 10 points in the opening period, the Wizards ripped off a 21-5 run to lead by 11 - the biggest margin for either team all night - before taking a 27-18 edge into the second quarter.
Drew turned to his backups for some energy, sitting Horford and Marvin Williams the entire period and keeping Smith and Bibby on the bench until the 5:40 mark. Crawford scored eight points in the period, while Jeff Teague, Zaza Pachulia and Josh Powell also chipped in.
Washington's JaVale McGee blocked seven shots, making some of them look ridiculously easy. But he picked up his fifth foul midway through the final period and wasn't much of a factor the rest of the way.
``He's tough,' Horford said. ``With a guy like that, you have to go strong to the basket. That's what we did.'
NOTES: Atlanta F Maurice Evans sat out after having his right knee drained on Friday. An MRI showed that swelling he's had was just part of the normal healing process after arthroscopic surgery over the summer. ... Washington activated rookie F Kevin Seraphin as a reward for playing well in practice. He didn't get into the game.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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