This isn't exactly the way Solomon Jones wanted to break into the Hawks' playing rotation.But after two years of watching and learning, Jones knows better than to do anything but embrace an opportunity.
Josh Smith's high left ankle sprain is what will pave the way for more playing time for Jones.
Smith will miss anywhere from two to four weeks recovering from the injury, suffered with 56 seconds to play in the first quarter of Saturday's win over Toronto.
That means Jones will get just as much time to prove that he's worthy of the minutes he'll receive in Smith's absence, including Tuesday's game against the Bulls in Chicago.
"You've got to keep yourself mentally ready to go in this league, and that's all I've ever tried to do," said Jones, who played 25 minutes against the Raptors and finished with six points, nine rebounds, three blocks and an impressive defensive showing against Raptors All-Star Chris Bosh and then followed it up with a season-high 10 rebounds Sunday night in a win in Oklahoma City. "When people started getting in foul trouble (early in the game) I told myself to get ready. I started warming up on the bench.
"You hate to see Josh get hurt, because that's a huge blow for our team. But at the same time, that's how it goes. Sometimes a guy gets hurt, and somebody has to step up and fill the void."
Jones isn't capable of filling the void Smith's absence creates. But, combined with Zaza Pachulia filling in as a starter and along with fellow reserve Randolph Morris, they should at least be able to carry the bulk of the load.
"It's unfortunate Josh got injured," Morris said. "But we go extremely hard every day in practice every day. And we know what to expect. We know the same plays those guys know. We'll come in and give good minutes and both myself, Solo and even Z will answer the bell when we're called upon."
Jones hasn't been asked to work like this since his rookie season. He played nine straight minutes Saturday after Smith had already left the game, and his mouth never closed -- he was that tired.
"I bet he hasn't played those kind of extended minutes in a long time," Marvin Williams said with a smile. "But that's the way it goes. When they call your name you have to be ready. We know these guys can do it because we see them every day in practice. Solo's been giving people fits since the summer, so to see him out there in the game doing the same thing proves that his hard work is paying off."
For Jones, it's vindication for all the hard work that's gone into his career rebirth after two uneven seasons.
"There was a point in time I got down a couple years ago when I wasn't playing and I was still trying to break into the rotation," Jones said. "But now I've been through this for two years. This is my third year. I know the things that happen throughout the course of a season, the injuries or whatever.
"Yeah, it is hard to think about having to go in because somebody is injured. But that may be your opportunity to shine, your chance to break into the rotation. So you have to be ready."
HAWKS 89, THUNDER 85: Hawks coach Mike Woodson warned his team.
But it wasn't until late Sunday night that he found if they were listening or not.
"You can't just show up and expect to roll over anybody in this league," he told his team.
And not only couldn't they just show up and roll over the Thunder, they had to play to the final buzzer for the first time this season to pick up their fifth straight win.
"Nobody said it was going to be easy every night," said Hawks reserve guard Flip Murray, whose 14 points were crucial. "This is a tough crowd to come play under. They've got a lot of energy in their building. And like Woody said, you can't just show up. We had to keep fighting. Sometimes it's not going to be pretty. But we still go it done."
The Thunder, 1-5 on the season, played inspired basketball while the 5-0 Hawks labored intensely for most of the night.
With the Hawks' defense swarming all around them, the Thunder still found a way to take a 75-68 lead with just under seven minutes left.
But Murray, with Woodson's warning on repeat in his head, scored nine straight points to tie the game at 77-77 with 4:59 to play.
"To their credit, these guys didn't panic," Woodson said. "In the timeout I explained to them that we had plenty of time, but we had to get some stops and start making some buckets. And we did that. We made some key stops and made some big buckets coming down the stretch.
"Flip just caught fire for us at the right time and gave us that push we needed to go and secure the win."