Hawks coach Mike Woodson has a question for all those people who were critical of his captain around the All-Star break."Where are they now?" he said, shaking his head. "Where are they now?"
Joe Johnson made his second straight All-Star Game last month. But he was struggling at the time, before the Mike Bibby trade, as defenses geared up to stop him with two and three defenders on a nightly basis.
The Hawks' last seven games, though, he's been destroying the competition. In the seven games prior to Sunday's game against the New York Knicks, Johnson averaged 29.1 points and 6.1 assists, making better than 52 percent (75-for-144) of his shots from the floor and better than 58 percent of his shots (25-for-43) from beyond the three-point line.
"He's trying to will this team into the playoffs," Woodson said. "His focus has been as good as I've seen it, on both ends of the floor. And I think having Mike has really given him a different look in terms of how teams are defending him.
"But he's been on top of his game here lately, and if we're going to do what we need to do (for the postseason), that's the way it has to be every night."
Johnson was on his mark Sunday, finishing with 28 points and 11 assists in the Hawks' 109-98 win over the Knicks.
HAWKS 109, KNICKS 98: Joe Johnson might not have to do it all by his lonesome. Not if his supporting cast keeps this up.
The Hawks' captain and All-Star got plenty of help pushing the Hawks' playoff cart in Sunday's win over the Knicks from the likes of Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Josh Smith and Al Horford.
Sure, Johnson led the way from start to finish, ending his night with 28 points and 11 assists.
But when the Hawks needed to add another wrinkle to their attack against the Knicks, Williams heated up from the outside, scoring 14 of his 25 points during a torrid third-quarter stretch that helped the Hawks seize control of the game.
"They were playing hard but we felt like if we went at them and tried to pour it on a little bit we could take control of the game," said Williams, who added eight rebounds to his final statistical tally. "We're at our best when we do our work early. And we had a chance to get it going and we didn't hesitate."
When the Hawks needed to get going while under some late-game pressure from the Knicks, Johnson found Childress for a crucial three-pointer on one trip and Bibby found Williams for a jumper on the next possession to cool thing down.
"Because Joe is such a good player we tend to sit around and watch," Childress said. "Joe finished with 28, but I don't think it was one of his harder 28 (point nights). And that's good for all of us. Because we're hardest to guard when teams have to decide who to leave and who to worry about and can't just focus on stopping Joe."
Childress finished with 22 points and nine rebounds off the bench, while Smith added 15, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Horford finished with eight points and 10 rebounds.
"Defensively we could have been better," Johnson said. "But offensively we were ready. I told those guys that when they start double-teaming me, be ready because there are going to be open shots. And they did that. Marvin shot the cover off that thing and hit a lot of big shots. Chils hit that big (three-pointer) late.
"And we need that every night: Josh, Marvin, Josh and Al all making big contributions and Mike leading us. That's the only way we're going to win, is if we do it collectively."