With their playoff hopes hanging in the balance every time they suit up, Hawks coach Mike Woodson doesn't have to worry about his team losing focus.Besides, who doesn't get excited for the biggest game of the year every night out?
"We've got to play (13) games of the century," Josh Smith said. "We've got to separate ourselves now because of that loss to New Jersey (Wednesday). We can't even slide in there even with them in the standings because they've got the tiebreaker on us. We've got to focus in now and try to get back some of the games we've tricked off earlier in the year."
Marvin Williams said the Hawks have to play the equivalent of 13 straight Final Four games in order to achieve their goal of ending the NBA's longest playoff drought at eight seasons.
"We've got to have the mindset that we're playing the championship game every night," Williams said. "And if you're not juiced for this you shouldn't even suit up. Think about the last two years, we weren't even close to this position. It wasn't even a possibility. So if you're not hype for this, you might as well sit on the injured list for a few games."
Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson has been in playoff mode for weeks now, cranking his game up to the next level on both ends of the floor after a conversation he and Woodson had about how Johnson needed to lead this team.
"It's Game 7 of the NBA Finals every night," Johnson said. "We've got to come out with energy, take your intensity level up to that next level, and put it all on the line. That's all there is to it."
After the Hawks' win over Southeast Division leading Orlando Saturday, and New Jersey's loss to Philadelphia, their lead over New Jersey for that eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff slot is a game and a half. And that's a cushion the Hawks will take on the road to Chicago Tuesday in yet another make-or-break contest.
"They're all big now," Johnson said. "And we've got to play them just like we did this one (against Orlando), with everything we've got."
HAWKS 98, MAGIC 90: These are the situations Mike Bibby lives for.
Late in a game, everything on the line and the ball in his hands.
Joe Johnson dragged the Hawks to the fourth quarter Saturday at Philips Arena, but he needed Bibby's help in finishing off the Orlando Magic in a huge win for the Hawks.
Bibby scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, including back-to-back 3-pointers early in the quarter that put the Hawks back in control down the stretch.
"We had a little bit more to lose than they did," Bibby said. "But the guys pulled through. We got the rebounds, did a good job on (Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard), and we came through with the win."
Bibby and Johnson were lethal down the stretch, each of them taking and making the big shots to keep the Hawks afloat.
"I was just trying to get the ball in Joe's hands," Bibby said. "He's a tough cover for anybody and he commands a lot of attention, so I tried to get the ball in his hands and let him make some plays knowing that it opens up the floor for everybody else."
Johnson added his usual strong outing, with 34 points, seven assists, five rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot to boot.
But he needed some help late and Bibby, the point guard the Hawks so desperately needed and grabbed at the NBA trade deadline, to help finish things off.
"Mike just controlled the tempo," Josh Childress said. "The fourth quarter was pretty much his and that's the reason we won."
It was a little more complex than that, of course. After leading by 14 points early the Hawks surrendered the lead and actually trailed by as many as six points in the third quarter.
But Bibby and Johnson refused to let another critical game slip away. Not only did they combined for 54 points, including six of the Hawks' made 3-pointers, 15 assists, 11 rebounds, five steals and just four turnovers. Both men played 43-plus minutes, the highlight came in the final minute of the game when Bibby refused to let coach Mike Woodson take him out.
"I can get it done now," Bibby said after Woodson hugged him as Johnson sank the game-clinching free throws with 6.7 seconds left.
"I couldn't afford to take them out tonight," Woodson said. "We built the lead early and I took Joe out and the lead went up in flames. So I had to ride those guys until the end. And they stepped up and made plays."