Eight games above .500 by Christmas Eve? Joe Johnson wouldn't have believed it if he weren't living every single joyous minute of the Hawks' early season joyride.
Even on nights when they don't play their very best the Hawks' captain and All-Star can enjoy the fruits of his team's labor; Tuesday night it was a harder-than-it-should-have-been 99-88 comeback win over Oklahoma City at Philips Arena.
"It feels pretty good," Johnson said after recording his second career triple-double with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists and helping the Hawks improve to 18-10. "But at the same time we have to know what's at stake, and we have to know we have a long way to go to reach our goals.
"So we can't get ahead of ourselves. We just have to stay focused and stay on track."
But with two days off for the Christmas holiday, it's OK to admire where they've come from --- a 13-win season in Hawks coach Mike Woodson's first season to the playoffs last year and now one of the top four records in the Eastern Conference at this early stage of the season.
The Hawks continue to play lights-out Basketball on their home floor with a 12-2 record this season; including a 5-1 mark on their current eight-game home stand.
"It could have been better if we'd have beaten Boston [last week]," Marvin Williams said and then laughed. "We're in good shape right now. Guys are working hard, guys are definitely aware of what we have to do here at home. We're just trying to take it one game at a time."
Tuesday night the Hawks had to take it one quarter at a time. They let the lowly Thunder (3-26) give them fits for the better part of three quarters, only to turn up their defense and intensity in the fourth quarter to pull off the victory.
Woodson said he sounded the warning before the game. And with similar efforts in comeback wins over Charlotte and Golden State during this home stand, the halftime speech should have sounded familiar.
"Joe was huge in terms of rebounding the Basketball and dishing out assists," Woodson said. "But that team is an active team. We tried to warn them about that before we stepped out on the floor. They play hard. They outrebounded us by 12. You just can't have that. We still managed to come out of here with a win. And a lot of that had to do with our defense coming down the stretch."
The Hawks pressured the Thunder into an 8-for-23 shooting effort (35 percent) in the fourth quarter while shooting a robust 12-for-19 (63 percent) themselves.
Johnson went 4-for-8 in the fourth, Williams 4-for-4 and Josh Smith a perfect 2-for-2, including a clutch 27-footer with 2:32 to play for an 88-81 lead the Hawks rode to the finish.
As solid as they were offensively late, however, it was on the defensive end where the Hawks insist they won this game.
"We held them to 37 percent shooting for the game, and that's where it all starts," said Smith, who finished with 19 points. "As long as we hang our hat on the defensive end and continue to do that we're going to be successful. We're certainly going to be in every game playing that way."
And as long as they're in every game, they'll allow Johnson to do what he does best.
"We're not even playing our best offensively right now, but we're managing," Johnson said. "We're managing on offense and relying on our defense. The biggest thing is that we're winning without playing our very best Basketball. And that wouldn't have been the case for us in the past."
NEXT FOR Hawks
* Who: vs. Bulls
* When: 7 p.m. Saturday
* TV; radio: SportSouth; 790 AM