If not for Grant Hill's fistful of Joe Johnson's jersey Friday night, who's to say how the Hawks' improbable 102-101 win over Phoenix might have played out.
Johnson was the first option on the play that ended with guard Jamal Crawford draining the game-winning 3-pointer as time expired. However, Johnson was detained coming to the ball, slowed down by Hill, the Phoenix forward, who had grabbed hold of Johnson's jersey. And once Johnson came around a screen set by center Al Horford, the three-time All-Star was predictably double-teamed.
In the timeout, according to Johnson, coach Mike Woodson told the team "if I [Johnson] don't get it, guys have got to start coming to the ball. And the rest is history."
Among the most noteworthy elements of Crawford's game-winner and the Hawks' string of recent wins is how they have highlighted the dilemma Hawks opponents face by having two established finishers on the floor. Oklahoma City, which plays the first-place Hawks Monday, deals with this next.
"They have Joe Johnson and now they have Crawford as well, so they have two closers," Boston coach Doc Rivers told reporters last Monday, when the two combined for 37 points in the second half of the Hawks' come-from-behind road win. "That makes it really tough, especially when we get in a one-point game with them. It's very difficult to get stops against guys that don't need a play to score."
Three days prior to that game, in a home win over Boston, Crawford scored 14 fourth-quarter points on 5-of-6 shooting after providing only four points in the first three quarters, including a ridiculous four-point play when he was fouled tossing up a 3-pointer from the corner.
After losing in Orlando last Saturday, Crawford scored 11 points in the final seven minutes of the third quarter in Boston as the Hawks rallied from a 14-point, third-quarter hole. Johnson took the baton in the fourth quarter, scoring fromeverywhere and dropping 12 points on Boston, part of a 36-point game.
Against Washington last Wednesday, Johnson went for seven points and Crawford 14 in the fourth quarter as the Hawks fended off the Wizards' comeback.
"Guys have to stay home with [Crawford] and they don't want to leave him, so it kind of gives me a little room to operate," Johnson said.
Crawford, too, has noticed the extra space.
When Crawford played in New York, "Even when we had Stephon (Marbury), I took the majority of the game-winning shots, the big shots," Crawford said. "Now I have another person who's just like that. It's a lot of fun."
Crawford's knack for closing was one reason Hawks general manager Rick Sund acquired him from Golden State over the summer. Last year, according to the web site 82games.com, Crawford was 13th in scoring in the clutch – defined as the fourth quarter or overtime with less than five minutes remaining with the margin five points or less. Johnson was 16th.
In Crawford, the Hawks have a fourth-quarter master who sets up his theatrics well in advance.
"Maybe if I see a certain move that's working throughout the game," he said, "I'll save another move in the back of my head that I can use" in the fourth quarter.
Employing two closers whose primary method is jump shots opens the risk of both going cold, as the Hawks have experienced. But having two such players is certainly better than one.
"It feels great to have another guy there to make the defense play honest and who can really score the basketball," Johnson said. "It does. It takes a lot of pressure off me."