It’s not exactly pleasing to the eye when Hawks guard Joe Johnson dominates the ball, makes a move to the basket and misses as his teammates watch.
When “Iso-Joe” doesn’t work late in games, it looks bad. But what about when it work? Johnson showed the potential beauty in the strategy when he scored 16 fourth-quarter points last Friday to help the Hawks beat the Celtics for a season sweep.
Johnson made seven shots in the period against the Celtics and none were assisted.
“They isolated us all game,” Celtics forward Paul Pierce said. “They’ve done that all four games and they’ve beaten us all four games.”
That’s no coincidence to Celtics coach Doc Rivers. He said Johnson's and Jamal Crawford’s ability to score in isolation makes the Hawks a dangerous team to face in the playoffs.
“Those two guys, when they get the ball in one-on-one, if I’m Woody [coach Mike Woodson], I don’t mind that matchup whoever is guarding them,” Rivers said. “That’s what makes them great to me as a playoff team, because in the playoffs, your first and second option has been taken away if you’ve done any scouting.
“Then it’s got to come down to guys making plays and they have guys that can make plays. That makes them really good.”
From Woodson’s perspective, the goal late in games is to get the ball to his best option in good scoring positions. He figures what’s the point of running a play with the intention of getting Johnson (or Crawford) a good look at the basket when the Hawks can just let him work on his defender in isolation?
Johnson is one of the best in the league in that situation. If Johnson draws a double-team, Woodson wants him to share the ball, but the coach said not many opponents are doubling Johnson late in games.
That’s because when the Hawks spread the floor for isolation plays, it’s risky for a defender to leave his man to double Johnson in the areas where he generally starts his moves. So Woodson said he’s fine with Johnson working to get his shot against a single defender in isolation.
“He has to,” Woodson said.
As for Johnson dominating the ball as the shot clock runs down, Woodson said he approves of it when the Hawks are in control of the game and need to run clock. The drawback to that approach is if Johnson can’t get into position for a good look, he either forces a shot or passes off to a teammate for a rushed attempt against defenders who now have the shot clock in their favor.
But if Johnson can get the ball to his teammates in a good spot, every Hawk who would typically be on the floor with him in late-game situations (other than Josh Smith) is a reliable shooter: Mike Bibby, Marvin Williams, Al Horford, Mo Evans and Crawford.
Defenders’ options are limited when facing isolation plays.
“What can they do?” Crawford said. “If you run a pick-and-roll, they can trap you. If you try to run off a screen, you might not get what you want.”
Mario West to stay
The Hawks signed guard Mario West for the remainder of the season, the team announced Monday.
West had signed consecutive 10-day contracts with the Hawks and NBA rules required the team to sign him for the rest of the season in order to retain him. West, a Douglas County and Georgia Tech product, has appeared in eight games and averaged six minutes during his most recent stint with the team.
He played in 117 games for the Hawks from 2007-09 but was cut in training camp last summer. He was playing for the D-League’s Maine Red Claws when the Hawks signed him to the first 10-day contract on Jan. 12.
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