Joe Johnson can bail out the Atlanta Hawks even though he doesn’t necessarily want to. The Memphis Grizzlies, meanwhile, would likely be much better off if they had somebody who thrives under pressure.
Johnson, who came up big in his last game despite struggling from the floor again, leads the Hawks on Saturday night as they host a Grizzlies team coming off yet another close loss.
After starting the season 3-7, Atlanta (8-10) has won five of its last eight games. Johnson is averaging only 18.4 points during that stretch while shooting 37.0 percent from the field.
On Thursday night, Johnson went 8-for-21 from the floor, but his 18-footer at the buzzer lifted the Hawks to a 90-89 win over league-worst Minnesota. Johnson, who finished with 21 points, thought it should have been a much easier win.
“It’s got to stop sooner or later, man,” he said. “I honestly thought this was a 25-30 point win for us.”
Memphis (6-13) could certainly have used that type of clutch performance Friday night, when it lost 118-116 in overtime against New Orleans after Chris Paul made a driving layup with 1.8 seconds left. After Paul’s basket, the Grizzlies had one more chance to set up a quick shot, but Pau Gasol lost an inbounds pass out of bounds.
“It’s a play that could have gone both ways,” Gasol said. “I wasn’t able to control the ball.”
Memphis has now lost six games by three points or less, and has lost three straight overall to match its longest skid of the season.
Friday’s gaffe was a tough end for what was a strong effort from Gasol, who had 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. This has been the best two-game stretch of the season for the 7-footer, who had 23 points and 12 rebounds in a loss to Houston on Wednesday night.
Gasol, though, struggled in two games against Atlanta in 2006-07, averaging 7.0 points and 3.5 rebounds, although one of the contests was his first game of the season after missing the first 22 with a broken left foot. The Hawks won both of those meetings after losing their previous six games against the Grizzlies.
Both teams may be short-handed for this matchup.
Hawks guard Josh Childress, meanwhile, left in the third quarter Thursday after straining his groin. Childress is averaging 12.2 points and 5.0 rebounds off the bench.
Atlanta was able to make do without Childress down the stretch despite scoring just eight points in the third quarter. The Hawks haven’t scored more than 21 points in the third quarter in any of their last nine games.
Josh Smith had 28 points and seven blocks to lead Atlanta, and Marvin Williams added 20 points. Smith, who leads the league with 3.7 blocks per game, is averaging 4.3 in his last three contests versus Memphis.
Smith will likely be matched up with Grizzlies swingman Rudy Gay, who is coming off one of his best games of the season. He matched a season high with 31 points on 12-for-21 shooting—including several dunks—against New Orleans.