Smith returned to the court Friday night after missing 2 1/2 weeks and made a crucial 3-pointer with 10.7 seconds left, helping the Hawks hold on for a 99-93 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 34 points but was double-teamed with the clock winding down, forcing him to dish off to Smith for an open 3 that buried the Pistons.
“You’ve got to trust your teammates,” Johnson said. “I told them to be ready, because when they doubled me, I was going to kick it out.”
Smith, who scored only five points on the first and last baskets of the game, had been projected to miss up to four weeks after undergoing surgery Dec. 26. He sat out eight games—the Hawks went 1-7—but decided to play after feeling no pain during his first full practice Thursday.
“When I first got out of surgery, I could barely walk,” Smith said. “I was not expecting to go tonight, but we kept getting guys injured. I couldn’t see my team hurting. I had to get in there.”
Johnson made his first 11 shots before missing on a drive to the lane early in the fourth quarter. But his biggest play came when he rebounded his own miss and banked in a shot to put the Hawks up 95-87 with 2:31 remaining.
It was a fourth-chance basket for the Hawks, who hustled for three offensive rebounds in a row before Johnson finally got the ball to fall through. Coach Mike Woodson pumped his fist and the Pistons called timeout.
“We need more plays like that,” Johnson said. “A lot of times, we’re on the other end of that stick. Tonight, we were that team. We were shooting the ball, getting rebounds and getting second chances.”
Detroit wasn’t done. The Pistons closed to 95-93 on Ronald Murray’s free throw with 1:17 to go, but didn’t score again, stymied by the Hawks defense. Josh Childress stripped the ball from Richard Hamilton in the corner, then Smith blocked a shot by Murray.
Finally, with the 24-second clock winding down, Smith swished the open 3. He backed all the way down the court with a big grin, clearly not in any pain.
“Joe had confidence in me and I had confidence in myself,” Smith said. “It felt good when it left my hand.”
Hamilton scored 32 points to lead the Pistons, who trailed nearly the entire night on the way to their sixth loss in eight games.
“We’re struggling,” coach Flip Saunders said. “We’re trying to find some consistency both offensively and defensively.”
The Pistons hurt themselves by picking up back-to-back technicals with 4 1/2 minutes remaining. Upset about being called for a foul, Hamilton fell to the court and rolled over in disgust, giving the Hawks an extra free throw. Rasheed Wallace continued to gripe while the Hawks were at the line and he got a technical, too.
Atlanta wound up shooting four foul shots in a row, making two of them.
“I don’t know what to tell you, honestly,” Wallace said. “We’re just taking it on the chin.”
The Hawks, winning for just the third time in 17 games, fell behind once. Detroit went up 7-6 in the early going on Hamilton’s drive into the lane, but Atlanta shot better than 60 percent through most of the first half and surged to a 47-33 lead with 3 1/2 minutes left before the break.
Detroit halved the deficit before going to the locker room, and spent the final two quarters making one run after another at the Hawks.
The Pistons never caught up. Johnson, coming off a 6-of-24 performance against the Hornets, was 13-of-17 from the field. He made four from 3-point range and just missed his season high of 36 points.
“We knew he had been struggling coming into this game,” Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince said. “He kind of got in the zone, and whatever we tried to do, it didn’t work in our favor.”
Wallace scored 17 points and Prince added 16.
Saunders refused to speculate on reports that his team was on the verge of signing Chris Webber. … Woodson kept his coaching record from going 100 games below .500. He is 50-148 in two-plus seasons with the Hawks. … The Hawks are 7-4 when Johnson scores 30 points.