Despite suffering a loss in Boston on Thursday, Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew received the encouraging news that Joe Johnson was in Atlanta chucking up shots this week and was pain-free.
“While we’ve been gone he’s been coming in everyday shooting the ball,” Drew told HOOPSADDICT.com before the game against the Charlotte Bobcats.
Still the players and coaches were surprised when it was announced a little over an hour before the game that Johnson was cleared to start.
Marvin Williams said he and his teammates did not believe Johnson when he said he was ready to play.
“He healed so fast,” Williams said. “I thought he was gonna miss eight weeks. Its been twelve days. This man just had elbow surgery.”
Mike Bibby expressed his excitement after hearing the news an hour before the game.
“He came back quick,” Bibby said. “That’s the kind of warrior he is. It shows that we need him. He is one of the top players in the NBA because he causes a lot of attention and it opens up things for everybody else.”
Even Johnson seemed a little surprised at how early he was able to return but he credits a great rehab regiment.
“My rehab has been going so well that I was able to get back a lot earlier,” he said. “(I’ve) been playing one-on-one with (assistant coach) Nick Van Exel. He did a great job of banging me and just trying to see if I was game ready.”
Johnson seemed a little stiff at the beginning of Friday’s shoot around but continued to loosen up with each shot.
Johnson could not have picked a better time to come back as the Hawks returned to Atlanta after dropping two on the road, including the 23 point shellacking served up by the Pistons Tuesday. That same night Jamal Crawford sustained a lower back injury which has limited his play.
Crawford was pulled in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s game and did not even suit up for Friday night’s contest.
The Hawks seemed energized by the return of their star as they opened Friday’s night game against the Charlotte Bobcats with an 8-0 run sparked by stingy defense and a number of fastbreak finishes.
Despite slowing down a bit, the Hawks earned their seventh straight home win behind Johnson’s 16 point, eight assist and five rebound performance.
It was a rough week for the Hawks but the return of Johnson and a win has to help the team morale as they take on the Nets in New Jersey on Sunday followed by a meeting with the Orlando Magic in Phillips Arena on Monday.
Johnson’s speedy return has earned him the respect of his teammates and he will be one of the last guys in the league that will get brought up in conversations about faking injuries or a lack of toughness.
“I think it gives us a lot of inspiration,” Johnson said. “It just shows these guys that I definitely got their backs and we are in this thing together.