The Atlanta Hawks (15-21) snapped a two-game losing streak and picked up their third win in the last five games, taking down the Philadelphia 76ers.
They got a monster performance from third-year forward Jalen Johnson, who spoke candidly after the loss about what getting the win. He noted the need to take advantage of their current five-game homestand.
“We need to understand how important it is to protect home court,” Johnson said via atlhawksfans on January 10. “Everybody in the locker room understands that, so just got to take it one game at a time and play hard.”
The Hawks are 9-12 at home this season after their win over the Sixers.
But they are 2-1 in State Farm Arena since Johnson returned from the wrist injury that cost him 14 games from late November through late December.
The Hawks are, perhaps underwhelmingly, 11-11 with Johnson in the lineup. But they were decisively worse at 4-10 without him. He spoke about using their recent overtime loss to the Orlando Magic in particular as fuel in the win over Philadelphia.
“I think it got on our minds more, especially in overtime,” Johnson said. “Because last game went to overtime, we let it slip. So we knew what we needed to do coming out. Especially in overtime, we knew we needed to start off strong, get off to a good start, get stops, and I think we did that.”
Johnson finished the win over the 76ers with 25 points, setting career-high marks with 16 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks, and one steal.
Asked about his confidence as a playmaker within the offense, Johnson was unwavering in his belief in his ability but still praised his teammates.
“I feel confident [passing],” Johnson said. “That's probably been one of my best things, just being able to play-make. I'm very comfortable with it. And then especially having guys that knock down shots. That helps. It wouldn't be seven assists if it wasn't for my guys making shots.”
Jalen Johnson praises Onyeka Okongwu, Dejounte Murray
Johnson was asked specifically about his on-court partnership with fourth-year big man Onyeka Okongwu. The Hawks have a plus-6.6 net efficiency differential, ranking in the 81st percentile when the two share the floor, per Cleaning The Glass.
“Since I got here, me and O shared a lot of minutes on the court together,” Johnson said. “Just being able to understand each other, and be able to play off each other, I think it's helped us. And we just keep getting stronger and stronger. Our connection keeps getting stronger and stronger.
“I understand what he does defensively, he understands what I do defensively. So it makes it easy.”
Johnson was also complimentary of Dejounte Murray, who found him for a clutch three.
“When you got Dejounte Murray in a isolation situation, you got to send help,” Johnson said. “My man went to go help and [Murray] found me for the three. so it's just him making the right basketball play. I just had to take that shot.”
The Indiana Pacers are next up for the Hawks on January 12.
After that, the Hawks will close the homestand with visits from the Washington Wizards (January 13), San Antonio Spurs (January 15), and the Magic (January 17).