ATLANTA — Josh Smith wasted no time asserting himself after missing the past 12 games with an ankle sprain.
The Atlanta Hawks' fourth-year forward stole a pass from Memphis rookie O.J. Mayo a few seconds after tip-off, passing to Joe Johnson for an easy layup.
"I knew I had to do something early just to get myself established in the game," Smith said. "I definitely wanted to start on the defensive end, and being able to come up with that steal off the tip was key."
Johnson scored 26 points, and Mike Bibby had 20 points and 10 assists in the Atlanta Hawks' 105-95 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
The Hawks, who have won three of four and five of seven, benefited from Smith's 14 points, six rebounds, five assists, four turnovers and one blocked shot in 28 minutes.
"He spreads the floor and then when he gets the rebound he brings it up, and we were able to penetrate and make plays," Johnson said. "I think it makes us a tougher team to defend."
Rudy Gay finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds as Memphis dropped its season-worst seventh straight. Losing their 11th in 12 games, the Grizzlies trailed by 26 on Johnson's 3-pointer at the 5:44 mark of the third quarter.
But Memphis went on a 34-14 run to close within six to make it 88-82 on Hakim Warrick's dunk with 6:37 remaining. Warrick, a reserve forward, led the Grizzlies with 20 points. Kyle Lowry came off the bench to add a season-high 17.
"We had to play with pride tonight," Gay said. "We didn't want to just roll over or this team. It's still a disappointing loss because of the emphasis we put on defense the last few days. Our second lineup did very well. With that lineup we run, we score and we get easy buckets. Our bench came up big for us tonight."
Mike Conley twice cut the lead to seven points in the fourth quarter, the second time coming with 7:52 remaining, but Bibby answered 16 seconds later with a 3-pointer to make it 88-78.
"I think in the third quarter we didn't come out with energy like we needed to stay in the game," Conley said. "The guys off the bench came in with a lot of energy. They were diving for balls, running the floor and executing on offense. I think everyone fed off their energy tonight."
Smith played for the first time since the Hawks' 6-0 start, returning to face an opponent that signed him to a five-year, $58 million offer sheet that Atlanta matched in August.
He was pleased that his ankle was strong enough to let him dunk.
"It felt good," Smith said. "No problems. To be able to get some explosion (comparable to) early on before I got hurt."
O.J. Mayo, the third overall draft pick, had 11 points, nearly 16 under his average of what he had in Memphis' past five games, but the performance was enough to make him the third rookie to begin his career with 18 straight games in double figures.
Notes:New Jersey's Keith Van Horn scored in double figures over his first 18 games in 1997-98. Lamar Odom set the longest streak to begin a rookie career at 19 games with the Los Angeles Clippers in '99. ... The Hawks have won five straight over Memphis. ... Javaris Crittenton, an Atlanta native and former Georgia Tech standout drafted 19th overall last year by the Los Angeles Lakers and traded to Memphis 10 months ago in the Pau Gasol deal, went 0-for-2 from the field in 6 minutes.