NEW YORK — Joe Johnson was sidelined with a leg injury last year when the Atlanta Hawks limped to the finish of another season without a playoff berth.
He’s healthy now, and playing the way the Hawks need to end the NBA’s longest postseason drought.
Johnson had 28 points and 11 assists, and Atlanta moved into a tie for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a 109-98 victory over the New York Knicks on Sunday night.
"He’s trying to carry this team into the playoffs," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "He’s putting them on his back and he’s playing well."
Johnson is averaging 29 points in his past eight games.
"I am playing a little aggressive, really just taking what the defense is giving me," the All-Star guard said. "My jumper’s been feeling pretty good, so I try to get a lot of shots in transition, and when I get to the basket they’re collapsing and my teammates know I’m going to kick it out. So we’ve been having a pretty nice flow on the offensive end."
Marvin Williams added 20 of his 25 points in the second half for the Hawks, who used their athleticism to break open what was only a five-point game early in the final quarter. Reserve Josh Childress had 14 of his 22 points after halftime and added nine rebounds. Atlanta (28-38) hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999. The Hawks tied New Jersey for eighth place in the East, and following a game in Washington on Monday, they visit the Nets on Wednesday night.
The Hawks refused to look past the Knicks, who played without three members of their season-opening starting lineup.
"That’s something that we’ve done in the past," Childress said. "We see a team who doesn’t have a couple of guys and all of a sudden we think it’s going to be a cakewalk and it’s not. These guys are NBA players just like we are, so we have to take it upon ourselves to come out and be the aggressors and I think we did that well tonight."
Nate Robinson scored 23 points for the Knicks, who have lost eight of nine. New York hurt itself with a woeful 15-for-28 performance (54 percent) at the foul line.
Childress dunked and Johnson converted a three-point play as Atlanta extended an 87-82 lead to double digits. Childress and Al Horford later had consecutive baskets on offensive boards to trigger an 8-0 spurt that put it out of reach at 102-87 midway through the fourth quarter. Josh Smith had 15 points and eight rebounds, and Horford had eight points and 10 boards for the Hawks. Atlanta shot 51 percent in the second half.
"They played good. They hit big shots. Everybody played good," Knicks forward Zach Randolph said. "Marvin Williams had a great game, of course Joe had a great game. They just dominated the game."
Fred Jones scored 14 points, Randolph had 13 and David Lee 12 for New York.
With starters Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury out for the season after surgery and his team well out of playoff position, Knicks coach Isiah Thomas has started going with some young players. And early on, they showed why they don’t play much.
Second-year reserves Renaldo Balkman and Randolph Morris combined to miss their first seven free throws, and the crowd let out a mock cheer when Balkman finally hit one with 8:52 left in the second quarter.
Still, the Knicks trailed only 53-49 at halftime, then used an 11-0 spurt to go up by four early in the third period. Williams scored 14 points in the quarter, and Atlanta led 85-79 entering the fourth.Notes: The game was delayed 4 seconds in when the shot clock and game clocks didn’t match. ... The Knicks celebrated "Latino Night," with the starting lineups being announced in Spanish. Changing languages didn’t mean a change in customs, as Thomas heard his usual pregame boos from a sellout crowd of 19,763. ... The teams meet twice more, one in Atlanta and once here.