The Highlight Factory was abuzz with chants of "ATL! ATL!" as the hometown Atlanta Hawks dribbled out the basketball in the final seconds of a successful Game 4.
Josh Smith, who had a game for the ages, brushed his hands over the word "Hawks" on his jersey, signaling that Atlanta's basketball team is back in this series. All it took was 23 points,16 boards and eight assists from the Hawks' enigmatic leader to get them there.
Smith had his best game of the postseason and Joe Johnson added 24 to lead the Hawks to a shocking 100-88 win over the Chicago Bulls in their Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup on Sunday night at Philips Arena.
"I was just trying to be aggressive," Smith told TNT's David Aldridge afterward. "I'm an athletic person. I have to go up strong and if I get fouled, I have to drain my free throws."
Atlanta and Chicago were engaged in an intense battle down the stretch and were locked in an 84-84 tie with 4:31 left in the game when Derrick Rose, who was not given his customary fourth quarter blow, drove to the rim for a layup. But the Hawks, who couldn't quite get the separation they needed to pull away in this one, dug down deep and had one last run in them.
Teague slashed to the hoop. Horford converted at the bucket and Crawford drained a 3-pointer as the Hawks closed out Game 4 with a 16-4 run for the much-needed win.
In the middle of it all was Smith, who was dishing the basketball, hitting the shot in the block and providing energy on both sides of the floor by grabbing the loose ball. The Hawks are at their best when J-Smoove is playing within himself and for the most part in this one, he was playing his game.
As a result, Atlanta won a second round playoff game at home for the first time since Game 4 against the Orlando Magic in 1996 and postseason basketball will be coming back to the Highlight Factory at least one more time this season.
"We know what (Smith) brings to the table," a jubilant Hawks coach Larry Drew said afterward. "When he's rebounding and running the floor and pushing the basketball, that's who he is. He has an ability, a very unique ability, he has an ability to impact the game on both sides of the floor. When he's playing energized basketball, he's really good. And tonight he was that."
Atlanta will also return to Chicago on Tuesday with renewed confidence that they can control the inside game and keep Rose in check.
While Rose got his points, posting a game-high 34, he was pestered all night with a double and triple team and connected on just 12 of an astounding 32 tries from the field. Carlos Boozer played well, posting 18 points and Luol Deng added 13, but the rest of the Bulls were held under the double-digit mark in a game where Chicago desperately needed another go-to guy to step up in the trenches.
Smith, for one, likes Atlanta's chances if they continue to button up Rose on D.
"No," Smith tersely answered when asked by Aldridge whether Chicago could beat them without the league's MVP at the top of his game. "Rose is an outstanding player. He's an MVP player. Without (him having) the ball in their plan, it slows down the offense a little bit. We have to get the ball out of his hands more and let the other guys beat us."
In order to disrupt Rose and control the boards, Atlanta went big in the onset of this one, starting Jason Collins at center, sliding Horford to the four, Smith to the three and Marvin Williams to the bench in an attempt to create some energy that was lacking in Games 2 and 3. And much like in their six-game first round win over the Magic, the move to the "big" lineup paid dividends as the Hawks slowed down Rose in the paint and used their size advantage to even up the edge on the glass.
By the end of it, an Atlanta team that was -32 on the boards in their last two games, finished this one with a more respectable 37-36 Chicago edge on the glass. That's something that gives Smith and the Hawks a bit of confidence when they head back to the Windy City to try to wrestle back the home court edge in Game 5.
"We (won there) before," Smith said of the team's confidence going back to ChiTown. "It's not like a mission we can't accomplish. We know we can compete with this team. We're going to be in a dogfight come Tuesday."
Zaza Pachulia had five points and nine boards for Atlanta, which shot 49-percent (40-for-81) from the field.