Johnson netted 34 points and Jamal Crawford added 22 as the Hawks pulled off a 103-95 upset of the No. 1 seeded Bulls in Game one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Monday night at the United Center.
Jeff Teague had 10 points filling in for the injured Kirk Hinrich and Al Horford shook off early foul trouble to post nine points and grab 13 boards for Atlanta, which notched a win in the playoff's second round for the first time since the 1997.
"We're very confident," Johnson told TNT's David Aldridge after this one. "We know we can beat any team in this league once we focus in. Tonight we did that."
That they did. All it took was a near-career high playoff night from Johnson and some sub-par play from Derrick Rose to get there.
Johnson, who was lustily booed on his home court the last time the Hawks made it to the second round, looked all like the player that ownership rewarded with a max-contract in the offseason.
When Atlanta was struggling with its shot in the third quarter, the perennial All-Star nailed a couple of 3-pointers to keep the Hawks within striking distance. And then he helped the underdog Hawks pull off an upset that will resonate from Vegas to Rush Street to Bristol and every city in between.
"This is the post season not the regular season," Johnson said of the difference between this Hawks team and the one dropped a pair of double-digit decisions to the Bulls in the regular season. "I just think our swagger is a little bit different. We're just playing with confidence."
Atlanta somehow managed to escape with a 72-71 lead through three quarters despite connecting on just six field goals in a frame where the Hawks looked much like the "bad" Atlanta basketball team that jacks up ill-advised jumpers. However, to their credit, they did manage to tread water by defending on the other side of the floor.
That lead to good things in the next frame. Johnson ignited a decisive 15-4 Atlanta run with a 3-pointer, which he bookended with another trey with 7:13 left to post the Hawks to a 87-75 lead. You knew it was going to be Atlanta's night when guys like Zaza Pachulia and Teague contributed key buckets in that stretch.
Chicago cut the lead down to six on a few occasions down the stretch, but each time Atlanta had an answer.
The Hawks also managed to make life miserable for Rose, who ultimately finished with 24 points, but couldn't do much of anything early. The Chicago star and likely NBA MVP had no points in an 0-for-7 first quarter.
But Rose wasn't the only Bulls player who came out of the gate looking a little wet under the ears to big-time playoff basketball. Chicago misfired on its first nine shots from the field as Atlanta scored the game's first nine points, stunning the United Center crowd. They did not have a field goal until Luol Deng connected with 6:44 left in the first frame to make it an 11-4 game.
With Horford in foul trouble for most of the second quarter, Chicago whittled the lead down to 51-50 at the break and held as much as a six points in the third.
In the end, the Bulls just couldn't stop a charging Johnson. The Atlanta shooting guard finished 12-for-18 from the field and 5-for-5 from behind the 3-point line. He also nailed all five of his free throw attempts.
Johnson and the Hawks once again defied Vegas, who installed them as nine-point underdogs. They defied the so-called "experts" who were calling for a Bulls sweep and they won a second round game for the first time in 15 tries.
Yes, folks, the Hawks, who stole Game 1 in their opening round series against the Orlando Magic before closing out the series in six games, are at it again.
And this one could even get worse for the Bulls, who could possibly be without Rose in Game 2. The Chicago star appeared to tweak an ankle late in the game, to add injury to what may be considered by some in the Windy City to be an insulting loss to Atlanta's basketball team. He says he's fine, but we'll wait and see if suffers any effects from the injury over time.
Deng netted 21 points and Carlos Boozer had 14 for Chicago, which committed 11 turnovers.