Hawks Notebook

Smith has seen act before

Ex-mate knows Rondo’s fire well

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 1, 2012
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ATLANTA - When Hawks forward Josh Smith played with roommate Rajon Rondo at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, there weren’t many situations that could compare with what took place at the end of Sunday night’s game, when Rondo bumped referee Marc Davis.

“We used to beat everybody by 20 or so. We didn’t have to worry about losing,’’ Smith said.

Still, Smith knows the spirit the Celtics point guard brings to the game. He witnessed it firsthand.

“When we played with Oak Hill, we always played with a competitive edge,’’ said Smith, who hasn’t talked to Rondo since the incident. “He was always competitive, no matter what we did - flag football games, food fights, playing video games against each other.

“It always intensifies, especially when you’re playing for something, you know the importance of each and every possession.’’

With Rondo suspended for Game 2 Tuesday, the Hawks acknowledged it might give them a break.

“That’s their energy guy,’’ Smith said. “That’s the head of the snake. That’s the guy that gives them emotion, that shares the ball around the horn, keeps everybody satisfied. He’s that guy that plays tough defense. They definitely miss him in the lineup when he’s not in there. He does so much for that ball club.

“They’re good enough to try to figure out a way to get wins, but with him they’re a lot better.’’

“Certainly it changes things a little bit,’’ Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “But with or without him they have shown that they can win. They’re a veteran ball club. They’ve been in enough situations where they’ve had players out, and certainly we can’t let our guards down.’’

Not with home court on the line, something the Hawks want to protect.

“They’re still a good team,’’ guard Jeff Teague said. “They’ve won games without Rondo this year. [Avery] Bradley’s a good player. When they played here [April 20] he had 28 points, so we’re not going to take anybody lightly.’’

Garnett called ‘dirty’

There was another guy on the court Sunday who sometimes struggles to keep his composure – Atlanta’s Ivan Johnson. The Celtics were certainly trying to get him off his game.

“I was prepared for that,’’ Johnson said. “I knew how [Kevin Garnett] was going to come at me, dueling. They’re a whole bunch of mess talkers.’’

But he didn’t stop there.

“Garnett, he’s a dirty player,’’ Johnson said. “He gives me a lot of elbows. I can handle that.’’

Asked if he gives it back, he said, “I try not to because I’m usually the one that gets caught. They watch me the whole game.’’

Below-average Joe

Joe Johnson - whose photo on has him in a Celtics uniform - struggled in Game 1, going 3 for 15 from the field (0 for 9 from 3-point range) for 11 points.

“When I went back and looked at it, even the times I had Paul [Pierce] [isolated], we’d just stand there kind of waiting,’’ Johnson said. “We’ll make adjustments, I’ll make adjustments, see what I can do to be more effective.’’

He said he needs to go quicker, to get more easy baskets in transition, to stop standing and holding the ball. That’s key against one of the best defensive teams in the league, he said.

Johnson did miss a number of open shots, something that hurt the Hawks down the stretch. But he is looking to exploit any matchup with Bradley. He said on Sunday, he got so excited at that matchup that he missed a layup. Johnson is 6 feet 7 inches; Bradley is 6-2.

City point

Smith said he thought part of the reason analysts have overlooked Atlanta is because of its sports reputation.

“That all just ties into what kind of sports town this is,’’ Smith said. “You go to Boston, and they’re sold out every game, no matter who they play. You go to Chicago, they’re sold out, whoever they play. Those are sports towns. I think since we don’t have that title as being a sports fanatic town, maybe [they] are reluctant to talk about us because they don’t know what kind of showing they’re going to get from us every night we play.’’

A nightly grind

Teague predicted the series is going to resemble the last three quarters from Sunday night, rather than the first one.

“They’re a good defensive team,’’ he said. “It was a defensive game. Both played with a good defense, made it tough for each other to make shots. That’s the kind of series it’s going to be.

“Every game we played in the regular season was a grind-out game, and we expect that going forward.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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