Smith returns from surgery, hits huge 3 in Hawks' win

ATLANTA (AP) -- Josh Smith expected to be out longer. The Atlanta
Hawks are sure glad he recovered quickly from a hernia operation.

Smith returned to the court Friday night after missing 2 weeks
and made a crucial 3-pointer with 10.7 seconds left, helping the
Hawks hold on for a 99-93 victory over the Detroit Pistons.

Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 34 points but was double-teamed
with the clock winding down, forcing him to dish off to Smith for
an open 3 that buried the Pistons.

"You've got to trust your teammates," Johnson said. "I told
them to be ready, because when they doubled me, I was going to kick
it out."

Smith, who scored only five points on the first and last baskets
of the game, had been projected to miss up to four weeks after
undergoing surgery Dec. 26. He sat out eight games -- the Hawks went
1-7 -- but decided to play after feeling no pain during his first
full practice Thursday.

He was definitely needed with two other starters, center Zaza
Pachulia and guard Speedy Claxton, sidelined by injuries.

"When I first got out of surgery, I could barely walk," Smith
said. "I was not expecting to go tonight, but we kept getting guys
injured. I couldn't see my team hurting. I had to get in there."

Johnson made his first 11 shots before missing on a drive to the
lane early in the fourth quarter. But his biggest play came when he
rebounded his own miss and banked in a shot to put the Hawks up
95-87 with 2:31 remaining.

It was a fourth-chance basket for the Hawks, who hustled for
three offensive rebounds in a row before Johnson finally got the
ball to fall through. Coach Mike Woodson pumped his fist and the
Pistons called timeout.

"We need more plays like that," Johnson said. "A lot of
times, we're on the other end of that stick. Tonight, we were that
team. We were shooting the ball, getting rebounds and getting
second chances."

Detroit wasn't done. The Pistons closed to 95-93 on Ronald
Murray's free throw with 1:17 to go, but didn't score again,
stymied by the Hawks defense. Josh Childress stripped the ball from
Richard Hamilton in the corner, then Smith blocked a shot by

Finally, with the 24-second clock winding down, Smith swished
the open 3. He backed all the way down the court with a big grin,
clearly not in any pain.

"Joe had confidence in me and I had confidence in myself,"
Smith said. "It felt good when it left my hand."

Hamilton scored 32 points to lead the Pistons, who trailed
nearly the entire night on the way to their sixth loss in eight

"We're struggling," coach Flip Saunders said. "We're trying
to find some consistency both offensively and defensively."

The Pistons hurt themselves by picking up back-to-back
technicals with 4 minutes remaining. Upset about being called for
a foul, Hamilton fell to the court and rolled over in disgust,
giving the Hawks an extra free throw. Rasheed Wallace continued to
gripe while the Hawks were at the line and he got a technical, too.

Atlanta wound up shooting four foul shots in a row, making two
of them.

"I don't know what to tell you, honestly," Wallace said.
"We're just taking it on the chin."

The Hawks, winning for just the third time in 17 games, fell
behind once. Detroit went up 7-6 in the early going on Hamilton's
drive into the lane, but Atlanta shot better than 60 percent
through most of the first half and surged to a 47-33 lead with 3
minutes left before the break.

Detroit halved the deficit before going to the locker room, and
spent the final two quarters making one run after another at the

The Pistons never caught up. Johnson, coming off a 6-of-24
performance against the Hornets, was 13-of-17 from the field. He
made four from 3-point range and just missed his season high of 36

"We knew he had been struggling coming into this game,"
Detroit's Tayshaun Prince said. "He kind of got in the zone, and
whatever we tried to do, it didn't work in our favor."

Childress added 18 points, while Marvin Williams and Shelden
Williams had 12 apiece. Smith didn't do a lot of scoring in 31
minutes, but helped out with eight rebounds, four assists and three

Wallace scored 17 points and Prince added 16.

Game notes
Saunders refused to speculate on reports that his team was
on the verge of signing Chris Webber. ... Woodson kept his coaching
record from going 100 games below .500. He is 50-148 in two-plus
seasons with the Hawks. ... The Hawks are 7-4 when Johnson scores
30 points.