Johnson scored a season-high 34 points and Josh Smith had a career-best 29 to lead the Eastern Conference-leading Hawks to a 111-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.
Joe Johnson scored 34 points in Atlanta's 111-102 win at Toronto. Johnson has begun the season by scoring 25 or more points in each of the first five games, tying a Hawks record. Lou Hudson scored at least 25 points in each of Atlanta's first five games in October 1971, and Bob Pettit did that in the first five games played by the St. Louis Hawks in October 1961.
Atlanta (4-1) moved three games over .500 for the first time in 7½ years. The Hawks have had seven consecutive losing seasons and never recovered after starting last season 0-9.
But Johnson is off to one of the best starts in the NBA right now. He also had eight rebounds, five assists and finished 12-for-20 from the field.
"This is definitely big for us because last year we got off to such a slow start and that kept us down in the dumps," Johnson said. "This year we came out upbeat."
Johnson is averaging 31.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists. His leadership qualities have been just as important, according to Smith.
"He's more vocal. This is his first year where he's talked, encouraged people," Smith said. "It's a big change."
When Johnson was double-teamed in the second half he turned to Smith, who scored 20 points after halftime.
Smith also had seven rebounds and five assists. His previous career high was 28 points last April 15 at Milwaukee.
"I am real pumped up," Smith said. "My first year we won 13 games, second year 26 games. This year I think we have a team that can try and push to make the playoffs."
Smith said they're playing with a purpose after being written off by many.
"When you have seven losing seasons people are always going to count you out. We use that as a chip on our shoulder," Smith said.
Atlanta shot 50 percent and outrebounded Toronto 49-40
Point guard Tyronn Lue said Johnson is the best player in the NBA right now.
"He's definitely MVP," said Lue, who wouldn't mind if the rest of the NBA teams didn't notice the Hawks' strong start.
"I hope we just keep sliding under the radar and keep winning games," Lue said. "If they don't take note, that's fine, we slide into the playoffs."
Chris Bosh had 19 points and 17 rebounds for the Raptors, who dropped to 2-3.
Toronto coach Sam Mitchell suggested he might change the starting lineup if the Raptors don't improve.
"I'm not contemplating it right now, but we've played five games and we've had five bad starts, so we got to do something," said Mitchell, whose team now heads west for a five-game road trip.
After Toronto's Fred Jones cut the lead to two with a layup with 7:45 left, Johnson and Smith sparked a 17-6 run. Johnson started it with two free throws and Smith followed with a 3-pointer.
After Johnson assisted on another 3-pointer by Smith, Lue made a 22-foot jumper to give Atlanta 102-89 lead with 2:37 left.
"It shows how much we've matured when we can control the game in the fourth quarter," said Josh Childress, who had 16 points.
Childress said having the best rest record in the East sounds weird.
"It's different," Childress said with a laugh. "We're not used to that."
Johnson and Smith each had nine points as Atlanta outscored Toronto 28-15 in the first quarter. The Hawks shot 57 percent in the period, compared to 26 percent for the Raptors.
"Joe came out on mission," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "He had it going early. Josh got it going in the second half so it just made it a double threat."
Toronto's Andrea Bargnani -- the No. 1 pick in the draft -- had just four points and two rebounds in nine minutes. The Italian forward didn't play in the fourth quarter.
Mitchell isn't surprised by Atlanta's improvement this season. "There's a lot of parity in the East and West," he said. "The teams that are so called at the bottom have players that are getting experience." ... Johnson has played in 363 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in the NBA behind the Raptors' Morris Peterson 365.