Hawks hold off Wizards

Walter Pinion

Josh Smith scored 23 points, Al Horford recorded his fourth consecutive double-double and the Atlanta Hawks held off the Washington Wizards 104-95 on Friday night. Smith notched eight of his points in the final three minutes to thwart the visitors’ comeback attempt as Atlanta won for the eighth time in its last nine games. Washington, meanwhile, remained winless on the road in 2012 at 0-8.

“Overall it was a good win,” head coach Larry Drew commented during his post-game press conference. “It was a gutsy performance by our guys.”

Although this one required some guts late in the game, much to Drew’s satisfaction it lacked the suspense of Washington’s previous foray into Philips Arena. On Nov. 21, the Wizards—still winless at the time with an 0-9 record—led late in both regulation and overtime but eventually dropped their 10th consecutive contest. With Atlanta trailing by two, Kyle Korver nailed a three-pointer with 1.9 seconds left in the extra frame before Washington’s heartbreak reached a climax when Martell Webster’s put-back was ruled to have come just after the red light had gone off.

The Wizards (2-14) at least had similar designs of another thriller in the second of four meetings with Atlanta this season. Trailing 70-52 midway through the third quarter, they went on a 30-14 run to surge within two points with 8:49 left on the game clock. Ultimately, however, Washington’s struggles through two and a half quarters proved to be too much to overcome. On both of the occasions in which their opponents cut the deficit to two in the last quarter, the Hawks answered with points on their ensuing possession.

Having watched his team get out-rebounded 58-37 by the Wizards in the previous matchup, Drew made a point of stressing the importance of boards prior in Friday’s clash. The Hawks (11-5) responded in style, overpowering the visitors to the tune of a 16-9 advantage on the glass through 12 minutes. They scored eight second-chance points in the opening quarter compared to Washington’s two.

The rebounding margin, coupled with some hot shooting out of the gates, set the early tone for the evening. After trailing 8-4, the Hawks went on a 27-11 run over the final 7:50 of the first quarter. The Wizards pulled to within six points of Atlanta approaching the intermission, but DeShawn Stevenson drained two three-pointers, both from the corner baseline in front of an enthused Hawks’ bench, in the last 53 seconds the first half. Stevenson’s third triple of the game with 31 seconds left in the second quarter was the 500th three-pointer of his NBA career. That, along with a Jeff Teague layup just before the buzzer, propelled the home team to a 54-41 halftime advantage.

“DeShawn’s gonna knock down his shots,” assured Teague, who scored 19 points while adding six assists and two steals. “He played great. When we’re playing that, playing well as a team, we’re tough to beat.”

Despite owning the worst record in the league, Washington had won two of its last three games, was coming off an upset of Miami on Tuesday and two of its previous four losses had come in overtime. The injury-plagued club continued to play with confidence even when facing an 18-point deficit. During the Wizards’ spurt spanning the third and fourth quarters, Kevin Seraphin scored nine of his team-high 19 points and Bradley Beal had seven of his 18 points.

The Wizards had two possessions in the final four minutes with a chance to tie the game, but they incurred a shot-clock violation on the first and Seraphin missed a two-point jumper on the second. They never again came within three points after Smith drained a three-pointer to extend Atlanta’s lead to 95-89 with 2:44 remaining. Smith added jumpers on back-to-back possessions one minute later, converting the second into a three-point play that gave the Hawks an insurmountable 101-91 advantage.

“I think all in all we’ve had a great homestand,” Smith said afterward. “So that was very important. Now we gotta go out on the road and try to duplicate what we did at home.”

The Hawks begin a three-game road trip on Saturday at Memphis and it continues on Monday against the Heat.

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