Johnson big as Hawks take down Cavs in OT

The Atlanta Hawks (27-20) hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers (17-27) Wednesday night and pulled out a 103-102 overtime victory. The Hawks fell behind early and trailed the Cavs 36-21 at the end of the first quarter, but Atlanta exploded in the second to take a 54-53 lead into halftime. In what was a tight game throughout, Cleveland recaputred the lead going into the fourth 73-72. The fourth quarter was hotly contested as neither team was able to pull away. The Hawks biggest lead was two while the Cavs biggest lead was three. That three-point lead came with 5 seconds remaining in the game, and the Hawks looked to superstar Joe Johnson to send the game to overtime. The ball inbounded to Jeff Teague who waited for Johnson to curl around a double screen to the top of the key; Johnson took the pass, turned and fired a three that tickled the twine as time expired. In overtime, the Cavaliers jumped out to a five point advantage, but the Hawks buckled down defensively and were able to create some open looks with Johnson hitting a short fade-away jumper with 18 seconds remaining to put the Hawks up for good.

Josh Smith led the Hawks at both ends of the floor scoring 32 points, snagging 17 rebounds, dishing out five dimes and blocking three shots. While Smith was the statistical leader and provided toughness throughout the game, there was no doubt who the Hawks were trusting in crunch time. Johnson scored 22 points, grabbed six boards and had five assists, but he was clutch in the big moments, scoring 13 of his 22 in the last 1:10 of the fourth quarter and overtime including the game-tying and game-winning baskets. Johnson has returned to all-star form of late after recovering from knee tendonitis, and his full repertoire was on display against the Cavs as he was effective inside and out late in the game. Zaza Pachulia had another strong game with 14 points and seven rebounds and has quietly become one of the Hawks best weapons on offense and defense. Jerry Stackhouse added 10 points in his 11 minutes off the bench, including a pair of threes to keep the game close.

The Hawks lapsed defensively multiple times in the game, struggling to contain Kyrie Irving as they allowed the rookie to torch them for 29 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Antawn Jamison added 23 points and 12 rebounds in the contest. The Hawks defense, which has been strong of late, had a letdown, but the offense was able to shoot its way out of a major deficit. The Cavaliers shot 46.2 percent from the field, and Irving was consistently able to penetrate the lane and get easy looks for both himself and his teammates.

The Hawks will look to put this defensive performance behind them as they prepare for the Nets, who come to town on Friday. While the defense may have been sub-par, the Hawks’ offense was very effective, especially after the first quarter, and Atlanta needs to carry its confidence at the offensive end over. The offensive explosion is encouraging, especially after a dismal performance against Boston on Monday, and rest played a major role in that. Coach Drew cancelled the team’s usual Tuesday practice in order to allow the team to rest up after playing a back-to-back. They came out a bit rusty, but the energy level was very high throughout the game and the Hawks offense benefited.

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