The Hawks’ winning streak continues – now at six straight – but the Bobcats made them work for it.
Right down to the final five seconds.
Josh Smith scored 13 of his 17 points in the third quarter as the Hawks regained a lead they would barely hold in a 94-91 victory over the Bobcats Wednesday night at Philips Arena.
The winning streak, the best current run in the NBA, is the Hawks’ longest since they opened the 2010-11 season with six straight wins (Oct. 27-Nov. 5, 2010).
The Hawks (9-4) nearly lost an 11-point fourth-quarter lead. The Bobcats pulled to within one point, 92-91, on a deep 3-pointer by Ben Gordon with 29.1 seconds remaining. The basket, with two Hawk defenders on him, was part of Gordon’s 20-point fourth quarter.
On the ensuing possession, the Hawks then ran the shot clock down but Lou Williams missed his 3-point attempt and left the Bobcats with 5.2 seconds.
However on the sideline inbounds play, Ramon Sessions’ pass to Gordon was wide and went across the court and out of bounds. The officials reviewed the play because Smith lunged at the pass with an outstretched arm. After a lengthy look they ruled Smith did not touch the ball and awarded the ball back to the Hawks.
“No, I didn’t touch it,” Smith said. “I think if I would have touched the ball it would have went in a different direction. It didn’t. So it was a good call by the referees.”
Bobcats players, including Sessions, believe Smith did touch the ball. However, they conceded there was not conclusive evidence to overturn the original call.
Al Horford sank a pair of free throws to seal the victory.
Smith, Horford and Williams scored 17 points apiece. Smith added 13 rebounds, six assists and five blocks. Horford had 11 rebounds and six assists.
Gordon almost single-handedly snapped the Hawks winning streak with his fourth quarter.
“We did not defend Ben Gordon,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said of the Bobcats’ rally. “He got too many good looks. When you are playing against a guy like that, who can shoot the way he can, he got off to a good start and he made shots. We allowed too much separation when he was coming off screens. He just had too, too many good looks.”
Gordon finished with a game-high 26 points. Smith said he warned his teammates that the guard was capable of getting a hot hand.
“I was telling those guys, I got drafted with that guy,” Smith said. “He has done it to us before. I’m telling them that this man can really put numbers up so when he hit those couple of 3s he got comfortable. I knew if we didn’t get aggressive on him it was going to be a long fourth quarter.”
The Hawks expected a tough game from the Bobcats (7-7), who were coming off the worst loss in franchise history – a 45-point defeat at the Thunder Monday. The Hawks have been in close games throughout the six-game winning streak. Their average margin of victory is seven points.
“These games in the past one of them we would have dropped,” Horford said. “We wouldn’t have come out with enough energy, little things like that. This year we are doing a good job even though it was closer than we would have liked, we are getting the wins.”
The Bobcats led 45-43 at halftime after erasing a nine-point second-quarter deficit. Down 33-24 after Williams hit a 3-pointer for the Hawks, the Bobcats went on an 18-2 run and led by seven points. The Hawks answered with an 8-3 run of their own to only trail by a basket after the first two quarters.
“I told our team at halftime, I thought that team was playing harder than we were,” Drew said. “I thought that they were getting after us more than we were getting after them. … They were actually bringing the game to us. That is totally unacceptable in our building. We have to be more focused and we have to do things with much, much more urgency than we did in the first half.”
The Hawks used an 11-1 run early in the third quarter to retake the lead before holding on the Bobcats’ comeback.
The Hawks lost Kyle Korver in the third quarter with back spasms. Korver missed Tuesday’s practice with a stiff back but was in the starting lineup Wednesday. He grimaced and grabbed his back after a missed 3-pointer. He went to the locker room and did not return.
The Hawks will go for their seventh straight win on Friday, hosting the Cavaliers. The Hawks last won seven straight in Nov. 2009.
- Chris Vivlamore