Vivlamore reporting from Philips Arena.
The Hawks wobbled the Nuggets in the third quarter.
The knockout blow didn’t come until less than a minute remained in the game. It came nonetheless.
The Hawks (10-5) lost a seven-point fourth-quarter lead but rallied for a 108-104 victory over the Nuggets Wednesday night at Philips Arena in a nationally televised game. It was the Hawks’ eighth win in the past 10 games.
With the Hawks holding a two-point lead at 103-101 with 53.9 seconds remaining, Josh Smith picked up a loose ball after Lou Williams and Devin Harris forced Ty Lawson to dribble off his foot. Smith drove to the basket for an emphatic dunk and was fouled by Corey Brewer. After sinking the free throw the Hawks could celebrate Smith’s 27th birthday with the only present he wanted – a victory.
The Hawks lost a nine-point fourth-quarter lead in a home loss to the Cavaliers on Friday. This game didn’t get away.
“Just play through everything that happens,” said Williams, who sank a pair of free throws after the Nuggets got a 3-pointer from Andre Iguodala with less than 30 seconds remaining. “In this league, everybody plays at a high level. Whoever you are playing, they are going to make runs. You are going to make runs. You just have to survive and be on top when it’s done.”
Al Horford led the Hawks with 25 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and four steals. Smith added 16 points, 13 rebounds and two assists. Both setups were nifty passes to Horford for in-close finishes.
Lawson finished with a game-high 32 points for the Nuggets (9-10). It was his two costly turnovers in the game’s final minutes that spoiled the effort.
“It would have been tough (to lose after leading in the fourth quarter) but we weren’t thinking like that,” Horford said. “We were thinking this was a must win for us. This is a big win for our team. I know that they are 9-10 but they are a great team and we needed to get this one here.”
The Nuggets entered the game among the NBA leaders in rebounds and points in the paint. The Hawks outdid them in both categories, holding a 47-40 edge in rebounds and a 56-50 advantage in points in the paint. This came after the Hawks were outrebounded by 21 against the Cavaliers.
“After watching that long video tape of us not boxing out versus Cleveland it kind of paid off tonight,” Smith said.
The Hawks took an 11-point lead in third quarter, 73-62, with a 13-1 run. They had the Nuggets on the ropes.
The Nuggets slowly fought back and finally grabbed a 98-97 lead with 2:34 remaining after a 10-2 run. Their lead grew to three points, 101-99, on a Lawson 3-pointer with two minutes remaining. The Hawks got a basket from Horford to tie it and two free throws from Williams after a Lawson turnover to take the lead for good. Smith then put the icing on his own birthday cake.
“I’ll take the win over that play,” Smith said. “Louis Williams played great defense on two possessions at the end on Ty Lawson. I kind of anticipated the play and was able to get that steal. I saw Brewer coming and I wanted to finish strong.”
The Hawks also got double-digit scoring from Williams (16), Harris (12) and Zaza Pachula (11, all in the first half) in snapping a four-game losing streak to the Nuggets.
“We had a chance to fold the tent there and we didn’t,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “We persevered. I’m just happy that we pushed through it. There are going to be nights like that. We just have to push through those moments.”
The Hawks took a 55-51 lead into halftime after leading by as many as eight points in the second quarter. A 9-2 run midway through the quarter led to the early cushion. Pachulia’s 11 first-half points led eight different scorers Hawk scorers.
The lead was gone 1:30 into the third quarter as the Nuggets opened with two 3-pointers by Lawson. Drew said he didn’t like Jeff Teague’s energy to start the second half and inserted Williams.
The Hawks host the Wizards on Friday, ending a stretch of seven of eight games at home.
- Chris Vivlamore