The Hawks were not about to let an opponent back into the game.
Not this time. Not with what was at stake.
The Hawks started fast and rarely let up in a 113-90 drubbing of the lowly Bobcats Thursday night at Philips Arena. The win gave the Hawks (14-6) a share of first place in the Southeast Division and second place in the Eastern Conference with the Heat.
The victory came one night after the Hawks had to hold off the struggling Magic. It also came two weeks after almost losing a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead to these Bobcats at home.
After leading this game by as many as 28 points in the second half all thoughts of another comeback were moot.
“I think we were able to keep executing,” forward Josh Smith said. “We didn’t get complacent. When we get big leads we tend to get complacent a little bit and let our guard down. Tonight we were able to put our foot on the gas and not let up.”
The Hawks have won 11 of their past 13 games on the way to the top of the standings. They have won seven straight against the Bobcats, including all three meetings this season. One of the Hawks’ last two losses came Monday against the Heat when they had a chance to take over first place.
“I think we feel good about where we are right now,” Korver said. “I think we have a lot of room to grow. I think we are just starting to make some strides in areas we need to grow in, like execution, awareness, discipline. We have a lot of talent but we have to keep paying attention to details. I think in the last week and a half the team is starting to do that more. If we keep growing in those areas, that’s what you have to be able do. To beat the good teams in the fourth quarter you have to be able to execute and you have to play with discipline. You can’t just play harder. I think we are starting to get that.”
The struggling Bobcats (7-15) lost their 10th straight game. They haven’t won since Nov. 24 when they matched last season’s win total.
The Hawks didn’t have to rely on Al Horford and Smith in this one. They got big games from a host of players. Devin Harris scored a game- and season-high 20 points. Ivan Johnson, who had not played in three of the past four games, scored 16 points. Lou Williams had 13 points and tied a career-high with nine assists. Kyle Korver returned to the starting lineup and added 13 points.
Coach Larry Drew made a point to highlight the play of Johnson.
“I had not been playing him but he came in tonight and had an impact on the game,” Drew said. “Immediately you felt his presence. He did a phenomenal job coming off the bench.”
Smith had 18 points and Horford chipped in 11 points to round out the double-digit scorers. Horford had his streak of seven straight double-doubles snapped.
An 18-7 Hawks’ run to start the third quarter, including back-to-back 3-pointers from DeShawn Stevenson, put the lead at a game-high 28 points.
“I think mentally, in the locker room, we just decided that we were going to do it,” Korver said. “It’s easy to let up when you have a lead. We’ve done that several times. We’ve gotten away with it. But we know. Tonight, coach came in and he was talking about it but he didn’t have to because we were already talking about it. Like we were going to go out there and put them away.”
The Hawks led by as many as 19 points in the second quarter and took a 60-43 lead into intermission. Drew called the first half one of the best by the Hawks this season.
The Hawks took control of the game with an 11-2 run late in the first quarter and never looked back. By the end of the first 12 minutes, the Hawks were leading, 30-19, on 61.1 percent shooting (11 of 18). The Bobcats, by stark contrast, shot just 30 percent (6 of 20).
The Hawks had three double-digit scorers in the first half alone with Harris (16), Smith (12) and Korver (10). Harris bested his previous season-high of 15 points through just one half.
“It wasn’t easy,” center Zaza Pachulia said of the Hawks’ position in the standings. “There are 14 other teams that are trying to be in your place. It always feels good to be number one. It’s just a quarter of the season and we have a long way and more games to go. It’s important to have this feeling. We still have to improve. I’m sure we have a gap there that we can get better, especially against the better teams. We haven’t played New York and Boston yet.”
The Hawks have played back-to-back games four times this season. They are 3-1 in the openers and 4-0 in the finales.
- Chris Vivlamore
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