ATLANTA — Joe Johnson bounced back from a sluggish start to score 24 points and came up with a key defensive play down the stretch, leading the Atlanta Hawks to their fourth victory in a row since losing All-Star center Al Horford, 92-89 over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.
The Hawks, taking over first place in the Southeast Division from Orlando, closed the third period on a 14-0 run, but the Trail Blazers responded with a 13-0 spurt to start the fourth to tie the game. It was tight the rest of the way.
Atlanta was up 84-80 when a wild sequence went the Hawks’ way. Jamal Crawford missed on a drive, but Wesley Matthews picked off an outlet pass to apparently give the Blazers another chance. Not so fast. Johnson hustled up behind Matthews to steal it back, then lobbed to Jeff Teague for a dunk with 1:25 remaining.
Crawford hit a last-gasp 3-pointer but the Hawks held on.
Atlanta hasn’t folded since Horford went down last week with a torn pectoral muscle, which will keep him out for most, if not the rest, of the regular season. He underwent surgery Tuesday and managed to get off a tweet congratulating his teammates: “What’s good! Another solid win. Let’s keep getting better. Go Hawks!”
Johnson missed his first five shots and was still scoreless with less than three minutes to go in the first half. Then, suddenly, he ripped off three consecutive jumpers – including a pair of 3s – and knocked down a couple of free throws. The 10-point outburst sparked a 12-4 spurt that pushed the Hawks to a double-digit lead. Atlanta led 51-42 at the break.
Portland seized the momentum coming out of the locker room, surging into the lead. Gerald Wallace made a short hook with 4:07 to play in the third, putting the Blazers up 62-61. They didn’t score again in the quarter, the Hawks racing to a 75-62 lead.
But the game turned back in Portland’s way again. Crawford led the comeback in a role that must’ve looked familiar to Atlanta fans who cheered for him the past few years when he played for the Hawks, winning the Sixth Man Award in 2010. He’s filling
the same role for the Blazers, but it wasn’t enough.
The Hawks were more balanced. Josh Smith had 17 points, plus 11 rebounds, while Teague chipped in with 13 points and Marvin Williams added 12. All five players off the Atlanta bench also made the scoresheet.