By DONNELL SUGGS and DEITRA P. JOHNSON (www.atlantadailyworld.com)
The Atlanta Hawks defeated the visiting Washington Wizards 101-88 on March 16 behind a strong defensive effort, and two days later handily defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, 103-87, with stellar performances by Joe Johnson and Jeff Teague.
But it was the game against the Boston Celtics that could have been the determining factor in boosting team morale this late in the season.
Against the Wizards, Joe Johnson had a big first quarter by amassing 15 points on 6-of-7 field goal shooting, including going 3-for-3 from 3-point range. But the Hawks could only manage a four-point lead going into the second quarter.
Atlanta forced the Wizards, who were missing leading scorer Nick Young, into 22 turnovers.
Young was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers on March 15, just prior to the deadline in a three-team transaction.
Washington point guard John Wall had nine of those turnovers to go along with his 14 points, seven rebounds and nine assists.
ZaZa Pachulia also recorded seven blocked shots in Atlanta’s defensive effort.
“It starts with our defense. We have to defend and be solid in order to be successful,” said Atlanta coach Larry Drew following the game.
The Hawks actually trailed by four at halftime due to a 17-4 Wizard run sparked by reserve guard Roger Mason and Wall, who scored seven and eight points in the quarter, respectively.
But Josh Smith came on to score 13 of his 23 points in the third period to lead a second-half surge by Atlanta.
Pachulia fell just shy of a triple double with his 10 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks, while Jeff Teague scored 14 points and eight assists.
Hawks Win Big
In Cleveland, it was Joe Johnson’s 28 points, Jeff Teague’s 18, and Pachulia’s nine points and game-high 12 rebounds that helped the Hawks cruise to a 103-87 victory over the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Hawks previously defeated Washington by 18 points on Dec. 28 in their home opener at Philips Arena.
Hawks Go Down
To The Wire
The visiting Boston Celtics had to rely on a 17-4 run in the fourth quarter to defeat the Atlanta Hawks by three, 79-76, on March 19. Despite falling behind as many as eight points with less than a minute left, Atlanta, now 13-7 at home, had an opportunity to tie the game on a 3-pointer by Jeff Teague off a feed from Pachulia. However, Teague’s attempt failed to hit the rim before the final buzzer, giving the visiting Celtics their 24 victory of the season.
Going into the fourth quarter and leading by a point at 51-50, Atlanta kept Boston guard Ray Allen under wraps until he unleashed two 3-pointers and three free throws down the stretch.
Allen finished with a team-high 19 points while forward Kevin Garnett garnered 16 points and eight rebounds.
Joe Johnson kept the Hawks close with 14 fourth-quarter points, including going 4-for-4 from 3-point range during the period. Despite this, Johnson failed to get free for the final shot, leaving it up to Teague to on a desperation attempt.
“I knew they were going to double team [Joe] so when I got the ball I just overshot it. It happens,” concluded Teague.
Johnson finished with 25 points. Pachulia had 16 points and a team-high 13 rebounds. Josh Smith struggled, going 5-for-20 from the field and was held scoreless during the fourth quarter, but still managed a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.