You just can’t figure out these Hawks.
Without four players, including starters Josh Smith and Jeff Teague, the depleted Hawks stunned the Lakers 96-92 Wednesday night at Philips Arena. The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Hawks and was just their second win in the past eight games.
Devin Harris had a huge fourth quarter to bring the Hawks back from a four-point deficit in what was a critical win for the struggling team. Harris finished with 17 points, 10 in the final period.
The Hawks had to survive late as Kobe Bryant hit a 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds left to pull the Lakers within a point, 93-92. After Kyle Korver made one of two free throws, Bryant’s potential game-tying jumper with three seconds left missed. The Lakers star, guarded by Dahntay Jones, suffered a severe left sprained ankle sprain and is out indefinitely.
“I told the guys before the game, ‘Listen guys, go out there and take your shots on offense, the ones you work on, and on defense let’s help each other. Let’s play hard, man,’” said Al Horford, who finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds. “This is an important game and I wanted to make sure we set the tone early. I felt that everyone in this locker room that was playing contributed today. It was awesome.”
The Hawks (35-29), who snapped a four-game losing streak to the Lakers, played without Smith (sprained left knee), Teague (sprained left ankle, DeShawn Stevenson (back-to-back games) and Zaza Pachulia (right Achilles). They avenged a 99-98 loss in Los Angeles on March 3, part of their current slide.
“My message was very brief at the start of the game before the players hit the floor knowing that we would be short-handed with Jeff (Teague) and Josh Smith,” coach Larry Drew said. “I told the guys I wanted them to go out and have fun. I wanted to see the joy in their faces again.”
The Lakers (34-32) had a four-game win streak snapped and lost for only the third time since the All-Star break.
The Lakers took a four-point lead, 80-76, by scoring the first six points of the fourth quarter. Then Harris took over. After a 3-pointer from John Jenkins, Harris scored the Hawks’ next nine points for an 88-83 lead with 5:55 remaining. It was part of a 10-3 Hawks run.
“I was able to get some open looks,” Harris said. “They didn’t have that big shot blocker in the middle and I was able to get to the rim and make some shots. … We were getting good looks on pick-and-rolls all night long. We saw some matchups that we were able to take advantage of. We got one shot to go, two shots to go and get into a rhythm and plays work and you go with it.”
Korver, who hit two free throws with 2.6 seconds left, finished with15 points. Ivan Johnson and Jenkins each had 12 points. Johan Petro added 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“I think tonight is a good reminder of how we have to play to win, no matter who we have in the lineup,” Korver said. “The Hawks are at their best when we are playing hard, we are running the floor, we are scrapping on defense, we have ball movement. We can’t play a slow it down isolation-type game. Tonight, since we were missing a lot of our guys, we know because we are not as talented as them, we have to play hard and we have to have ball movement. Hopefully everyone watches this tape and we can get back to doing that again.”
Bryant almost single-handedly brought the Lakers back with 31 points, 28 in the second half, on 11 of 33 shooting. Dwight Howard, coming off a 39-point game against his old Magic team Tuesday, finished with 10 points and 16 rebounds. Metta World Peace added 20 points for the Lakers.
Bryant shook off a woeful first half as he scored 20 of the Lakers’ 31 third-quarter points. Los Angeles erased a 14-point deficit and took a brief lead in the period. The Hawks quickly regained the advantage on a Shelvin Mack 3-pointer and took a 76-74 lead into the decisive fourth quarter.
Jones, Jenkins and Anthony Tolliver drew the assignment of guarding Bryant.
“I’ve been fighting people saying I can’t play defense my whole life so what an opportunity to do it against Kobe,” Jenkins said. “I knew if I stayed in front of him I would be all right. He hit tough shots all night but as long as I stayed in front of him and got a hand in his face, hopefully he would miss.”
The Hawks took a 12-point halftime lead, 55-43, with a balanced offense. Horford, Petro, Harris and Jenkins all had eight first-half points. Korver had seven points and ran his streak to 57 straight games with a 3-pointer.
The Hawks used a 12-0 run to end the first and start the second quarters to get some separation as the Lakers struggled from the field. Bryant missed his first seven shots and didn’t score a field goal until 2:58 remained in the second quarter. He had three first-half points. Howard also struggled early. He picked up two fouls less than four minutes into the game.
“I thought our game plan and our game strategy, particularly in the first half, was to a T,” Drew said. “Everybody was in the right spot. We played a really solid first half. The second half Kobe got a little heated, which we know he’s capable of. … I know he is a guy who is driven to bring his team back from a deficit. He got going in the third quarter and even then we did not break. That was very, very encouraging because we were playing with a short deck.”
The Hawks host the Suns on Friday.