The typical energy-and-effort excuse wasn’t going to fly for the Hawks on Wednesday night, even if they did lose at Oklahoma City the night before.
The Clippers were playing a back-to-back, too, and theirs came at the end of an eight-game, 15-day road trip. They also are one of the worst road teams in the NBA, and the Hawks needed a victory after losing two consecutive games on the road.
That explains why boos rained down in Philips Arena as the Clippers outworked the sluggish Hawks for most of three quarters. It took the Hawks until late in the third quarter, but they finally got the message and came to life late for a 103-97 victory.
The Hawks avoided a potentially dispiriting loss and improved to 20-5 at home, but it wasn’t easy. They scored only 17 points in the first quarter, couldn’t sustain a rally early in the third quarter and allowed the Clippers to score at the rim all night.
“The back-to-back had a little to do with it,” said Hawks guard Joe Johnson, who scored 34 points after he had 37 at Oklahoma City. “But right now we’ve got to be desperate. Coming down the stretch run of the season, we need to get in a good position for the playoffs.
“We can’t have letdowns like this where we are fighting hard to come back pretty much the whole game.”
Johnson and Jamal Crawford, who scored 22 off the bench, shot the Hawks back in it. They combined to score 22 points in the fourth quarter on 7-of-12 shooting, and the Clippers finally succumbed in the final four minutes.
“In the second half, especially the fourth quarter, Joe and Jamal began to do what they do best, which is score baskets,” Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. “The Hawks are tough to contain when both of those guys begin to score the way they did.”
Until then, the Hawks had trouble containing the Clippers, who scored 28 points in the paint while building a 46-41 lead.
The Hawks showed a brief spark with a 10-2 run to open the second half for a 51-48 lead, but the Clippers took it right back. Hawks fans grumbled loudest after the Clippers simply outhustled the Hawks to score two consecutive fast-break layups for a 70-57 lead.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be a pretty game,” Crawford said. “They challenge you at all times. We knew there would be a moment of truth, and that was it.”
The Hawks responded with a 12-0 run. Crawford had seven points during the rally, including a four-point play.
“I told Jamal, ‘You have to step it up, man,’ ” said Hawks center Al Horford. “So he went in and did it. He really changed the game for us.”
The Hawks had to rally once more after the Clippers took an 84-75 lead. The Hawks held the Clippers without a point for more than three minutes and tied the score at 88-88, and then two Crawford free throws gave them the lead for good.
“We finally came to play in the fourth quarter,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.