Reserves lift Hawks to victory

Hawks coach Mike Woodson paced the sidelines, frustrated that his starters seemed a step behind the Kings and befuddled when they didn’t go to the right spots on the floor.

Meanwhile, Woodson’s bench players watched and eagerly awaited their chance.

“The way we started, on the bench it’s something we discussed is to try to get in there and bring some energy on the defensive end, first of all, and let the offense handle itself,” said reserve forward Joe Smith.

Eventually Woodson leaned heavily on his bench players, and they helped the Hawks turn back the Kings 108-97 on Wednesday night at Philips Arena.

Reserves Jamal Crawford, Mo Evans, and Zaza Pachulia were key to holding off Sacramento’s comeback attempt in the second half. Crawford led the Hawks with 20 points, and all of the second unit made key plays.

“Energy,” Pachulia said. “Hustle plays. Defensive stops. We’ve got one of the best offensive players, Jamal Crawford, on our unit.

“I love our second unit all year long.”

The Hawks recovered from a dispiriting loss to Oklahoma City on Monday. They’ve reached the halfway point of the season with 27 victories, putting them on pace for their goal of 50-plus victories.

“It was a big win to get back on track,” Woodson said. “We let one get away against Oklahoma City, but we bounced back, and it was a total team effort.”

For a while it seemed that Woodson calling out his veterans for not leading the effort on defense wouldn’t amount to much. The Kings scored 34 of their first 42 points in the paint while attacking the basket as Oklahoma City did.

The Hawks got things back under control with a 16-6 run that tied the score at 23-23 after one quarter. The Kings recovered to take a 44-34 lead before the Hawks came to life again.

They closed the half with a 21-8 run, highlighted by seven points from Joe Johnson and back-to-back dunks by Marvin Williams and Josh Smith.

The Hawks had a similar second-quarter comeback against the Thunder, only to lose steam to open the second half. This time they extended their lead to 72-60, but the Kings rallied with four consecutive baskets on layups.

That prompted Woodson, who had been searching for the right lineup combination, to go with his reserves, and they reignited the Hawks’ sagging energy.

Evans got it started. He made a corner 3-pointer before blocking Tyreke Evans’ shot and corralling it for a fast-break dunk. Pachulia’s dunk off a pass from Crawford put the Hawks up 81-67 after three quarters.

“There wasn’t a lot of people in the stands so we had to create our own energy,” Mo Evans said. “Everyone started to pick up off those defensive plays and the easy baskets.”

The Hawks extended the lead to 87-70. Sacramento got as close as 99-90 before the Hawks pulled away.

The Hawks lead the Southeast Division and pulled within a game of Boston for second place in the Eastern Conference.

“I think the effort has to pick up to start games,” Johnson said, “but for the most part, we’ve played pretty good.”