Chris Vivlamore contributed to this report.
The return of “Big Al” Jefferson, as the Bobcats public address announcer bellowed, fired up a pretty “Big Al” on the other end of the court Monday night as well.
Hawks center Al Horford poured in 13 of his 24 points during a key third quarter stretch to help the Hawks hold off the Bobcats and their new free agent acquisition Al Jefferson, 103-94.
“He’s the Big Al,” said Horford, who outscored Jefferson by 14 points despite giving up some 40 pounds to him. “Obviously he’s tough. He’s a great player. It was his first game back. It’s going to take him a couple games to really get himself going.”
Jefferson, back after five games out with an ankle injury, wasn’t in good enough game shape to keep up with Horford. Horford finished three points shy of his season-high and made two free throws with 2:33 to help hold off a late Bobcats rally.
The Hawks walked off with their first winning streak of the season, after Saturday’s win over the Magic, and a ninth straight win over the Bobcats.
Kyle Korver extended a streak of his own, hitting a 3-pointer three and a half minutes in the first quarter to extend his streak to 80 games with a 3-pointer. He now trails Dana Barros (’94-’96) by nine games for the NBA record.
Horford was one of four Hawks in double-figures scoring, including a season-high 16 points off the bench from Cartier Martin. Jeff Teague finished with 14 points and 12 assists, despite picking up two fouls in the first 90 seconds of the game.
“I thought that (Al) Horford had a terrific game, but Jeff Teague controlled that game from about the last four minutes of the second quarter all the way through the second half,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “We couldn’t keep him out of the paint, we couldn’t control the pick and roll, and the majority of their shots came directly from him.”
The Bobcats cut the Hawks’ lead to six points with 5:02 to go on a turnaround Jefferson jumper and nice pass to a cutting Gerald Henderson. But Paul Millsap blocked a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shot and DeMarre Carroll then forced him into a turnover to help shut out the dynamic Bobcat for the second half after he scored 16 in the first half.
Josh McRoberts 3-pointer cut the Hawks lead to 5 points with 1:44 left but Teague hit a floater to restore order and the crowd began to make its way to the exits at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“It was a good win on the road,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think another step forward for our defense…Tonight for more stretches we were better.”
After a relatively quiet first half by both Als, Horford watched Jefferson score three times in four trips down the floor to open the second half. Horford responded by dropping in eight points of a 16-2 run by the Hawks to regain momentum in a game that had been largely dictated by the Bobcats.
Clifford, 52, returned to the bench just three days after undergoing a procedure to place two stents in his heart. Buoyed by his return, the Bobcats opened up an 8-point lead in the first quarter and led 54-46 at halftime. But they couldn’t sustain the momentum as the Hawks picked up their defensive intensity.
The Hawks answered Budenholzer’s halftime call to stop sending the Bobcats to the foul line, allowing them three foul shots in the third quarter after Charlotte went 12-for-17 in the first half. The Hawks outscored the Bobcats by 18 in the third quarter.
Between Horford, two Martin 3-pointers, and a couple of nifty deliveries from Teague, the Hawks led by 10 at the end of the third quarter.
“It was an emphasis of ours to come out aggressively in the third,” Horford said. “I felt we responded to coach’s call. We did a good job defensively and got hot scoring.”
Teague picked up two fouls in the first 89 seconds of the game. His backup, rookie Dennis Schroder, picked up his second foul just over two minutes later. Shelvin Mack responded with a pair of 3-pointers in three possessions. He paced the Hawks with six points and two assists to keep them within 29-26 of the Bobcats in the first quarter.
Note: The Hawks sent guard Jared Cunningham to the NBA Development League Monday where he will play for the team's affiliate the Bakersfield (Calif.) Jam. The guard appeared in just one of the team's first six games, playing just four minutes. Cunningham was inactive against the Magic Saturday when forward/center Gustavo Ayon was cleared to play.
The Hawks acquired Cunningham, a former first round pick of the Cavaliers (24th) out of Oregon State, in a draft-day trade with the Mavericks in June. Last month the Hawks declined to exercise their third-year option on Cunnigham. He will become a free agent following the season.