Horford, Hawks pull past Bobcats

The Hawks slipped past the Bobcats, giving Charlotte its third loss in the last four games.

ATLANTA -- When Ben Gordon has a team on the ropes, he rarely pulls a fourth-quarter punch. On Wednesday night, the Hawks were just fortunate the bell rang before one of the NBA’s streakiest scorers could deliver the knockout.

Atlanta pulled out the victory, 94-91, but Gordon and his teammates sure went down swinging.

“I just tried to be aggressive and force the issue a little bit,” Gordon said afterwards.

Mission accomplished.

After a flurry of baskets amid what was, at the time, a 14-point closing quarter for Gordon, the Hawks still led 90-81 with 2:43 remaining, inducing the Hawks’ spirit section to eventually start up its, “We believe that we will win,” chant it only brings out when, well, it believes the game is well in hand. 

But a 6-foot-3 veteran guard wasn’t finished.

And there were quiet moments in Philips Arena when Hawks (9-4) did not quite fully believe the home team would win, at least not in regulation. Gordon made all three free throws after being fouled behind the line, then followed it up by hitting an off-balance 3-pointer two minutes later with just 30 seconds on the clock. 

He had brought the don’t-roll-over Bobcats back from the dead.

Charlotte (7-7) had two chances to either win or extend the game in the final 10 seconds, but an errant inbounds pass and an off-the-mark 3-pointer by big man Byron Mullens concluded the affair. On this night, the Bobcats were not going to eclipse last season’s win total, but they did show how far they’ve come. Trading for a scorer like Gordon to come off the bench certainly played a role in that transformation under new coach Mike Dunlap.

“I was sitting there telling those guys, man, I got drafted with (Gordon). He’s done it to us before,” Hawks forward Josh Smith said. “So I’m sitting there telling them, you know, ‘Hey man, this man can really put numbers up.’ So when he hit those couple of 3s he got comfortable. I knew that if we didn’t be aggressive on him, it was going to be a long fourth quarter. “

The final two possessions that wrapped up the affair were by design for the Hawks, who certainly knew the Dunlap and his team were looking to get the ball in Gordon’s hands.

It’s safe to say Drew discussed the importance of preventing that from happening in the team huddle.

“I think early in the fourth quarter when he hit like two 3s, we called that timeout. I think (Drew’s) discussions started from there, telling guys, you know, you can’t give him confidence,” Smith said. “You gotta stay on him. “

This is not new territory for a guy like Gordon, who has shown even in his ninth season in the league that he is someone to be feared when he is on. He has now scored 34, 26 and 19 points in select games this season. He’s also slumped to four- and six-point nights. He’s averaging 13.5 points per game — not exactly Flash Gordon posting 40-point outings anymore — but when it’s his night, though, like it was Wednesday, he still has the innate ability to make opponents openly wonder, “What more can we do with this guy?”

“I was with the Nuggets one time and he did the very same thing to us,” Dunlap said. “So Ben has that in him. And it was nice to have that little jolt as far as that goes.”

Of course, Gordon’s efforts might have come a little too late, as Atlanta solidified its lead in the third and early fourth quarter behind the play of big men Smith (17 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, five blocks) and Al Horford (17 points, 11 rebounds) to earn the team’s six straight win against Charlotte. 

Smith scored 13 of his points in what turned out to be an essential fourth quarter.

The Hawks have now won six straight outings, the longest winning streak in the NBA. And not even the return of Flash Gordon, if only for 15 fleeting minutes, could derail that momentum.

“Did you see the shots that Ben Gordon was hitting from 3?" Smith said. “I’m just glad he didn’t hit as many shots as he wanted.”

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