Horford, Hawks pull past Bobcats

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.”