The Hawks knew how much Mike Woodson wanted to win in his return to Atlanta.
But they really needed this one, too.
In a game matching two teams jockeying for playoff position, Joe Johnson scored 28 points and Willie Green carried the Hawks in the fourth quarter, leading Atlanta to a 100-90 victory over Woodson and the New York Knicks on Friday night.
Green scored 15 of his 20 points in the final period.
”We were able to get some stops down the stretch,” Johnson said, ”and Willie came off the bench to hit some big shots.”
Woodson, who coached the Hawks from 2004-10, returned to Philips Arena for the first time as the Knicks’ interim coach. His team wasn’t at full strength, forced to go without injured starters Amare Stoudemire (back) and Jeremy Lin (left knee).
”We were sluggish,” Woodson said. ”For some reason, we didn’t have the pep we had the other night” in a 108-86 rout of Orlando at Madison Square Garden.
Woodson was fired by the Hawks even though he led the team to a better record in each of his six seasons, including three straight trips to the playoffs. One of his former players, Josh Smith, knew how much this game meant to Woodson, even though the Knicks coach insisted before the game that it was nothing special.
”Sure, I did. Everybody did,” Smith said, breaking into a sly grin. ”He definitely wanted to win this one.”
In Atlanta, Woodson was replaced by his top assistant, Larry Drew, which clearly left a strained relationship between the former colleagues. They never acknowledged each other during the game and when it was over, Drew ducked out quickly for the locker room, avoiding even a glance toward the New York bench. Woodson lingered a bit, shaking hands with some of the Hawks players.
”We all really wanted to win this one for coach,” New York’s Tyson Chandler said.
Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 36 points and rookie Iman Shumpert matched his career high with 25. Still, the Knicks lost for only the second loss in 10 games under Woodson, unable to overcome an early 15-point deficit.
”It’s always tough when you dig that hole,” Anthony said. ”Fighting out of that hole and trying to win the basketball game, that’s hard to do — especially on the road.”
The Hawks got much more of a team effort than the short-handed Knicks. Smith added 23 points, Marvin Williams 13 and Jeff Teague 11 to go along with seven assists. Zaza Pachulia handled the dirty work, grabbing 12 rebounds to help the Hawks to a 40-33 edge on the boards.
But everyone was raving about Green, averaging 7.0 points a game. He made all but one of his seven shots in the period, including a huge 3-pointer from the corner with 3 1/2 minutes remaining that stretched Atlanta’s lead to 94-84.
”I was just trying to stay aggressive,” Green said. ”A shot goes down, then another shot goes down, then another shot goes down. All of a sudden, you’ve got it going.”
Anthony and Shumpert were about it for the Knicks. No one else scored more than seven points, and New York struggled mightily at the foul line (22 of 33). The Hawks, by comparison, knocked down 22 of 26.
Both teams were sloppy with the ball, but Atlanta did a better job taking advantage of the turnovers with 27 points off New York’s 18 giveaways. The Hawks’ 17 turnovers led to 17 points for the visiting team.
Atlanta led 44-29 late in the second quarter and seemed on the verge of blowing it open again on a couple of acrobatic plays by Smith after the break.
After a Knicks turnover, he led a fast break, shaking off a defender, passing off to Johnson and crashing the basket to take a return lob from his teammate. Despite a shove in the back from Anthony, Smith managed to bank in an off-balance shot, kicking out a leg to celebrate when the ball dropped through. He made the free throw to complete the three-point play.
Then, Johnson almost threw the ball away but caught a break, getting it back off a deflection. He spotted Smith under the basket and tried another lob. This one was a little mistimed, but Smith still made the grab and, after faking the defender, dunked it anyway for a 57-44 lead.
But, led by Anthony, the Knicks rallied again. When he hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the third, it brought out the biggest cheers of the night from the large number of New York fans sprinkled around Philips Arena — many of them wearing Lin jerseys. The Hawks went to the fourth quarter still leading, but with the margin down to 74-69.
Green took over from there, while Anthony seemed to run out of gas. He made only one of five shots in the final period, totaling just five points. All the while, he had Smith in his face.
”I was just trying to keep a body on him, stay physical,” Smith said. ”He likes to create contact. I just tried to stay with him every step.”
Notes: Hawks G Tracy McGrady returned to the locker room early in the game with an illness. He did not play — not that it affected the Hawks’ rotation all that much. McGrady had played a total of less than 19 minutes in the previous five games. … Smith picked up a technical with 5:02 left in the third quarter when he walked over to official Rodney Mott to complain about a foul call. Mott wasted no time doling out a T, leading Smith’s teammates to step between him and the official before Smith got in more trouble. … Anthony also had nine rebounds and five steals. … Knicks G Baron Davis, slowed by an ailing right hamstring, had a tough night filling in for Lin with four turnovers and 2-of-8 shooting.