Joe Johnson and Josh Smith regained their shooting touches just in time for the Atlanta Hawks, who appeared headed for another loss after shooting 37.1 percent in the first half and falling behind by as many as 16 points.
Johnson scored 11 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter and Smith added 22, rallying the Hawks to a 107-98 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday. Smith missed his first eight shots and finished 5 for 14. He ended his drought on a 3-pointer that trimmed Los Angeles’ lead to 55-48 with 10:14 left in the third quarter and made two more clutch 3s 66 seconds apart down the stretch.
”It was like a tremendous weight off my shoulders,” Smith said of the first one. ”One thing about me is that I don’t give up on myself. I believe in myself and my teammates believe in me. That’s why they kept feeding me the ball, and I was able to knock down a couple of jumpers in the second half. I was open and my teammates got me the ball and I just stepped into my shots and let it go. In the first half, I was fading away.”
Johnson, who returned to the lineup on Dec. 17 after missing nine games following right elbow surgery, was 7 for 20 from the field after going 18 of 51 over his previous three games. In Friday’s loss at Oklahoma City, the four-time All-Star guard missed 14 of 20 attempts – including all six from 3-point range.
”I liked seeing how we fought back after being down,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. ”This was a grinder. We knew that coming in, and that’s what happened.”
Clippers rookie Blake Griffin scored 19 of his 31 points in the first half and pulled down 15 rebounds for his 27th double-double and 21st in a row. But he shot 3 for 10 in the second half and didn’t find as much free space above the rim as he normally gets.
”I thought we just did a good job of battling him,” Drew said. ”We didn’t do anything special from a strategic standpoint. When you play a guy like that, you need to be prepared to play a physical game because that’s what he’s going to bring. He’s a load, and it takes a team effort to defend a guy like that.”
The Hawks went on a 15-2 run to turn a seven-point deficit into a 91-85 lead with 4:42 left in the game. Jamal Crawford, who finished with 24 points, began the rally with three free throws after getting fouled by Eric Gordon behind the arc. DeAndre Jordan was whistled for goaltending on Johnson’s short jumper with 6 minutes to play, giving the Hawks an 86-85 lead.
It was Atlanta’s first lead since Mike Bibby opened the game with a 15-foot jumper.
”In the second half we didn’t stop them at all,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. ”They scored at will against us and our energy defensively was not good enough. Our bench turned the ball over way too much, and that hurt. We can’t give a team like that extra possessions.”
Smith added a 3-pointer and Johnson capped the decisive run with five points. Crawford then hit a 17-footer, Al Horford followed with a layup and Bibby added a 3 to help seal the victory. Smith also had 10 rebounds and blocked two shots.
”We just have to do a better job of finishing out games,” Griffin said. ”Our offense got a little stagnant and they hit some shots.”
Gordon, who came in with a team-high 23.8 scoring average, spent the final 8:27 of the first quarter on the bench after picking up two fouls 46 seconds apart. But it didn’t faze the Clippers, whose game-opening 19-8 run included a slam dunk by Griffin off a no-look, over-the-shoulder alley-oop pass from Baron Davis. Los Angeles led 31-18 at the end of the quarter after shooting 15 for 20.
Notes: Michael Cage, whose record for consecutive double-doubles by a Clippers player was broken by Griffin last Wednesday, was a pregame and postgame guest commentator for Sunday’s local telecast on Fox Sports Net – an assignment that was scheduled a month earlier. Cage, who lives in Newport Beach, was sitting under the Clippers’ basket on Nov. 20 at Staples Center when Griffin scored a career-high 44 points – including that now-famous dunk he made over Knicks rookie Timofey Mozgov by balancing his non-shooting hand on Mozgov’s head before throwing it down. ”My kids ‘You Tube’ him all the time. I can’t get away from it,” a smiling Cage told the Associated Press. ”Every time I wake up, it’s ”Dad, come here. Let me show you this Blake Griffin dunk from last night.’ And it’s really kind of neat, because it’s been a long time since the Clippers have had a fun, exciting player that appeals to the whole league.” … Atlanta outscored Los Angeles 37-24 in the final quarter.