Whoa, Joe! Johnson heave lifts Hawks
Joe Johnson was just trying to hit the rim.
He wound up doing a lot better than that.
Johnson scored 28 points, including a desperate 3-pointer in the final minute, and the Atlanta Hawks held on for a 109-102 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night, moving a step closer to wrapping up home court in the first round of the playoffs.
Johnson hit a pair of treys coming down the stretch, but the one that really stood out came with 38 seconds remaining and the shot clock running down. From 30 feet away along the sideline, he flung the ball toward the basket with two hands. It somehow banked in to give the Hawks a 103-96 lead.
''The craziest I ever hit in a game'' was how Johnson described it.
''I had no clue how much time was left or what even happened. 'I just heaved it up there. I wanted to at least hit the rim. I accidentally made it.''
Blake Griffin scored a season-high 36 points, while Chris Paul added 34 in a back-and-forth game in which neither team led by double figures until Atlanta went on a 15-2 run at the end of the third quarter, sparked by Jeff Teague and Josh Smith.
The Hawks can wrap up home-court advantage for their opening-round series against Boston by winning the regular-season finale against Dallas on Thursday. They'll also clinch it if the Celtics lose that same night against Milwaukee.
Los Angeles is trying to hold on to the fourth seed — and home court — in the West. The Clippers go into Wednesday's finale at New York tied with the Memphis Grizzlies.
''I guess we just made it real interesting,'' Paul said. ''We've got to use this game (Wednesday) as a huge barometer as far as what it's going to be like in the playoffs. In the playoffs, you're not going to be able to get down 10, 15 and try to come back in the fourth quarter, because the game's going to be way too intense for that.''
This game was tied at 70 when the Hawks took control in the final 3:42 of the third. Teague scored seven straight points and got the best of his fellow Wake Forest guard at the defensive end, stuffing Paul on a drive to the hoop.
Teague stood over the Clippers' star, smiling, but there was no bad blood. Paul hopped up to give the Hawks' player a pat on the backside.
''It's always fun to play against someone you know,'' Teague said.
Paul hit a pair of free throws, before Smith responded with six straight points. The last of those came after Paul turned it over with an errant pass, sending Marvin Williams flying down the court on a fast break. He missed the drive, but Smith was there to clean up with a dunk.
Ivan Johnson closed the quarter with a pair of free throws, pushing the Hawks to an 85-72 lead.
Teague finished with 21 points, while Smith had 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Los Angeles essentially was a two-man team. Griffin scored 16 of the first 21 points for the Clippers, while Paul scored 20 in the second half. It wasn't enough, not against a much more balanced effort by the Hawks. Williams scored 11 to lead the Atlanta bench, which outscored the Los Angeles reserves 32-19.
''That's what coach (Larry Drew) told us at halftime,'' Teague said. ''Blake and Chris are going to score the basketball. We just had to take care of everyone else.''
Teague was at the center of things coming down the stretch as the Clippers tried to close the gap. First, he leaped outside to block a 3-pointer by Caron Butler, sending the ball flying into the seats. Then, winding up in a mismatch with Griffin, Teague managed to hold his ground, knock the ball away and draw a foul on Griffin as they battled for the loose ball.
Teague jawed a bit with Griffin, Mo Williams stepped in and players from both teams got in the middle of things before the confrontation escalated.
''He had me in a headlock,'' Teague said. ''I was trying to get out of there, but he had me locked up pretty good.''
Griffin hit eight of his first nine shots while his teammates were missing seven of nine. His most spectacular basket wasn't one of his thunderous dunks — instead, he drove under the hoop, then flipped the ball back over his head without looking, turning just in time to watch it drop in.
Los Angeles led 28-23 at the end of the opening quarter, but the Hawks' reserves led the home team back. Johnson sparked a 14-2 run with a defensive play, stuffing Nick Young as he drove into the lane looking for a dunk. At the other end, Willie Green put up a 3-pointer that bounced off the rim, the backboard, the rim again and dropped through.
The Atlanta starters leaped off the bench to celebrate, while Green did a little hop and pumped his fist along the sideline.
''If you're going to get over the hump in the playoffs, you've got keep advancing with the bench,'' Joe Johnson said. ''They've got to play a big role.''
NOTES: Before the game, the Hawks presented injured C Zaza Pachulia with the Jason Collier Memorial Trophy for his dedication to community service. The annual award is named after the late Hawks C who died in 2005 from a heart ailment at the age of 28. Collier's widow, daughter and parents attended the ceremony. ... Early in the fourth, Green had a 3-pointer reduced to a 2 after the officials looked at the video replay during a timeout.