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 a 94-91 victory, but Gordon and his Charlotte Bobcats teammates sure went down swinging.
“I just tried to be aggressive and force the issue a little bit,” said Gordon, who scored a game-high 26 points.
The Hawks led 90-81 with 2:43 remaining, inducing the Hawks’ spirit section to eventually start up its, “We believe that we will win,” chant. But the 6-foot-3 Gordon wasn’t finished.
Gordon made all three free throws after being fouled behind the 3-point line, then followed by hitting an off-balance 3-pointer with just 30 seconds on the clock. All of a sudden, that Philips Arena spirit section wasn’t so loud, not
quite fully believing the Hawks (9-4) would win, at least not in regulation.
Gordon had brought the don’t-roll-over Bobcats back from the dead.
Charlotte (7-7), which only won seven games last season, had two chances to either win or extend this 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. With the loss, the Bobcats didn’t 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 has 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.’
“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 night went according to the Hawks’ defensive scheme, which certainly accounted for Dunlap and his team looking to get the ball in Gordon’s hands. It’s safe to say Atlanta coach Larry 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,” Smith said. “I think (Drew’s) discussions started from there, telling guys, you know, you can’t give him confidence. 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’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 wonder, “How can we slow this guy down?”
“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, six assists, three blocks) to earn the team’s sixth consecutive 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 in a row, the longest winning streak in the NBA. And not even the return of Flash Gordon, if only for 12 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.”