A little bit of tweaking to the starting lineup by coach Mike D’Antoni worked wonders for the Los Angeles Lakers, resulting in a dominant first half against the Atlanta Hawks.
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Then came the second half, and they ended up fighting for their lives to escape with a victory.
Xavier Henry scored 18 points, Pau Gasol hit two tiebreaking free throws with 6 seconds remaining, and the Lakers beat the Hawks 105-103 on Sunday night after blowing a 21-point lead.
"There was a little bit of an energy drop in the second half and a lot of missed assignments, but we picked it up and a lot of guys made some good plays," Henry said. "I don’t want to say it was because we wanted it more, but you could tell. When the game was on the line, guys were like: `We were already up 20. We were not going to let this one slip by.’"
Henry started at forward for the first time as a Laker and the 19th time in 137 NBA games, while Nick Young came off the bench. D’Antoni’s intention with the lineup change was to perk up the team at the outset, and also inject some energy into the Lakers’ second unit while doing likewise for the cold-shooting Young.
"We’re still trying to find the right combinations and rack up the wins while we do it," Henry said of the growing pains the club is going through without Kobe Bryant. "We have a lot of new guys, and a lot of guys still need to learn how to play with each other. We’re trying new lineups and stuff, so we’re still going to be working and trying to compete."
Henry, who received nine stitches in his forehead during Friday’s loss to San Antonio after colliding with teammate Wesley Johnson’s knee on a drive to the basket and missed all six of his shots that night, was 5 for 11 from the field against the Hawks.
"I’ve been playing those guys for a while, so I really didn’t have to change anything," Henry said. "Basically I just had to go out there and still be aggressive and still be consistent."
Gasol had 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Steve Nash had 13 points and six assists and Young finished with 13 points.
Kyle Korver led Atlanta with 22 points, converting all six 3-point attempts, but his attempt at a tying 21-footer from the right baseline was blocked by Gasol as time ran out. Hawks point guard Jeff Teague had 14 points and six assists after missing his first five shots.
"We can’t put ourselves in that situation, to always climb uphill," Hawks forward Paul Millsap said. "We have to do a better job of starting the game off."
Two nights after shooting only 37 percent from the field and blowing a 15-point lead against the Spurs despite the absence of injured center Tim Duncan in the paint, Los Angeles shot 42.7 percent against the Hawks. And for the first time this season, all five Lakers starters connected from 3-point range while the team went 9 for 25 from behind the arc.
Trailing by 12 points after three quarters, the Hawks narrowed the gap to 90-83 on a jumper by Dennis Schroder with 10:25 remaining. Chris Kaman then lost the ball out of bounds on the Lakers’ next possession and committed his fifth foul on an offensive charge 34 seconds later.
Millsap got the last of his 14 points on an 11-footer that tied it at 103-all with 35.3 seconds left, after Korver’s sixth 3-pointer made it a two-point spread.
"There’s a few things they can do to get a guy like that open," Henry said of Korver. "If they want to get someone open, they can set enough screens to do that. He was running around them and finding his way."
Eleven Lakers got into the scoring column as they built a 62-49 halftime lead, without anyone on the team reaching double digits.
Young, who shot 6 for 22 over his first three games, made four of his first five field goal attempts — including a 17-footer that capped a 15-2 run and gave the Lakers a 44-23 lead with 9:19 left in the second quarter.
"I think we came out with the right mindset, but they just came out and hit us first," Hawks center Al Horford said. "Coach (Mike Budenholzer) definitely challenged us in the second half, and we were much better. I think our second unit changed it early in the fourth, making plays and getting the momentum going our way."
The Lakers have beaten the Hawks eight straight times at home and have won 21 of the last 24 meetings at Los Angeles dating to Feb. 2, 1990 at the Forum. Last season at Staples Center, the Lakers won 99-98 on a layup by Bryant with 9 seconds remaining after they blew a 16-point second-half lead.
NOTES: Sunday was the 38th anniversary of the day the Lakers traded Pat Riley to Phoenix for two draft picks. One of the mainstays of the Lakers’ first NBA championship team in Los Angeles (1971-72) he went on to win four more rings as Lakers coach, another as coach of Miami, and two more as the Heat’s team president. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008. … Shawne Williams, the Lakers’ other starting forward, had seven points before fouling out with 5:40 remaining. … Eight Lakers hit a 3-pointer, the third time in franchise history that’s happened and second time this season — including the season opener against the Clippers. They also did it on Feb. 2, 2013 at Minnesota.