Johnson scores 26 to lead another Hawks win
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) Joe Johnson keeps finding himself on the bench in the fourth quarter.
The Hawks star doesn’t mind a bit.
Johnson already had 26 points by the end of the third, giving him a chance to sit the rest of the way as Atlanta romped to its fifth straight victory, 110-97 over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
“It’s fun,” he said. “We get a chance to sit back and watch for a change, just relax.”
Actually, this is becoming rather routine for Johnson and the rest of the Atlanta starters. This latest streak started with a gritty 80-75 victory at Dallas, but the Hawks have won by an average of 23 points over the last four games, scoring at a 117-point clip.
Atlanta was able to clear its bench in the final quarter and have some fun. Little-used Othello Hunter had a season-high six points, Randolph Morris matched his best with seven and rookie Jeff Teague took off down the lane for a thunderous dunk that had Johnson and Josh Smith waving towels on the sideline.
“Any time those guys get a chance to come in and contribute to a win, it’s always good,” said Smith, who played a little more than 4 minutes in the final quarter before calling it a night. “We’re going to need those guys if someone gets hurt.”
Despite playing only 29 minutes, Johnson made 10 of 16 shots from the field, including a couple of 3-pointers, and chipped in with eight rebounds and three assists.
The Hawks scored the final nine points of the first half for a 51-42 lead, but the Grizzlies were still hanging around until Johnson took over late in the third quarter.
The Atlanta star scored 11 of his team’s 13 points in a stretch that finally put away Memphis, including a turnaround jumper from well beyond the 3-point arc. Maurice Evans also hit a 3 and Jamal Crawford knocked down a running jumper with 2 seconds left to give the Hawks a commanding 83-66 lead heading to the final period.
“We could never really get away from them in the third quarter,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to be aggressive and make some plays.”
Johnson eclipsed 20 points for the third game in a row and the fifth time in the last six contests. Al Horford had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks, while Smith added 14 points, Evans 13 and Crawford 12.
Atlanta (18-6) remained a half-game behind Orlando in the Southeast Division. The Magic blew out Toronto 118-99.
Sam Young led Memphis with 20 points, but the Grizzlies were done in by 20 turnovers, which led to 33 points for the Hawks.
“We had a lot of turnovers, man,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “That was basically it.”
All five Memphis starters scored in double figures, including O.J. Mayo with 15 and Marc Gasol 14. But Young provided the only significant points off the bench, while Evans and Crawford led another strong showing by the Hawks’ reserves.
Evans, in particular, seems to be finding his groove after getting squeezed on minutes early in the season. A key backup on last year’s team, he’s averaging 17 points over the last four games, which included one start when Marvin Williams was sidelined by an upset stomach.
“I’ve been trying to find my role, find my niche,” Evans said. “We’ve got a lot of great players, a lot of great athletes. It’s tough to get everyone involved.”
Patience is paying off for the sixth-year pro.
“A younger player may not have the maturity to realize that he’s going to be needed,” Evans said. “And you’ve got to be ready to produce when you’re called upon. With a younger guy, his mind could be twisted by the lack of opportunity. But I was a big part of this team last year, and I’m still a big part.”
Memphis’ Rudy Gay went out late in the third quarter with a sprained right ankle and didn’t return. He said the injury wasn’t serious and he could have played if the game was closer.
Before going out, Gay witnessed what has been a typical Hawks’ performance this season.
“That’s what they do,” he said. “They throw alley-oops, they dunk, they do all those things. As we turned it over, they used it to their advantage to score.”
NOTES: Injured Hawks F Joe Smith has been running in practice to work on his conditioning. He’ll still need to get in some contact before he can return from a dislocated left thumb. … The teams’ only other meeting this season will be Feb. 9 at Memphis. … Atlanta improved to 11-2 at home.
Updated December 16, 2009