Hawks hand Lakers second straight loss
The Atlanta Hawks are looking to make a lengthy run in the NBA playoffs.
Their bench sure appears deep enough for the long haul.
Joe Johnson scored 25 points despite an aching thumb, but it was the Atlanta reserves who came up big against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Maurice Evans scored 18, Jamal Crawford added 14 and Zaza Pachulia chipped in with his first double-double in more than a year, leading the Hawks to a 109-92 victory Wednesday night.
"You can't win the championship with five guys," Pachulia said. "We have some great players on the bench. Why not use them?"
Bryant scored 28 points but only eight in the second half as Los Angeles lost back-to-back games for just the fourth time this season. The Lakers won twice on a five-game road trip and missed a chance to possibly clinch the Pacific Division title before heading home.
"We're not playing well defensively," Bryant said. "This trip was consistently bad, so we've got to get back to work."
The Hawks moved a game ahead of Boston in the race for the third seed in the Eastern Conference with their ninth straight win at home - their longest such run since a 20-game streak at the old Omni during the 1996-97 season. The Celtics lost at home to Oklahoma 109-104.
"Boston lost? Woo-hoo!" Pachulia said when he saw the final seconds tick off on a big-screen television in the locker room.
Johnson hit five 3-pointers despite spraining the thumb on his right (shooting) hand while tangled up with Ron Artest in the first quarter. He missed 4 of 5 shots in the second but found his touch after the break, knocking down four shots from beyond the 3-point stripe.
"I didn't want to shy away from the shots I was getting," Johnson said. "I just tried to keep it as loose as possible."
He didn't have to worry about carrying the entire load, not with the way the bench played. The always-reliable Crawford had his usual double-figure night, but the Lakers surely weren't expecting Evans to put up 13 more points than his season average. He went 7 of 9 from the field, his only two misses coming from outside the arc.
"Some games they need you less, some games they need you more," Evans said. "When you get an opportunity to play, you want to take advantage of it. That's what we did tonight."
Pachulia scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, his first double-double since March 29, 2009, also against the Lakers.
"Basketball is a team game," he said. "When you play 100 games in a season, you definitely need everyone to help out. I'm sure the starters don't mind. When you get to this point in the season, you can't worry about minutes."
Atlanta went ahead for good on Crawford's 3-pointer with 1:35 left in the first quarter, stretched it out to 55-45 by halftime and was never seriously threatened over the final two quarters, pushing the margin as high as 18 points.
Bryant called it a night with 2 1/2 minutes to go, heading to the bench after a turnover and watching the rest of the game with a towel draped over his shoulders. Pau Gasol scored 16 points and Artest had 15, but Jordan Farmar (16 points) made the only significant contribution off the bench.
"It's hard to digest," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Everybody got going on their team, basically, at some point."
The attendance-challenged Hawks drew a full-house-and-then-some crowd of 20,190, a team record since their move to Philips Arena in 1999. Among those sitting courtside were Hall of Famer Julius Erving and Atlanta rapper T.I., who was recently released from a halfway house after serving prison time on a weapons charge.
Things got testy in the fourth quarter.
One minute into the period, Artest stuck an elbow in Evans' face as he attempted to block out on Atlanta shot. Evans took exception after Artest grabbed the rebound, shoving the volatile Lakers' forward. Evans walked away with Artest in pursuit, but teammates stepped in to keep them apart. Both players drew technical fouls.
About 2 minutes later, Gasol took a pass from Bryant and went in for a dunk, only to get fouled hard by Marvin Williams, who got a piece of the ball but also a good part of Gasol's neck. Williams was called for an intentional foul, Gasol made the free throw, and Farmar swished a 3-pointer to pull the Lakers within 85-73.
But the Hawks pulled away from there.
NOTES: Jackson said F Luke Walton (pinched nerve, back) hopes to play Sunday when the Lakers host the Spurs, but added that C Andrew Bynum (Achilles' strain) could be out another 10 days. ... Hawks coach Mike Woodson said he has no complaints about the tiebreaker system that gives the advantage to a team winning its division. Atlanta swept Boston 4-0 in the season series, but the Celtics would get the third seed if the teams end up tied for winning the Atlantic Division. ... Among the other celebrities attending the Lakers' lone appearance in Atlanta: Keri Hilson, who sang the national anthem; rapper Jeezy; and NFL linebacker Takeo Spikes. ... G Sasha Vujacic was the only Lakers player who dressed out and didn't play. He sat out his third straight game after Jackson said he had "a little run-in" with the coaching staff last week at Oklahoma City.