ATLANTA (AP) — Josh Smith is skeptical about his chances of making the All-Star game for the first time.
He sure played like he deserves to go.
Smith scored 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in his final game before the All-Star reserves are announced, leading the Hawks to a 97-87 victory over the Indiana Pacers that snapped Atlanta’s three-game home losing streak Wednesday night.
The Hawks, who had fallen behind by big margins in each game on the homestand, finally got off to a good start. Atlanta built a 21-point lead in the first half and withstood repeated runs by Indiana over the final two quarters.
Smith made sure of that.
“We’ve got to play with urgency and desperation as a team,” he said. “Tonight, it definitely showed. We had to get a win before we go out on the road.”
Joe Johnson added 20 points for the Hawks, while Kirk Hinrich (17) and Tracy McGrady (13) contributed valuable minutes off the bench. But this night belonged to Smith, who has stepped up his game with All-Star center Al Horford expected to miss most of the season with an injury. Smith is averaging 15.6 points and 8.9 rebounds a game, numbers that may finally be good enough to land an All-Star nod of his own.
Not that he’s confident of his chances heading into Thursday’s announcement.
“I thought I’ve deserved it two years in a row,” Smith said. “I’m not going to get my hopes up until I see how it goes.”
Danny Granger scored 21 points to lead the Pacers, who couldn’t overcome the big deficit after winning the night before at home. Indiana has lost nine straight in Atlanta, a streak dating to 2006.
The Hawks hit enough shots to hold off the Pacers. With Indiana closing, Hinrich swished a 3-pointer, then Smith slammed in a rebound with his left hand after Marvin Williams missed a jumper, leaving the rim shaking and the crowd roaring.
“Josh played super,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “He doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He makes an impact at both ends of the court.”
David West and Tyler Hansbrough added 15 points apiece for Indiana, while Roy Hibbert had 10 points and 10 rebounds. But the Hawks, with only one true healthy center on the roster, outrebounded the Pacers 45-33. Atlanta also won the running game, finishing with a 28-11 edge in fast-break points.
“Give Atlanta a lot of credit,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “They came out, obviously having lost three in a row, with a tremendous edge and took the fight to us in the first half.”
Right from the tip, the Hawks raced to an 8-1 lead and stretched the margin to double figures before the game was 7 minutes old, moving the ball and hustling on defense like they did before their recent slide.
The biggest cheers went up when lumbering center Zaza Pachulia came up with an offensive rebound, then flipped a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Williams for a dunk.
The reaction was much different when Jeff Teague drove toward the basket, only to get sent tumbling to the floor when he ran into Hansbrough. The officials called an offensive foul on Ivan Johnson, ruling that he caused Hansbrough to stumble into Teague. Johnson was whistled for a technical when he disputed the call, while Teague got up slowly after a nasty fall, hurting but not seriously injured.
Atlanta had its biggest lead in the final minute of the first half before West buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer, leaving the Pacers with a 59-41 deficit. It was too much of a margin to overcome for a team making a quick turnaround after beating Utah 24 hours earlier.
“We fought like dogs in the second half to come back and compete and make it a game, but they were too much,” Vogel said. “Their starting lineup, Josh Smith and Joe Johnson, were too much. And obviously Hinrich and Tracy McGrady scoring 30 points off the bench gave them a tremendous lift. You’re not going to win games giving up 28 fast-break points, period.”
After his nifty play early on, Pachulia had some ugly moments toward the end.
First, he missed a dunk after Smith flopped to the court to retrieve a loose ball and flipped a pass forward to his center, lumbering all alone in front of everyone else. Then, apparently losing track of where he was on a fast break, Pachulia took a pass and seemed ready to go in for another dunk attempt, only to realize he was too far from the hoop. He was called for walking instead.
NOTES: NBA commissioner David Stern attended the game, stopping off in Atlanta after making the announcement that the 2013 All-Star Game will be held in Houston. Stern expressed confidence in the Hawks’ ownership group, which tried to sell the team last summer, saying they are “way down my list of current worries.” … McGrady nearly squared off with Indiana’s Lou Amundson after slamming into the Pacers player going for a rebound. They jawed at each other but their teammates stepped in quickly to pull them away from each other. Both received technicals. … Drew barked at Josh Tiven even after the official called a foul on Indiana, apparently because he didn’t blow the whistle soon enough to the coach’s liking. Another official, Eric Lewis, stepped in to ask Drew, “Why are you getting on him like that when you got the call?”