Johnson Leads Surging Hawks Past Nuggets
Atlanta 110, Denver 107 (OT)
ATLANTA, Dec. 18 (Ticker) -- Joe Johnson is playing good basketball lately. So are the Atlanta Hawks, finally.
Johnson poured in 30 points and the Hawks used a late surge in overtime to post a 110-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets, their fourth win in five games.
"What happened last year is behind us," said Hawks coach Mike Woodson, whose club went 13-69 last season. "We're trying to build on what we're doing now. Hopefully, we can continue our winning ways."
Atlanta's recent surge started with a stunning win over San Antonio on December 10 that snapped a seven-game losing streak. Three nights later, the Hawks won in Cleveland.
"Beating San Antonio gave us a good boost, and we realized what we could do as players," Hawks swingman Josh Smith said. "I think that was kind of a wake-up call for our team. From there, we've been real confident in each other, and we're having fun out there. We're smiling, and everything out there is fun for us."
Denver scored the first five points of overtime, including a 3-pointer by Earl Watson with 3:20 remaining that opened a 103-98 lead. But the Hawks outscored the Nuggets, 12-4, the rest of the way as Johnson and reserve guard Tyronn Lue made clutch shots.
Johnson's fifth 3-pointer with 2:10 to play forged a 103-103 tie. After Denver's Eduardo Najera knocked down a pair of free throws to tie it with just over a minute left, Smith responded with a jumper giving the Hawks a two-point advantage.
Smith came up with a loose ball under the basket at the other end before Lue delivered the knockout shot, a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with five seconds to play.
"I knew when I was coming off the pick-and-roll, the big guy (Francisco Elson) was staying with me the whole time to make sure I gave it up," Lue said. "So I tried to turn the corner hard, so I could step back and get separation over Elson. And I was able to get off a tough shot."
Johnson, who scored a career-high 36 points in Friday's win over New York, made 11-of-26 shots and added nine assists and five rebounds. Smith scored 19 points and Lue had 17 off the bench.
Denver (12-13) was without injured frontcourt starters Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin, reserve sparkplug Earl Boykins and swingman Greg Buckner and dropped to 4-10 on the road despite 37 points from Carmelo Anthony and 20 from Andre Miller.
"It was a tough game because we only had seven guys tonight," Anthony said. "We were very tired tonight. The whole road trip caught up with us today. We came out and played aggressive, but the overtime was too much for us."
"We knew they had some guys out," Johnson said. "We wanted to take advantage of it, attack on both sides of the court. That's what we did."
Camby, averaging 16.8 points and a league-best 13.3 rebounds, has a sprained right pinky. Martin is battling left knee tendinitis.
For a while, it looked like the shorthanded Nuggets might win. Denver led, 93-88, with 4:23 remaining after Najera fed Anthony for a ferocious dunk. But Atlanta scored eight of the next 10 points to regain the lead, 96-95.
Najera followed with a layup and Anthony connected on 1-of-2 free throws for a 98-96 edge. But Johnson drove for a clutch layup with four seconds left to force overtime.
"We just kept playing," Hawks forward Al Harrington said. "We just had the confidence and swagger that we weren't out of it."
Atlanta has won 15 of its last 16 home meetings with Denver.