The Hawks are apparently as stubborn as they are tough at Philips Arena this season. The New York Knicks dared them to play a game at their preferred tempo, quick shot for quick shot, and the Hawks bit hard.
With their bravado getting the best of them most of the night, the Hawks let the Knicks stress them all the way to end, needing a defensive stop in the final five seconds to hold on for a 98-95 win before a raucous but late-arriving crowd of 16,366.
The victory moved the Hawks to 12-6 this season and 7-1 at home, but you couldn't tell they had won by the mood in the locker room after the game.
"I don't know what everybody wanted," Al Horford said. "I guess you want to beat a team by 20 and blow them out. But the important thing is we're taking care of home court, and we have a 7-1 record here, so I'm happy."
It was probably more energy than the Hawks wanted to expend with a road game at Dallas tonight.
As happy as they were to win, the Hawks' refusal to force the action anywhere but around the 3-point line was as stunning as it was ineffective.
They shot a miserable 5-for-26 from that distance and kept shooting them long after it was obvious that they would not be able to run away from the Knicks, who got a game-high 27 points from former Hawks captain Al Harrington.
"A win's a win, and we did what we had to do down the stretch," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "But it's just how we played getting to the stretch. We played their game, and that wasn't pretty. I just think that we have to understand when you're not making 3-pointers ... the importance of winning Basketball games is playing the right way, I think.
"So when 3-pointers are not falling, you have to drive the Basketball and perhaps get somebody a closer shot or perhaps get to the free-throw line. And we didn't do that tonight."
Woodson was about as upset as a coach could be after win in which his team led by as many as 12 points, held the opposition to 43 percent (39-for-89) shooting from the floor and held a statistical edge in nearly every category.
"I'm happy we won because this is a getaway game for us," he said. "We go out on the road for four games, and it could have been disastrous the way we played. But again, we gutted it out and made the plays we had to make coming down the stretch and were able to secure the win.
"But we just can't keep putting ourselves in this position. When you got comfortable leads and the free throws are in your favor in terms of the penalty, you have to take advantage of it."
Instead, the Hawks tried to shoot their way out a 3-point slump and ended up giving the Knicks (8-11) life in the process.
An 10-point lead, 84-74, early in the fourth quarter was down to one twice in the final, maddening three minutes for the Hawks, who missed three deep 3-pointers in the final two minutes. If made, any one of the three would have provided the necessary breathing room.
"A team that plays up and down like that, you almost always get lulled into playing like them because it's like playing pick-up ball and it's fun," said Hawks captain Joe Johnson, one of seven Hawks to score in double figures (17, seven assists, five rebounds). "But you have to slow it up and watch your shot selection because there were a lot of times that we'd just come down and jack up a quick shot to match the quick shot they just took. Again, it's a fun style to play, and it's good to run with them. But tonight, this should have been at least a 20-point victory for us. We went up 10 a couple times, and I thought we just got too relaxed. That quick shot for quick shot style, that's just not us."