They played for three quarters like the same old Hawks . The 2004 model. Then they finished in a fashion that bore little resemblance to those horrid clubs of the past. The Hawks overcame an ungainly start against Portland by imposing their will in the fourth quarter and overtime in a 99-95 win at Philips Arena Monday night.
"We're nowhere near close" to those Hawks of the recent past, said guard Joe Johnson, whose late-game marksmanship fueled the comeback. "Two, three, four years ago, we'd have lost a game like this."
In an intriguing game for November, the Hawks revealed again that something special may be bubbling at Philips this season. Their fifth win in a row came at the hands of a Portland team that had won six straight, the team that led the league in field-goal defense and was seeking to avenge an earlier loss to the Hawks .
"Maybe three, four years ago, we wouldn't have gotten this win," said forward Josh Smith, who scrapped to 20 points and 16 rebounds, his third double-double in his last four games. "It showed the will and maturity of this ballclub."
At 9-2, the Hawks lead the Eastern Conference and are tied with Phoenix for the NBA's best record. A team that was universally pegged as no better than fourth in the East is challenging the pecking order.
"It's kind of nice starting out at the top of your division," said coach Mike Woodson. "There's nothing wrong with winning the division."
Johnson led Atlanta with a season-high 35 points, 18 of them in the fourth quarter and overtime, and also had a hand in limiting Portland All-Star guard Brandon Roy to 17 points.
Johnson scored the team's first four points in overtime, including a 20-foot fade-away over Portland guard Rudy Fernandez with the shot clock expiring that gave the Hawks an 89-87 lead that they never gave up.
"Joe's our All-Star," Woodson said. "We expect that from him. I don't expect anything else. You put it in his hands, you expect him to deliver."
It was an unlikely finish, given the team's play through three quarters, which Smith described as simply "terrible."
Forward Marvin Williams put up a jump shot that hit the side of the backboard. Smith shot an airball from the baseline. Forward Zaza Pachulia was called for a double dribble going to the basket.
And that was just in the third quarter.
As the Hawks went into the fourth quarter after having put up all of 15 points in the third, they were shooting 39.1 percent from the floor, 21.4 percent from three-point range and trailed 67-58.
Between periods, Johnson got in Mike Bibby and Smith's ears, telling them, "We've got one more shot and we've got to make the most of it."
Johnson led the way, scoring 10 points in the fourth and dishing out three assists. After trailing by as many as 12 in the second and third quarters, the Hawks caught Portland at 72-72 on a Johnson three-pointer and forced another tie at 76-76 on another Johnson triple. They took an 85-82 lead on two Johnson free throws with 4.1 seconds left before Fernandez forced overtime with a fadeaway three-pointer over center Al Horford as time expired.
Hawks 99, Trail Blazers 95 (OT)
Next for Hawks
Who: vs. Heat
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
TV; radio: SPSO; 790
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