Hawks, Smith hold off Wizards

The Atlanta Hawks defeated the Washington Wizards on Friday night by a final score of 104-95 at Philips Arena.

The win was Atlanta’s eighth in their last nine games and pulls them to within a half game of the division leading Miami Heat.

Head coach Larry Drew knew coming into the game that Washington was a more formidable team than their 2-13 record would indicate and that the Hawks would need to stay focused to play their best.

“From a mental stand point it was challenge,” Drew said.  “Since we’ve been here on this home stand, this was probably one of the most challenging games.”

Guards Devin Harris and DeShawn Stevenson paced the Hawks early in the game, as both had hot hands from behind the three-point arch.  The duo knocked down five treys in the first half to help Atlanta jump out to a 54-41 halftime lead.

The sharp shooting Stevenson connected from long range in the final minutes of the second quarter for the 500th time in his NBA career.  He finished the game with 15 points, a new season high.

“I’m just going to the right spots,” Stevenson said.  “I got to give it up to Teague and Devin Harris; they’re always looking for and finding me.”

Atlanta led by as many as 18 points midway through the third quarter, but led by only nine to start the fourth.

Washington continued to chip away at the Atlanta lead into the final frame, pulling to within two at 84-82 on a Kevin Seraphin jumper with 8:40 to go in the game.

But that was as close as the Wizards would get.

Back-to-back buckets by Al Horford, the second coming on a perfectly executed alley-oop pass from Jeff Teague, put Atlanta back in front by six.

Josh Smith put the game out of reach in the final few minutes.  He hit a three-pointer from the right wing and buried a 19 footer the very next possession.

With 1:55 on the clock Smith finished off the Wizards with a nifty running hook shot in the lane.  Smith was fouled on the play and converted the free throw to put Atlanta up 102-91.

Smith, who had game highs in points (23) and rebounds (15), said after the game that basketball is a game of runs and that every game is a learning opportunity in the NBA.

“When you blow a team out you don’t get anything out of it,” Smith said.  “We made a run of our own at the end of the game.  We’re learning and we still have a lot of learning to do.”

Coach Drew was happy with the win, but said he would like for his team to find an easier way to close out ball game once they build a big lead.

“We have to develop a killer instinct,” Drew said.  “It’s something that doesn’t come over night.”

The Hawks will look to take another step in developing that killer instinct tomorrow night as they travel to face Memphis to face the Grizzlies, who currently own the best winning percentage in the NBA.


Game Notes . . . Al Horford finished the game with 14 points and 14 rebounds, his fourth consecutive double-double . . . Devin Harris registered a new season high in points with 15 . . . All five Atlanta starters finished with double digits in points . . . First round pick John Jenkins made a last minute appearance for Atlanta, his first game action since Nov. 24 versus the Los Angeles Clippers . . . Kyle Korver, who is suffering from back spasms, missed his third straight game.