ATLANTA (AP)—The Atlanta Hawks already had demonstrated that they could play with good teams—for three quarters.
On Saturday night, they finally finished a game, snapping a seven-game losing streak by beating San Antonio 94-84 to deny the Spurs their best 20-game start in franchise history.
The Hawks entered the game with the NBA’s worst record while the defending champion Spurs have the most wins in the league.
But the Spurs say they weren’t surprised by the Hawks’ strong game.
“Look at all their games,” said Tim Duncan, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. “They’ve been right in the cusp of winning a lot of games. They always play us well. They did when they came to San Antonio.”
The Hawks led the Spurs by 13 points after one quarter on Nov. 15 in San Antonio, but they faded late in a 103-79 loss during Atlanta’s streak of nine straight losses to open the season.
This time, the Hawks were stronger at the end, outscoring the Spurs 25-13 in the final period.
“We’ve had games early in the season when we were leading down the stretch,” said Josh Childress, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter. “This is a game we finished. We got the shots we wanted.”
The Hawks (3-16) won for the first time since Nov. 25.
The Spurs saw their six-game winning streak end.
“It just happens,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said. “It wasn’t our offense. Our defense was bad. We scored. We just couldn’t stop anybody.”
The Spurs (16-4) were denied their first 17-3 start. They also were 16-4 after 20 games last season.
The Hawks players have heard increasing local speculation about the future of second-year coach Mike Woodson.
“We’ve had a lot of adversity, a lot of stuff said about our team,” Josh Smith said. “We’ve got to ignore that stuff. Coach is a great coach and we hate to see him go down that path. We’re trying to play as hard as we can to prevent that from happening.”
Woodson called the win “unbelievable.”
“You play the best team in basketball like that, that says a lot for those guys,” Woodson said.
“I hope this is a learning lesson for our young guys. … Our defense was on the money. We moved the ball. We made shots when we had to make them. It was fun to watch.”
The Hawks trailed 71-69 after three quarters but raced to an eight-point lead in the final period, the last time at 86-78 on a fast-break basket by Childress.
After the Spurs pulled to 86-81, a jumper by Childress pushed the lead back to seven at 88-81. Following two free throws by Parker, Al Harrington’s drive gave Atlanta a 90-83 lead with 55 seconds left.
Tyronn Lue, who had 16 points in a backup role, made three free throws in the final 40 seconds to stretch the lead.
The Hawks hoped to catch the Spurs, playing the second night of back-to-back games, with tired legs. Two of the Spurs’ three losses have come in those second-night situations.
“They just kept coming at us and we couldn’t match their energy,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “There were some poor performances on our end, but a lot of it had to do with the aggressiveness and energy that they brought. It was a really good win for them.”
The Spurs appeared set to put the game away early, They led 23-15 after one quarter and stretched the lead to 14 points at 39-25 midway through the second period.
Johnson was 7-of-7 from the field in the second period, and his 14 points helped the Hawks finish the half strong as the Spurs settled for a 48-42 lead at the half.
The Hawks carried the momentum into the third period, finally taking a 57-56 lead on a fast-break basket by Harrington. The Hawks’ last lead of the period was 63-62, but Bowen answered with a 3-pointer and the Spurs—who were 15-0 when leading after three quarters—led 71-69 at the end of the period.
Hawks guard Royal Ivey started in his third straight game. … The Hawks have won three of their last four home games against the Spurs. … The Hawks outrebounded the Spurs 50-40 and had three players with 11 or more rebounds: Pachulia, 13; Harrington, 11; and Childress, 11.