ATLANTA (AP)—The Atlanta Hawks withstood a fourth-quarter challenge Saturday night—no small feat for the team that still has the worst record in the NBA.
The win was the second in two nights for Atlanta following a four-game losing streak. The Hawks held fourth-quarter leads in all of the four straight losses, and they were in danger of losing another late lead Saturday night.
Joe Johnson, who had 20 points, hit a key 3-pointer to help turn back the Hornets’ fourth-quarter comeback attempt.
“They’re learning how to win and that’s really nice to see, because these guys really have worked their butts off,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.
“They’ve put themselves in position to win a lot of games down the stretch. The last two nights we did everything we’re supposed to do down the stretch to secure the ‘W.”’
Paul was with the team but not in uniform after tearing a ligament in his right thumb Friday night in a home win over Portland. Paul’s right hand was in a cast, and he is expected to miss two weeks.
Kirk Snyder started at point guard in place of Paul, the NBA leader among rookies in scoring, assists, steals and minutes. Snyder scored a career-high 22 points Friday, but had only four points with four assists Saturday.
“I have to start Speedy,” said Hornets coach Byron Scott, adding his team lacked the necessary ball-handling skills without Claxton on the court.
“Most teams that saw this game will see they have to pressure those two guys at the start of the game,” said Scott, referring to Snyder and the Hornets’ other starting guard against the Hawks, J.R. Smith. “… From the start of the game, I just thought we came out as soft as butter.”
Claxton helped fill the void left by Paul’s absence. Still playing as the Hornets’ sixth man, Claxton topped his previous season high of 27 points and his previous career high of 28 points on Feb. 25, 2004, with the Warriors at Memphis.
“We lost, so it doesn’t matter,” Claxton said. “I don’t look at stats.”
Claxton hit 11 of 13 free throw attempts. He added a game-high four steals, but still the Hornets fell to 5-12 on the road.
“This is typical for us on the road,” Claxton said. “We definitely have to change that and be a better team.”
Harrington had 12 points in the first quarter and 16 points in the half as Atlanta led 57-53 at halftime. The Hawks stretched the lead to 11 points in the third quarter and led 82-72 at the end of the period.
Atlanta led 91-81 with 6:30 left, but then committed turnovers on back-to-back possessions as the Hornets pulled within 91-87.
The Hawks answered with a 3-pointer by Johnson with 4:25 left, and the Hornets could pull no closer than five points the rest of the way.
“We just had to weather the storm tonight,” Harrington said. “Guys were really bringing it to us. Speedy was really tough to guard on the pick-and-roll.”
Tyronn Lue had 15 points for Atlanta and Josh Smith added 12, his third straight game scoring in double figures. Rookie Marvin Williams had 11 points and seven rebounds. ^Notes: Claxton apparently hurt the ring finger on his left hand and was taken to the locker room for treatment early in the second period. He returned to action with two fingers wrapped but still scored 10 points in the second period. … The Hawks have their fourth two-game winning streak of the season but have not won as many as three consecutive games. … The Hornets were denied their first four-game winning streak since Dec. 6-12, 2003.