Hawks 99, Pistons 98

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ATLANTA (AP)—Joe Johnson delivered big in the final seconds for the Atlanta Hawks for the second time in three games.

Johnson hit a running layup with 7.5 seconds left to help the Hawks beat the Detroit Pistons 99-98 on Tuesday night.

“Those are the moments I grew up dreaming about when I was playing in my front yard,” Johnson said.

The Hawks kept the Pistons from becoming the first NBA team with 40 wins. Detroit, which lost at Indiana on Saturday night, has lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.

Detroit (39-8) still boasts the best record in the league.

“You always dream you’re going against the team with the best record,” Johnson said.

On Friday night, Johnson sank a jumper with less than a second left to give the Hawks a 96-94 win over Orlando.

“Joe is really a clutch performer,” said Hawks forward Josh Smith. “We knew he would give us a lift.”

Johnson led the Hawks with 29 points.

“We had control of the game,” said Detroit’s Ben Wallace. “We didn’t really play with the heart and desire that we usually play with. We didn’t come out and impose our will on this team.

“We look to come out and win every game but you know, strange things happen in this league. Some nights it doesn’t go for you.”

Trailing 98-97, Atlanta (15-32) had possession with 26.7 seconds left. Johnson worked the clock down before driving past Rasheed Wallace for the layup off the glass.

Following a time-out, Richard Hamilton missed a short jumper over Johnson. The Pistons had one final possession but couldn’t get off a shot after inbounding the ball with one-tenth of a second left.

“They made plays. We didn’t,” said Pistons coach Flip Saunders. “As I told our guys, I haven’t thought over the last week that we’ve been very sharp. We’ve let teams hang around. Guys are tired or whatever, but we’re not playing with that zip, with that sense of urgency.”

Zaza Pachulia added 16 points and Al Harrington had 14 for Atlanta, which has won four of five games.

Tayshaun Prince had eight of Detroit’s final 10 points to lead the Pistons with 29 points. Chauncey Billups added 20 and Hamilton had 16.

Atlanta survived Detroit’s best punch early. Even with Detroit shooting 63.2 percent from the field in the first half, the Hawks stayed close, trailing only 60-57 at halftime as Johnson had 18 points.

In Detroit’s 117-89 win at Atlanta on Jan. 19, the Pistons led by 31 points in the third quarter, but this time the Hawks wouldn’t fade.

“The first time we played them, we came out tentative, knowing they were the best team in the league,” Johnson said. “Tonight we came out with some pride and dignity.”

Detroit led 81-77 after three quarters and a basket by Josh Childress pulled Atlanta to within two points early in the final period.

Johnson’s jumper from the corner gave Atlanta an 89-87 lead with 5:55 left— the Hawks’ first lead since scoring the first two points of the game.

“We have had a lot of close games that we just didn’t make plays down the stretch, but we refused to lose tonight,” said Hawks coach Mike Woodson.

The Hawks were without point guard Tyronn Lue, who suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee in Monday’s practice. Lue is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Notes

Detroit activated G Lindsey Hunter from the inactive list for the game, and Hunter saw his first action of the season. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle on Oct. 5. The Pistons placed rookie F Jason Maxiell on the inactive list. … Woodson said the team likely will make at least one roster move Wednesday to compensate for the loss of Lue. Woodson said the team may recall guard Donta Smith from Arkansas of the NBADL or look elsewhere for backcourt help.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Detroit
C. Billups C. Billups
4-13,  20 Pts
3 Rebs, 7 Assists
 Atlanta
Z. Pachulia Z. Pachulia
5-6,  16 Pts
9 Rebs, 4 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists