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Hawks overcome return of Gasol

Dec 16, 2006 - 5:50 AM MEMPHIS, Tennessee (Ticker) -- The return of Pau Gasol failed to lead the Memphis Grizzlies to the win column.

Zaza Pachulia scored 22 points to lead five players in double figures as the Atlanta Hawks sent the Grizzlies to their fifth straight loss with a 97-88 victory.

Gasol looked understandably rusty in his first action since breaking his foot at the FIBA World championships in September. The 7-foot All-Star scored just four points in 17 minutes, making 1-of-5 shots.

"The fairy tale didn't come out like most would like - he comes back and you win the game," Grizzlies coach Mike Fratello said of Gasol's season debut. "It's going to take some time for him to get back to where he should be."

Gasol has as many turnovers and personal fouls combined (7) as he did points and rebounds, but his teammates said the performance was an aberration.

"Pau's going to make everybody's job a lot easier," Grizzlies forward Hakim Warrick said. "He needs to get a few games under him and get back in the flow, and he'll start playing like the All-Star that he is."

Atlanta snapped a four-game losing streak despite the absence of leading scorer Joe Johnson, who missed his fourth straight game with a calf injury.

"This is a huge win. We've struggled since Joe (Johnson) has been out," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "We played defense tonight like we did at the beginning of the season when we were on our 4-1 streak."

The Hawks did it with relative ease, bolting to a 22-10 lead in the opening quarter and breaking open the game with a 17-4 run to start the fourth.

Speedy Claxton scored a season-high 19 points and dished out 11 assists and Josh Smith added 16, 10 rebounds and five blocks for the Hawks, who shot 54 percent (38-of-71) from the field.

"Speedy (Claxton) has been searching and trying to get his legs under him," Woodson said. "After shootaround today, I said to Speedy, 'You've got to give us more.' I know he can score.

"When Joe is on the floor, the guys look to him. When he's not, guys are soul-searching. We showed tonight we could make it without him."

Trailing, 47-37, at halftime, Memphis got within four points on rookie Rudy Gay's jumper with 57 seconds left in the third quarter, but Tyronn Lue and Pachulia hit baskets to make it 67-60 heading into the final 12 minutes.

Smith then lead the 17-4 surge that extended the lead to 84-66 and put the game out of reach.

"They did a good job in the fourth quarter of executing and making shots," Warrick said. "We didn't make good enough decisions on the offensive end and couldn't execute well enough on defense. It's a tough loss."

Chucky Atkins scored 18 points and Warrick added 16 for Memphis (5-18), which owns the NBA's worst record.

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