for this game

Johnson, Smith help Hawks rout Clippers

Mar 15, 2008 - 4:44 AM By Phil Foley PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Joe Johnson and Josh Smith made sure that the Atlanta Hawks notched a much-needed win down the stretch.

Smith scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half and Johnson poured in 21 of his team-high 28 in the third quarter to lead the Hawks to a 117-93 rout of the lowly Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.

Mike Bibby recorded a double-double with 14 points and a season-high 14 assists and Josh Childress poured in 14 and grabbed nine rebounds for the Hawks (27-38), who moved into a tie with the idle New Jersey Nets (27-38) for the eighth seed in the anemic Eastern Conference.

"I'm very pleased," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "I thought it was a total team effort across the board. We came out with a defensive mindset. (The Clippers) can score points. I thought we did an excellent job across the board defensively."

Atlanta, which is enjoying its first playoff run in eight years, desperately needed a win as the club has struggled of late, winning just once over its last seven games.

But luckily for the Hawks, they faced the Clippers (21-43) - a franchise that has been almost equally as futile as playoff-challenged Atlanta over the past decade - on Friday.

The Hawks dominated the Clippers - who have made it to the postseason just once since the turn of the century - putting forth one of their most complete performances of the season.

"Every game from this point of the season is a playoff game," Johnson said. "I think the team came out with assertiveness and urgency and got a win."

"It was just going our way,"Hawks point guard Mike Bibby said. "We got stops when we needed to and that lead to easy fast-break points. We needed a game like this to get our confidence up and show ourselves that we could play like this."

The hapless Clippers battled the Hawks for the first six-plus minutes of the game and were tied at 15-15 with 5:38 remaining on Tim Thomas' layup before Smith and the Hawks exploded on a 21-7 run to take a 36-22 lead through one period.

Smith, who set a career high with 22 rebounds in Atlanta's loss to the red-hot Houston Rockets on Wednesday, connected for 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the period as Atlanta built a 14-point cushion.

"The Hawks came out and they were aggressive in that first quarter," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "Defensively, they did a good job."

The Hawks extended the lead to 63-48 at the half behind torrid 62 percent (28-for-45) shooting from the field and a 75-percent effort (9-of-12) from the former Slam Dunk champion Smith.

"My teammates got me the ball," Smith said. "Mike Bibby is very unselfish. He found me inside, and I got easy layups. Basically, it was my half in the first half and Joe Johnson's half in the second half."

When Smith cooled off in the third quarter, Johnson, Atlanta's lone All-Star, was there to pick up the slack.

The 26-year-old former Arkansas Razorback tallied an astounding 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field and was a perfect 6-of-6 from behind the arc to help Atlanta extend the cushion to 96-71 through three quarters.

"I think they had a few mismatches," Johnson said of the porous Clippers' defense. "I just took what the defense gave me."

Johnson's six 3-pointers in the third quarter were one shy of the all-time Hawks' record of seven set by Steve Smith and Henry James in the 1996-1997 campaign.

"Joe Johnson got hot and that was pretty much the difference," Clippers forward Tim Thomas said. "Again and again, they did a good job of running and getting transition points. They kept pushing and Joe got going. It's hard to come back from down 20."

The big lead meant that the Hawks had the rare opportunity to rest some of their starters for the fourth quarter. Atlanta's first unit watched from the bench as a severe storm ripped through the arena.

The same storm, which wreaked havoc by postponing the SEC tournament contest between Kentucky and Georgia at the Georgia Dome after puncturing numerous holes in its facade, caused relatively minor damage at Philips Arena.

"They were showing me the top of the arena," Smith said. "The (storm) ripped some stuff down from the ceiling. You could tell that the storm was right around the corner."

Hawks officials were assessing the extent of the damage to the arena after the game.

Rookie Al Thornton poured in 18 points in his first trip back to the state of Georgia and Tim Thomas added 18 for the Clippers, who have dropped 10 of their last 12 games.

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