for this game

Bibby's 30 points help Hawks hold off Bulls

Mar 29, 2008 - 4:23 AM By Phil Foley PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Mike Bibby and the Atlanta Hawks survived a scare against the Chicago Bulls.

Bibby shook off a sprained left thumb to score a season-high 30 points and Joe Johnson tallied 19 to help the Hawks escape with a 106-103 victory over the Bulls on Friday.

Rookie Al Horford poured in 16 points and Marvin Williams scored 13 for Atlanta (32-40), which extended its lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference to 1 1/2 games over the New Jersey Nets (31-42). New Jersey lost to the Indiana Pacers on Friday.

"It would have been (a bad loss)," Hawks forward Josh Smith said. "We found out that New Jersey had lost from looking up top (at the scoreboard). We understood that it was real big to win this game."

The Hawks, who are looking to break an eight-year playoff drought, avenged an 11-point loss to the Bulls at the United Center on Tuesday. In that one, Atlanta took a two-point lead into the break but showed up flat to begin the second half.

It took an extra quarter this time, but Atlanta came dauntingly close to blowing a 22-point, third-quarter lead in this one.

Atlanta seemingly had the game in hand, as Bibby drained two 3-pointers and dished two assists and Horford tallied six points as the Hawks opened up the second half with a 15-4 run.

Horford got Atlanta's crowd on its feet after dunking over Drew Gooden and another Bulls' defender to give the Hawks a 72-50 lead with 7:01 remaining in the third.

However, Ben Gordon and the Bulls stampeded right back into this one with an 13-5 run midway through the final period, capped by Gordon's shot from the arc to cut the deficit to 95-94 with 5:00 remaining in the fourth.

"The coach ran some plays for me," Gordon said. "I was able to get a good rhythm."

A Mount Vernon, New York native, Gordon was on fire in the period, scoring 16 of Chicago's 34 fourth-quarter points, practically single-handedly answering the Hawks on each possession until the last shot.

"We tried not to let Gordon touch the ball," Horford said. "Unfortunately he got hot at the end of the game."

Gordon had a chance to send the game to overtime, lofting a contested 3-pointer from three feet above the middle of the arc over Johnson and defensive specialist Mario West at the buzzer.

"I just kind of saw him coming my way," Johnson said. "I stopped and made him pull up."

An uneasy feeling fell over the Hawks and the 17,223 in attendance at Philips Arena as the ball danced around the rim.

"If Gordon has the ball on the other end of the court, I'm worried," Williams said. "The dude can put the ball in the basket."

"My stomach was turning," Smith added. "I was (hoping) he missed it."

But the arena was able to exhale after the ball bounced off the rim as the Hawks held on for a much-needed victory.

"It felt good," Gordon said of the shot. "It kind of rolled around the rim a little bit and rolled right out. It was a good comeback by us, but we needed an effort like that early in the game."

The escape of the playoff-challenged Hawks showed the growth of the young team, which likely would have crumbled in a similar situation last season. "We probably would have lost by 10, after being up by 20," Williams said. "I think that shows us that we've matured."

"You can look at last year when we were up on this team and they beat us," Smith added. "It shows the growth and maturity. We're playing for something. We understand the urgency of it."

It didn't look like Atlanta would be sweating this one out at the end as Bibby led a strong Atlanta charge, running at Chicago, as the club roared out to a 31-12 first-quarter lead. The 6-1 point guard connected on all four shots from the field, including three 3-pointers, to give Atlanta a commanding lead.

"With the leadership of Mike Bibby, you can't ask for anything much better," Johnson said. "He took control of the game and carried us to victory."

Atlanta struggled with Bibby off the floor, as Chicago rattled off 15 of the next 21 points to cut the Hawks' lead to 35-29 on Thabo Sefolosha's 3-pointer with 9:20 remaining in the second quarter.

But Atlanta's new point guard returned to the game and stopped the bleeding, as the Hawks took a 57-46 lead into the break.

Luol Deng scored 19 and Gordon added 18 for Chicago (28-44), which fell four games behind the Hawks in the East.

"Every loss is tough, especially when it kind of feels like you have a chance to win and don't get it done," Gordon said. "It's one of the tougher losses."

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