for this game

Johnson, Hawks push toward playoffs

Apr 12, 2008 - 3:23 AM By Larry Fleisher PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

NEW YORK (Ticker) -- If the Atlanta Hawks were serious about clinching the final playoff spot, it was not apparent Tuesday in Indiana. For most of their visit to New York on Friday, it was a different story.

Joe Johnson scored 34 points as the Hawks jumped out to big lead before hanging on for a 116-104 victory over the New York Knicks on Friday night.

Rookie Al Horford collected 19 points and 11 rebounds for Atlanta (37-42), which remained two games ahead of the Indiana Pacers (35-44) with three games remaining.

Mike Bibby and Josh Smith chipped in 24 apiece for the Hawks, who shot 55 percent (42-of-76) and won for the seventh time in nine games.

That lead could have been three, but the Hawks did not play with a sense of urgency and were handed a 112-98 loss in Indiana on Tuesday. That gave the Pacers the tiebreaker in the season series and further delayed Atlanta clinching its first playoff berth since 1999.

"Effort was a big part of our game plan," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "If we come in here and control the game tempo and put forth the effort, we'll put ourselves in position to possibly win a game, and I thought we did that."

"We definitely had effort tonight, knowing it was a big game for us," Johnson said. "These last three, four games that we have are big. I thought in the second half we had a little slippage where New York made their run, but we withstood it and maintained our lead."

The Hawks' last playoff appearance was a trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals where they were swept by the eighth-seeded Knicks. On the same court as their last postseason game, the Hawks rarely led by less than double digits for the first 36 minutes.

The Hawks saw their edge cut under double digits when Nate Robinson hit a layup with just under eight minutes remaining. After a missed layup by Bibby, rookie Wilson Chandler made it a seven-point game on a reverse layup with 7:34 left.

The Knicks continued coming back and were within 96-91 on Quentin Richardson's 3-pointer at the 6:43 mark. The Hawks continued to let the Knicks hang around but ultimately sealed the victory when Smith put in a layup for a 12-point edge with just two minutes remaining.

"You play a team like New York, they're not in it, but I'm sure they're trying to play to knock somebody out," Smith said. "We had to come to play tonight."

After taking care of New York, the Hawks will return home to face Boston in front of an expected sellout at Phillips Arena. They will conclude the season with back-to-back games against Miami and Orlando.

"This is a chance to see where we're at, see what we made of," Johnson said. "We get a chance to play them at home so, hopefully, we'll come out and take care of home court."

Johnson scored 19 points in the first half as Atlanta took a 19-point lead at the break. The Hawks led by 14 after three before nearly collapsing.

"Joe Johnson was great tonight," New York coach Isiah Thomas said. "He was making shots from everywhere. Atlanta played a good game. We kept battling and fighting back but they were just a little bit better."

Jamal Crawford scored 20 points for the Knicks, who had equaled a season high with three straight wins. New York needs at least one win in its final two games to avoid matching the 23-59 mark set two seasons ago.

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