for this game

Smith returns as Hawks claw Grizzlies

Dec 4, 2008 - 3:46 AM By Phil Foley PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Josh Smith was back to his old antics - dunking the ball high above the rim, swatting shots with authority and wreaking havoc on defense. Thus, it came as no surprise that the Atlanta Hawks took care of business against the lowly Memphis Grizzlies.

Smith scored 14 points in his return after a 12-game absence and Joe Johnson poured in 26 points, leading the Hawks to a 105-95 win over the Grizzlies on Wednesday.

Mike Bibby recorded his second-double double with 20 points and 10 assists and Marvin Williams contributed 16 points for Atlanta, which has won nine of 10 here dating to the 2007 postseason.

"We've been waiting for (Smith), and we're happy that he's back healthy," said Al Horford, who joined five Hawks in double figures with 15 points. "Hopefully, we'll be good for the rest of the year."

Behind a healthy Smith, the Hawks wreaked havoc on the defensive side of the ball earlier this season, allowing an average of just 84.0 points in the club's first three games before Atlanta's fourth-year power forward was hobbled by a high left ankle sprain in their November 7 contest against the Toronto Raptors.

Without its defensive anchor, Atlanta struggled on defense over the next dozen games, allowing an average of 100.8 points.

Atlanta was happy to see Smith patrol the paint again -- even if he was not full strength.

"It's great to have him back," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said of Smith, who he planned on limiting to 20 minutes but ended up finishing with 28. "He's a big part of what we do. He makes his presence known defensively with his shot-blocking and his rebounding."

Two days shy of his 23rd birthday, Smith set the tone from the get-go, stealing O.J. Mayo's pass and dishing it to Johnson for a transition layup for the first points of the game.

"I knew that I had to do something early to get myself established in the game," said Smith, who finished with six rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block. "I definitely wanted to start on the defensive end, and being able to come up with the steal off the tip was key."

Atlanta opened up an 11-point halftime lead behind 12 points from Johnson and six, five assists and four rebounds from Smith before seemingly putting away the game in the second half.

Bibby's 3-pointer gave the Hawks a 53-39 lead 14 seconds into the third quarter before Atlanta's point guard found Smith in the low post on the break.

Smith soared above the bucket for a monstrous two-handed dunk, electrifying the Philips Arena crowd.

While the Atlanta native may not be fully back in game shape, there's no doubt that the ankle is doing just fine.

"It felt good," Smith said of the dunk. "No problems (with my ankle). To be able to get some explosion like that early on before I got hurt (was good)."

"He looked good," Williams added. "Especially to be out on an ankle where at one point he couldn't walk on. It's just good to get him back in the lineup. In a few weeks, he'll be back to his old form."

Atlanta scored 24 of the first 33 points of the second half to build a 26-point lead before the Grizzlies chipped away, cutting the lead to 88-82 on Hakim Warrick's dunk with 9:43 remaining and back to six on an alley-oop layup by Warick with 1:03 seconds left.

It was too little, too late for the Grizzlies, who have lost seven straight and 11 of 12.

"We had to play with pride tonight," Memphis forward Rudy Gay said. "We didn't want to roll over for this team. It's still a disappointing loss."

Bibby sealed the deal for the Hawks - the NBA's most lethal team from behind the arc - by draining a pair of fourth quarter 3-pointers to hold the Grizzlies at bay after Atlanta failed to connect from the field for the first three-plus minutes of the final quarter.

"The game's not over until it's over," Horford said. "I felt we got a little complacent once we were up 26. I guess we kind of figured that they were going to give up. But no team gives up. Every team in this league is capable of coming back. So we kind of had to gather ourselves. We kind of got lucky a few times, and made a few stops to pull the game out."

Warrick tallied 20 points and fellow reserve Kyle Lowry chimed in with 17 for Memphis, which has dropped five straight versus Atlanta.

"I think in the third quarter, we didn't come out with the energy like we needed to in order to stay in the game," Grizzlies guard Mike Conley said. "The guys off the bench came in with a lot of energy. This is a really good Atlanta team, and we felt like we had a chance tonight."