for this game

Johnson, Hawks barely edge lowly Bobcats

Dec 16, 2008 - 7:00 AM By Phil Foley PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- It was better late than never for Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks.

Johnson poured in 28 points and Josh Smith added 15 and five blocks to lead the Hawks to an 83-79 victory over the lowly Charlotte Bobcats on Monday.

Mike Bibby scored 14 points and Al Horford recorded a double-double with 12 and 14 rebounds for Atlanta, which struggled through the first three quarters before finally taking control in the fourth.

"This could have been an easy game for us," said Johnson, who poured in 18 points in the second half. "But we have a tendency to make all of them hard."

Former Hawk Boris Diaw chimed in with 25 points in his second game with Charlotte and Raymond Felton added 15 for the Bobcats, who have lost seven in a row.

"We had a bad ending in the third period, then we couldn't make a shot in the last 15 minutes of the game," Charlotte coach Larry Brown said. "Then they blocked a lot of shots. We just couldn't get anything to go down. We've lost a lot of games like this in the fourth quarter."

Atlanta always has had all sorts of problems against Charlotte, the NBA's newest franchise.

Until their playoff-bound 2007-08 campaign, the Hawks had lost the season series to the Bobcats and ended up with the same or a worse record in Charlotte's first three campaigns.

It was hard to tell which club was the expansion team during those dark seasons for Atlanta's franchise.

For three quarters in this one, many were pondering which club entered this one with a long losing streak and which team was 8-1 at home.

Johnson had his own theory as to why Atlanta started out with a whimper.

"When you come off a big win (against Cleveland on Saturday), I think we kind of let up a little bit and take (Charlotte) for granted," Johnson said. "They hit us in the mouth, but we came back."

Perhaps also looking ahead to its Wednesday rematch against the world champion Boston Celtics, Atlanta started the game slow before a sparse crowd at Philips Arena.

"Nothing against Charlotte, they're a great team, but people don't come out (to see us) for these games," Smith said. "It's hard getting energy because there's no one in the stands."

Atlanta trailed by as many as nine in the first three quarters before finally showing up after coach Mike Woodson called timeout after Raymond Felton drained a 3-pointer to give Charlotte a 65-57 lead with 3:17 remaining in the third.

Woodson gave Johnson some much-needed rest before Bibby rallied the team together.

"He just told us to keep working and keep up the pressure and keep fighting and we'll get back in it," Johnson said of Bibby. "Eventually, we did."

Powered by five points from Johnson and four from Horford, Atlanta embarked on an 11-3 run to tie the contest, 68-68, through three quarters and extended the advantage in the fourth.

Horford's rebound bucket 49 seconds into the frame gave Atlanta its first lead before the club rattled off 10 of the next 13 points to open up a nine-point lead with 4:22 remaining on a hook shot by Horford.

Charlotte cut the lead to 80-77 on two free throws by Felton with 47 seconds remaining.?? But Johnson hit a clutch jumper from just inside the left arc to re-establish a five-point lead on Atlanta's next possession.

Smith swatted Emeka Okafor's shot on the other side of the floor before Marvin Williams split a pair of free throws to seal the win.

"Once we got over the hump, it was OK," Bibby said. "It took a while. ... It doesn't matter how we do it as long as we win."

Atlanta's defense lead the club's late resurgence. The Hawks held the Bobcats to 20 percent (4-of-20) shooting from field while swatting six shots.

"We just can't find ways to get the ball in the basket," Brown said. "We got a little too fast after they made a run for us. We had some empty possessions where we tried to do too much too soon instead of really squeezing a little bit and getting a better shot."

Charlotte came out of the gate strong, connecting on 50 percent (19-for-38) from the field before taking a 48-42 lead into the break.

The Bobcats extended the lead to nine on two free throws by Diaw with 7:17 remaining in the third period.

But after Felton's 3-pointer four minutes later, things went downhill for the struggling Bobcats, who have not won since December 3 vs. the NBA-worst Oklahoma City Thunder.