for this game

Johnson hits for 41 as Hawks win fourth straight

Dec 28, 2008 - 4:12 AM By Phil Foley PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Joe Johnson and the defensive-minded Atlanta Hawks came out running with the young Chicago Bulls. They won the game anyway.

Johnson poured in a season-high 41 points and Josh Smith posted a season-best 24 to pace the Hawks to a 129-117 victory over the Bulls on Saturday at Philips Arena.

Mike Bibby scored 17 points and Marvin Williams added 16 and eight rebounds for the Hawks, who have won six of seven on their season-long, eight-game homestand to improve to 13-2 here this season.

"Any game that you can play that is high scoring is fun," Johnson said. "But you always want to be on the winning side."

Ben Gordon poured in 33 points and rookie Derrick Rose scored 27 for the Bulls, who have dropped four of their last five games.

Gordon also surpassed Scottie Pippen as the team's all-time leader in made 3-pointers. He was 6-of-8 from the arc en route to 669 career shots from the arc to pass Pippen's mark of 664.

"It's a nice accomplishment," Gordon said. "But when you lose, it doesn't really mean (anything)."

Andres Nocioni gave the Hawks their nightly Philips Arena scare, cutting the Bulls' deficit to 107-105 with a 3-pointer with 7:15 remaining in the final period.

But true to form, the Hawks held on, embarking on a 16-7 run to put away the game.

Bibby ignited the spurt with a long jumper to extend the lead to four before Smith took control, scoring seven points, including a monstrous putback dunk with 65 seconds remaining to give Atlanta a 121-112 lead.

Bibby capped the run, draining two free throws with just under a minute remaining to re-establish the double-digit lead.

"Our offense was solid tonight," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "It was probably the best it's been all season. Everybody was clicking on all cylinders. It was an offensive performance tonight on both sides of the ball."

The win was the seventh in eight games for the Hawks, who have done most of it thanks to their All-Star Johnson.

Four nights after recording his second career triple-double in Atlanta's 99-88 win over the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder, Johnson terrorized the Bulls.

The 27-year-old guard connected on 16-of-31 from the field, including four from behind the arc. He finished two points shy of matching his career high of 43 points set on March 7, 2006, vs. the Golden State Warriors.

"Everybody was making a big deal of (my career-high numbers)," Johnson said. "They were telling me to get back on the end of the floor and shoot free throws. The main thing was that we were going to get the win, and that was it."

In all, the teams combined for 246 points, shot a combined 55 percent (92-for-167) from the field and finished 21-of-39 from behind the 3-point line.

"It just shows our versatility," Smith said. "We can play any style they ask us to play. ... Whatever it takes for us to win, slowing it down or (playing) fast, we got to do it."

About the only one not enjoying the offensive fireworks was Woodson, who preaches defense to his club.

And as of late, it has responded, holding its last nine opponents under the century mark entering this one.

That streak ended Saturday, much to the chagrin of the fifth-year Hawks coach.

"(Woodson) was talking about (the lack of defense) all game," Johnson said. "We had to hear about it the whole game. At least we won ... he feels a little bit better about it. But we'll hear about it (on Sunday) at practice."

About the only semblance of defense Saturday was from the Philips Arena operations crew, which quickly patched a hole in the arena's roof that was causing liquid to seep down onto the court.

"So much for defense, huh?" Woodson queried. "You're going to have games like (Saturday). This was one of those offensive explosions."

Chicago shot 65 percent (15-for-23) en route to building a 35-32 lead through one quarter. But the Bulls would see a seven-point lead evaporate in the second.

"It's frustrating to not be able to get enough stops," Rose said. "We played so well offensively tonight, but we couldn't get it going on the (defensive) end. This is the NBA, so you're going to have to play well on both ends if you're going to be successful."

Highlighted by 11 points from Smith, Atlanta opened the period with a 24-8 run to build a 56-43 lead on Johnson's five-foot jumper with 5:53 remaining.

Chicago chipped away, closing the deficit to 93-92 on a 3-pointer from Gordon with 79 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

However, the Bulls couldn't keep up in the final quarter as the Hawks defense held Chicago to just seven field goals while shooting 55 percent from the field (11-of-20).

"(Playing defense) starts from practice," Gordon said. "We can't expect to come out and just expect to figure it out during the game. Practice makes perfect, and we have to carry it over to the game."