for this game

Johnson comes up big late to lift Hawks over Pacers

Dec 31, 2008 - 5:05 AM INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Joe Johnson and Josh Smith had been carrying the Atlanta Hawks all night. It only made sense, then, that the pair connected for the game's biggest play.

Johnson buried a decisive 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter and combined with Smith for 51 points to lead the Hawks to their sixth victory in a row, 110-104, over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday.

With 32 seconds remaining and the Hawks nursing a one-point lead, Smith drove the baseline and kicked out to an open Johnson on the right wing. The veteran guard was up to the task, calmly connecting from the arc with one second on the shot clock to extend the edge to four.

"He's definitely our horse in the fourth quarter," Smith said of Johnson, who scored 12 of his 27 points in the final stanza. "Big shot after big shot he was hitting."

After Danny Granger misfired on the other end, Johnson iced the game with a pair of free throws as Atlanta closed December in style. Johnson and Smith combined to score the Hawks' last 16 points, repeatedly coming through big even as the Pacers continued to push back.

"I just wanted to be aggressive (in the fourth quarter)," Johnson said. "All game I was seeing a lot of double- and triple-teams. When the fourth quarter came, I said, 'I'm going to catch it, try to go quick or just make the easy play.'"

The way the game ended was indicative of the entire night for Indiana, which repeatedly fell behind and clawed right back through the entire second half.

"We're putting ourselves in position to win against elite teams. That's the good news," Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said. "The bad news is we haven't figured out how to win games down the stretch."

With about two minutes to play, point guard Jarrett Jack buried driving layups on consecutive possessions, drawing a foul on the second one and completing the three-point play. That cut the Pacers' deficit to just one at 105-104, but Granger missed an 11-footer one possession later, setting the stage for Johnson's heroics in the process.

"At the last second, Josh saw me and skipped it across the court," Johnson said of his 3-pointer. "I just took my time and knocked it down."

The game was a fight all night, with neither team ever leading by more than six. Still, the Hawks maintained some measure of control for the majority of the second half - repeatedly thwarting the Pacers' rallies.

"It seems like we're one or two plays away," Jack said. "We just have to be able to play for an entire 48 minutes."

With Atlanta holding a five-point lead early in the third, Granger completed a rare four-point play to spark a mini-run, which culminated in Rasho Nesterovic's 18-footer that tied the game at 60-60.

Later in the period, Marquis Daniels tied things up once again with a layup, but the Hawks pulled right back ahead. They built their lead to 81-75 before Indiana reserve Travis Diener buried consecutive 3-pointers to pull the Pacers even once again.

The Hawks now have won nine of 10 since suffering through a three-game skid earlier this month, winning seven of those games at home, where they are 14-2 this season. The road has been a different story, but Tuesday's victory brings Atlanta to within a game of the .500 mark away from home at 7-8.

"I think guys are committed," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "We're really working hard on the defensive end, rebounding the basketball and we're sharing it offensively. We're coming up with big plays in the fourth quarter."

The Pacers, meanwhile, have dropped four straight and have the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Granger led Indiana with 25 points and Jack added 22.