99 - 95 Final
  for this game

Johnson, Hawks overcome Iverson's big fourth quarter

Feb 12, 2009 - 5:13 AM AUBURN HILLS, Michigan (Ticker) -- The Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons could very well meet in the first round of the playoffs this spring. After Wednesday's showdown, the former officially has the upper hand.

Joe Johnson scored 25 points to lead the Hawks to a 99-95 victory over the Pistons on Wednesday, officially clinching the season series in the process.

"I don't know if this was a statement," Johnson said. "We've got a long way to go and we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. It was definitely a big win because these guys have given us trouble for the last few years."

The teams have just three head-to-head meetings on the slate this season and the Hawks have won the first two. They made it 2-for-2 thanks to a clean and explosive offensive showing, as they connected at a 51-percent rate (38-of-74) and committed just seven turnovers on the night.

"We're fighting for a playoff spot with them, and there's a big difference between the fourth and fifth spot," Hawks guard Flip Murray said. "That means the home court advantage. This was a big win for us to gain some advantage on them."

After a back-and-forth affair for 2 1/2 quarters, the Hawks took control late in the third. After Rodney Stuckey's layup gave Detroit a two-point edge, Atlanta responded with a 14-4 run to close the period. Most of the damage was done by Murray, who scored 10 points in the spurt - including a three-point play and a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions.

"I was trying to be aggressive and give us a spark off the bench," Murray said. "There were a lot of mismatches with switches and I had big guys on me, so I was just trying to penetrate and get to the hole for an easy basket."

The Hawks had to overcome a big effort from Allen Iverson to close the game out, as the All-Star scorer - who has endured a down season, numbers-wise - caught a hot streak in the fourth. Iverson, who has been battling the flu, hit back-to-back threes midway through the quarter to cut the deficit to 84-81 and scored 15 of his 28 points in the final frame.

"I'm still just real light-headed. That was my problem," Iverson said. "I was just dizzy at times and I actually threw up in a timeout, so I was struggling."

"I thought he came out and was aggressive and fought his way through the game," Pistons coach Michael Curry said. "He continued to help us get to the paint. I thought we did a tremendous job in the paint."

Josh Smith stripped Iverson with just 1:06 remaining to set up a pair of free throws by Joe Johnson and make it a seven-point game. Iverson answered with an off-balance drive to the basket, finishing with a layup to cut it to five, but it was hardly enough.

With just under 10 seconds remaining and the Pistons down by four, Iverson turned down a three and cut to the basket, finishing with a layup to make it a two-point game. But Johnson buried both free throws on the other end to double the lead and all but put away the game.

It was the third consecutive loss for the Pistons (27-23), who hold the fifth spot in the East but are 3 1/2 games behind No. 4 Atlanta (31-21) for home court in a potential first-round series.

"It's definitely a good time for us to have (the break) right now," Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince said. "We definitely need this, especially the way we're playing right now."

The Hawks have won four of five since struggling throughout January.

"They played hard. This team pushes you to play hard," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "If you don't meet their intensity, they can embarrass you. This was a big game going into the break because you have two teams, along with Miami, that's fighting for that fourth spot."

Smith had a strong all-around outing, collecting 10 points, seven boards, seven assists and four steals. Murray provided a lift off the bench, falling two points short of a season high with 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting.

However, the Hawks have a tough slate ahead of them after the All-Star break, continuing their road trip against the likes of the Lakers, Trail Blazers, Jazz and Nuggets.