for this game

Hawks return home, gain upper hand on Heat

Feb 28, 2009 - 4:56 AM ATLANTA (Ticker) -- The Atlanta Hawks were happy to back at home Friday night. They'd like to stay there come the opening round of the playoffs.

In a possible first-round playoff preview, the Hawks outlasted the Miami Heat, 91-83, to extend their lead to 2 1/2 games for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference standings.

"We knew coming into the game that it was going to be like a playoff game," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "Both teams are fighting for the fourth spot. They came out with a physical attack and we had to respond. I thought our guys stepped up and made plays."

Miami has been trying to climb into the top four but hasn't been able to get past Atlanta - due in large part to the fact that the team hasn't won back-to-back games since late January. That trend continued on Friday and the Hawks retained the upper hand.

"We'll play them again and it will be the kind of game that will go back-and-forth. They feel they can beat us, and we feel we can beat them," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "It's one of those teams we feel is a possible first-round matchup in the playoffs, so every game is going to go down like this and be very competitive."

It was a welcome reprieve for Atlanta, which recently concluded a six-game road trip with three straight losses before returning home for this one. Al Horford registered 21 points and a career-high 22 boards to lead the way as the Hawks took control of the season series, 2-1, with their Southeast Division rivals.

"Coach told us to approach it as a playoff-type game. We needed to make a statement. I came out real focused," Horford said. "You have those nights. They were all coming my way. I've kind of been waiting for a game like this to happen."

Joe Johnson added 24 points to lead five in double figures, while Horford became the first Hawks player to record a 20/20 game since Dikembe Mutombo accomplished the feat on January 31, 2001.

As it turned out, the Hawks needed every point and every rebound from their second-year center, as the Heat rallied late in the fourth quarter.

After falling behind by as many as 14, they pulled to within four with just over a minute left. Dwyane Wade dished to rookie forward Michael Beasley for a dunk to cut it to seven, then drove to the hoop a minute later for a lay-in.

"We weren't playing at the right pace, cutting hard on offense, setting screens - the details - things we were working on the last couple of days," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Defensively, we didn't really play with a sense of urgency until the fourth quarter."

With 1:15 on the clock, Beasley cut inside from the perimeter and went strong to the basket, finishing with a layup to slice the Hawks' lead to just 84-80. But that's as close as it would get the rest of the way.

"This is a big game for us," Atlanta forward Josh Smith said. "We came out and responded to the challenge. For us to respond the way we did after the road trip shows a lot of character."

Johnson buried a pair of free throws for Atlanta to push the lead to six. Mario Chalmers misfired from the arc, Johnson was fouled again and knocked down two more. Smith's steal and layup moments later officially put the game on ice.

"When you're in a playoff situation against a team like that, it's going to be ugly," Woodson said. "This was an ugly game. I'm glad we grinded it out and came out on the winning side."

Beasley scored 16 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter after battling foul trouble. Wade collected 21 points and 10 assists.

  • 47
    MattDOOM777 Added 5 roots

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    mrman226 Added 5 roots

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