for this game

Hawks hold off Knicks, march toward playoffs

Mar 31, 2008 - 12:18 AM By Phil Foley PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- The Atlanta Hawks are sure not making their first march to the postseason in nine years look easy.

Marvin Williams had 27 points and 10 rebounds and Joe Johnson added 25 and 13 assists to help the Hawks escape with a 114-109 victory over the woeful New York Knicks on Sunday afternoon.

Rookie Al Horford recorded a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds and Mike Bibby and Josh Childress chipped in 16 points apiece for Atlanta (33-40), which moved 2 1/2 games ahead of the idle New Jersey Nets (31-43) in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We can't feel comfortable until April 20, when the playoffs start," Williams said. "The goal is to keep fighting for it, so we have to stay the course and keep working hard."

"We need to keep the pressure on," Atlanta forward Josh Smith said. "Keep winning and distancing ourselves from the pack."

The Knicks, who were eliminated from a playoff spot after their loss to Toronto on Friday, looked like they were the team who had playoff aspirations on the line early on as they battled the Hawks through the first three periods, thanks to 33 points from its leading scorer Jamal Crawford.

But Atlanta finally took control of the contest in the final period, reeling off the first eight points of the fourth quarter to build a double-digit lead.

Smith, who began the run by splitting a pair of free throws 41 seconds into the final period, capped the burst - taking a pass from Johnson in the low post for a dunk with 9:04 remaining to give Atlanta a 92-80 lead.

"They're going to make runs," Smith said. "We just needed to weather the storm. We were able to do that by playing together and making the extra pass."

But the Hawks let the Knicks back into the game with a 12-4 run in the game's final minutes, capped by a three-point play by Nate Robinson to cut the deficit to 111-107.

However, Johnson connected on two free throws and Williams split a pair to seal the win.

"(It was a) much-needed (win) for us at home," said Johnson, whose club has won seven of its last nine games. "I'm glad we came out in the fourth quarter and picked it up. The first three quarters, we didn't have the energy."

Despite posting wins in their last two contests, the playoff-challenged Hawks have not made their march towards their first playoff birth since the 1998-99 campaign look like a cakewalk.

On Friday, the Hawks almost blew leads of 18 and 22 points before holding on to a three-point win against the Chicago Bulls.

In this one, they let the putrid Knicks, who packed it in months ago, hang in the game for the first three quarters.

"On paper, we were better than that," Johnson said. "I was worried that our guys would take them lightly. Our energy wasn't there in the first half."

Atlanta looked like it was going to break the game open in the first half, after swingman Josh Childress connected on a three-point play to give Atlanta a 53-46 lead.

But the resilient Knicks battled right back, tallying eight of the final 10 points of the quarter to cut the deficit to 55-54 at the break.

"I thought we came out somewhat lethargic," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "We were kind of coasting a little bit, I thought."

"Their record doesn't show the type of team they are," Williams said. "They have a lot of guys that can score the basketball, a lot of guys that play extremely hard. It's never going to be easy when you play the Knicks."

Crawford single-handedly kept the Knicks in the game in the third quarter, netting 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field to hold the Hawks to an 84-80 lead after three periods.

"I felt pretty good in the third quarter," Crawford said. "I think my teammates did a pretty good job of finding me, and I was just trying to take advantage of it."

"Jamal's effort in the third quarter was great," embattled Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said. "He kept us in the game."

The 6-5 Crawford finished with 39 points and David Lee poured in 17 for the Knicks, who have lost 14 of their last 16 games.

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