The Hawks had to refire their offense in the fourth quarter Monday night to turn back a late Memphis rally and defeat the Grizzlies 116-99. Josh Smith had 26 points, eight rebounds and six assists to lead the Hawks, who had six players in double figures.
When the Hawks built a 101-63 advantage late in the third quarter, they seemed to be cruising to the victory. However, Memphis closed with a 9-2 run and then opened the fourth with 13 consecutive points, part of a 23-4 run to start the period.
The rally made the game more interesting, and forced Atlanta to put its starters back in the game.
"I think (the Grizzlies) just kind of played recklessly, played with nothing to lose, played with a free attitude," said the Hawks' Josh Childress, who finished with 14 points. "They made a couple of shots, and then they got going."
Fans who had booed the Grizzlies earlier in the half suddenly were on their feet -- at least those who hadn't given up and headed home -- as Memphis cut the lead to 12 midway through the fourth.
But the Hawks' advantage was just too much.
"It's just tough to see our team get down like we did, and we have to fight so hard to get back," said Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay, who led Memphis with 29 points. "I guess they came out here with the mind-set to move the ball and get everybody involved, and that's what they did."
Al Horford and Joe Johnson scored 19 points apiece for Atlanta, and Mike Bibby had 17, while Marvin Williams finished with 12. Johnson also had eight assists and Bibby seven as the Hawks won their fourth straight and kept a solid hold on the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Smith shot 11-for-13 from the field, part of Atlanta's 56 percent effort on the night.
The Grizzlies never made the game competitive through the first three quarters. The Hawks shot 69 percent in the first half, and their 73 points at the break surpassed the most surrendered by Memphis in the opening two periods this season.
All five of the Hawks' starters had reached double figures by halftime.
The Grizzlies were met with periodic boos from those in attendance, particularly when they showed little effort early in the second half, and Atlanta extended the lead to nearly 40 points.
"We were moving the basketball so well," Johnson said. "We were posting, and they were doubling. We were kicking, making the extra pass and getting wide open shots. That's all ball movement, and that was the key for us."
One of the biggest cheers in the third period came with about four minutes left when the Hawks missed their only free throw of the game after hitting the first 19.
But when the Hawks tried to close out the game with their reserves, Memphis suddenly began hitting shots and chipping away at the advantage. Although, it never got under double digits, the starters had to come back out and maintain the lead.
"It bit us tonight," Johnson said of the reserves' play. "It didn't really hurt us, and we put up the win, but it's something that shouldn't happen in this league. You're up 38, 40 points ... and you blow that? That's unheard of."
From the opening tip, the Hawks' shooters had little resistance from the Memphis defenders. Atlanta was still shooting almost 70 percent from the field in the final minutes of the first half. The Hawks not only were scoring inside, but they were hitting 58 percent on 3-pointers while building the lead to as many as 29 before halftime.
- The crowd appeared much less than the 10,281 announced. The Grizzlies are a bit of an afterthought right now, taking a back seat in community interest to the University of Memphis' Final Four run that will resume with the national semifinal on Saturday against UCLA.
- The Grizzlies were trying to win their sixth game in March, which would have been the most for any month this season.
- Bibby, whom the Hawks acquired in a Feb. 16 trade with Sacramento, started his career with the Grizzlies. He played three years with the team while it was in Vancouver after he was the Grizzlies' first-round draft pick (the second overall) in the 1998 draft.
- The Grizzlies had given up 72 points in the first half twice this season, the last time coming March 11 at Phoenix.