ATLANTA -- The crowd was sparse and lackluster. The Atlanta starters were having trouble generating much enthusiasm. So it was up to the backups to make sure the Hawks didn't lose to the woeful Sacramento Kings.
Jamal Crawford scored 20 points to lead a strong effort by the reserves, and the Hawks bounced back from a sluggish start to beat the Kings 108-97 on Wednesday night.
Crawford, perhaps the NBA's top sixth man, led the Hawks in scoring for the 14th time this season, also knocking down the 22nd four-point play of his career. But he had plenty of help, including Maurice Evans, who came up with several big plays during the decisive third quarter as the Hawks pulled away to hand the Kings their fifth straight loss and 10th in 11 games.
Joe Johnson scored 17 points for the Hawks, and three other starters were in double figures. But the Atlanta reserves made the difference, outscoring Sacramento's backups 45-30.
"We were struggling and didn't have much energy at the beginning of the game," starting center Al Horford said. "Those guys did a good job, especially in the third quarter. They pretty much sealed it for us."
After Sacramento closed to 72-68 late in the period, Zaza Pachulia drove strong to the hoop to get the momentum back on Atlanta's side. Then Evans swatted one away from Spencer Hawes -- who thought he was fouled -- and took off the other way for a thunderous jam. Pachulia finished it off with another dunk to send the Hawks to the final quarter with a comfortable 81-68 lead.
Crawford converted his four-point play in the final period, leaving him only two behind Reggie Miller for the most in NBA history.
"I think our bench is really good, one of the best in the league," Crawford said, spreading around the credit. "They've won a lot of games, and they take pressure off the starters. We feed off each other. We have good rhythm."
Coach Mike Woodson sensed early on that he would have to play the backups more than usual. The crowd was announced at 14,809 but the actual turnout was easily less than 10,000. The Hawks, coming off a home loss two days earlier to Oklahoma City, matched the fans' lack of intensity early on, falling behind by 11 points in the second quarter.
"We can't do anything about the fans not showing up," Woodson said. "We have to generate our own energy."
After the Kings went up 44-33 on Jason Thompson's layup with 5½ minutes left in the opening half, the first-place Hawks finally awoke from their slumber. Johnson hit a fadeaway jumper, then put it up softly off a drive. High-flying Josh Smith laid one in off a lob pass from Mike Bibby.
Atlanta closed on a 21-8 spurt to lead 54-52 at the break, then kept it up in the third. A 10-2 run at the start, capped by Smith's dunk off another alley-oop pass from Bibby, pushed the Hawks to their first double-figures lead.
The Kings made one last surge, but the second-stringers turned them away.
"Coach extended his bench a little bit tonight," said Evans, who had seven points and five rebounds. "We were able to run up and down a little bit and not worry about coming out if we made a mistake. We were able to make things happen, and it really opened up the game."
Tyreke Evans led Sacramento with 24 points, and fellow guard Kevin Martin added 23. But the Kings were dominated on the inside, even after shaking up the lineup to get more bulk down low. Jon Brockman and Donte Green started in place of Hawes and Omri Casspi.
"They beat us up in the paint," coach Paul Westphal said.
Brockman crashed the boards hard but the night turned painful for the burly forward when he tumbled out of bounds, striking his head on a camera held by one of the photographers sitting along the baseline. He left the game to be treated for a gash over his right eye.
Brockman had six points and three rebounds in nearly 23 minutes of playing time. Greene failed to score during his 16½ minutes on the court.
"They're a tough, seasoned team," Westphal said of the Hawks. "They kept pressure on us for 48 minutes. We had a lot of good minutes in that game. We just didn't have 48 of them."
Westphal said of Brockman: "We've been soft in the middle, and he's anything but soft." ... Horford had 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting and blocked four shots. ... Smith had another solid game - 16 points, a team-high nine rebounds and two blocks despite going out in the first quarter after being kneed in the left thigh. ... Boston lost at Detroit, leaving the Hawks only a half-game behind the Celtics for second seed in the Eastern Conference.