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Hawks rally from 23 points down to beat 76ers

POSTED: November 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.

ATLANTA — Coming off their first playoff appearance in nine years, the Atlanta Hawks have started the new season like they have every intention of making it again.

Joe Johnson scored 35 points, including a long 3-pointer that clinched it with 11 seconds remaining, and the Hawks rallied from a 23-point deficit to stun the Philadelphia 76ers 95-88 Saturday night.

The Hawks improved to 2-0 in their home opener, the team's best start in a decade.

OK, so there's still 80 games left in the regular season. But Atlanta already has won on the road against defending division champion Orlando, and pulled off a huge comeback against another playoff team from last season.

"The guys tasted it last year. They want to get back," coach Mike Woodson said. "I know it's early, but if we play defense and the rebound the ball like that, we'll be in a lot of games."

Atlanta took its first lead of the night on Johnson's dunk with 1:53 remaining. Andre Iguodala missed a tough 3, Josh Smith rebounded and fired a long pass to his teammate breaking free at the other end.

Then, with the Hawks clinging to a 90-88 lead, Johnson got the ball at the top of the key with everyone in the building expecting him to shoot. He bounced off Thaddeus Young and put up a 32-footer before Andre Miller could work around a pick, the ball hitting nothing but net.

"I had no intention of passing," Johnson said. "I was looking straight at the bucket."

The 76ers couldn't believe it went in, just beating the shot clock.

"He's like a video game," Young said, referring to Johnson. "Some of the shots he makes are just crazy."

The game was crazy enough. Philadelphia was unstoppable in the first half, especially Young. He had 17 points by the break, including 3-of-4 from beyond the 3-point stripe.

The 76ers outhustled the Hawks, building a 20-8 rebounding edge at one point, and Atlanta couldn't make anything. Starting forwards Smith and Marvin Williams combined to go 0-for-11 over the first two quarters.

Iguodala's jumper with 71/2 minutes remaining in the second period boosted Philadelphia to a 44-21 lead. The Hawks showed a bit of life before halftime, but still trailed 57-44 heading to the locker room.

A different team returned to the court. Atlanta got the deficit to single digits heading to the fourth quarter, then outscored the 76ers 29-13 over the final 12 minutes.

After missing his first seven shots, Smith bounced back to make six of his last nine — including a pair of crucial 3s — to finish with 14 points.

"The way we finished the game was really disappointing," 76ers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "They just kept fighting. I've got to give them credit. They just continued to play. They didn't stop."

Johnson was the go-to guy all the way. He shot 14-of-23 from the field, hit a couple of 3s, made all five of his free-throw attempts and even found time to dole out five assists.

But the last shot was the best.

"Were y'all holding your breath, too," he quipped to reporters. "We don't want to get in the habit of having to come from way behind, but the final result is all that matters."

Mike Bibby added 19 points for the Hawks, and Zaza Pachulia came off the bench to add some much-needed defensive toughness. The burly center picked off eight rebounds in 21 minutes.

"They kind of imposed their will," Brand said. "We couldn't get stops."

Young led the 76ers with 22 points, but only five came after halftime. All five Philadelphia starters scored in double figures, including Elton Brand with 17 points and Iguodala with 16. Brand also had 16 rebounds.

"I think our intensity kind of went down," Young said. "We settled for jump shots too much. We weren't taking care of the ball like we're supposed to. We gave them the opportunity."

Notes: The game drew a sellout of 19,651. ... There were technicals galore. Both head coaches were tagged for arguing with the refs, as was Hawks assistant coach Jim Todd. Reggie Evans also was whistled after tangling with Pachulia near the Hawks bench. ... Smith led the Hawks with 11 rebounds. Atlanta cut into Philadelphia's early advantage on the boards but was still outrebounded 48-41. ... Woodson said he gave Pachulia a game ball. "He was just banging around," the coach said, "which is just what we need him to do." ... It was a great day for the Woodson family. The coach's daughter was on the high school team that won a state volleyball title.



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