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Hawks hand Hornets first defeat

POSTED: November 9, 2008 5:00 a.m.

NEW ORLEANS — It's been a long time since NBA teams routinely got fired up to play the Atlanta Hawks.

The New Orleans Hornets certainly didn't Wednesday night, and it cost them their first loss of the season.

Joe Johnson scored 24 points and the Hawks made 12 3-pointers to stay perfect on the young season with an impressive 87-79 road win over a team that hadn't lost even since preseason began.

"It shows a lot about our character," Johnson said. "We've just got to stay focused. We can't get caught up in the hype and we'll be all right, as long as we keep playing with this amount of confidence and this intensity."

Atlanta is now 3-0 for the first time in 11 years, thanks in part to reserve Flip Murray, a key free agent acquisition who came up with big shots when Johnson was double teamed.

Murray scored 14 points, hitting a pair of 3s in the fourth quarter, including one as the shot clock expired during a 14-2 surge that put Atlanta in the lead for good.

Chris Paul had 22 points and 11 assists for New Orleans (3-1), while David West added 15 points and James Posey 10.

Paul's 3-pointer capped a 10-0 run to close the third quarter, when the Hornets took a 62-58 lead and appeared to be seizing control.

But the Hawks, showing the same poise that helped them push the Boston Celtics to seven games in the first round of last season's playoffs, stormed ahead for good early in the fourth quarter while playing stifling defense against a Hornets club that had been averaging a league-best 106.6 points.

"They were more aggressive, more physical," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "They took liberties against us and we took a step back because we accepted it."

Murray scored on a difficult spinning drive through traffic during the Hawks decisive fourth quarter surge and added a late 3. While Johnson fell short of the 30 points he averaged in his first two games, he had nine of his points in the final period, scoring with style on a runner in the lane, a pull-up jumper on the baseline and 3-pointer from the wing.

Marvin Williams hit all three 3-pointers he attempted, his last a crushing one inside the final three minutes to give Atlanta an 83-74 lead. He finished with 11 points.

"That just shows the maturity of the program," said Atlanta's Josh Smith, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds. "The players have another year under their belts. I think we did a good job in free agency acquiring Flip Murray. ... I just think it's the growth process of us playing another year and knowing how to win on the road."

Hornets center Tyson Chandler and forward Peja Stojakovic returned to the starting lineup after both missed New Orleans' previous game last Saturday with sprained right ankles.

Chandler scored the game's first basket, but the Hawks responded with an 8-0 run and led the rest of the first half.

Williams hit a pair of early 3s and Johnson's putback gave the Hawks a 24-14 lead late in the opening quarter.

Paul's return to the game after a short rest helped the Hornets close the gap. His runner in the lane and midrange jumper powered a 11-4 run that pulled the Hornets to 31-27.

Paul scored 15 points in the second quarter and helped the Hornets pull to 43-40 when he fed Chandler for a dunk. But Mike Bibby's 3-pointer with one second left before halftime gave Atlanta 46-40 lead at intermission.

"We wanted to try to contain Chris Paul, let him score a lot, but take a lot of those other guys out, which we did," Johnson said. "In the fourth quarter, we made a lot of big shots and got a lot of key defensive stops, and that's winning basketball."

Notes: Paul, who had three steals, has a steal in 86 straight games dating to the 2006-07 season. ... Atlanta entered the game tied with Utah for fewest points allowed per game (86.5) in the NBA. ... Stojakovic finished with eight points on 3-of-13 shooting, including 2-of-7 on 3-point attempts. ... Paul has double digits in both points and assists in all four of New Orleans' games this season.



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