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Johnson scores 24, Horford 24 in Hawks win

POSTED: October 29, 2009 12:18 a.m.

ATLANTA — For three quarters, the Hawks let Indiana run up and down the court. Finally, Atlanta started playing some defense.

The result was a season-opening 120-109 victory Wednesday night that didn’t feel all that satisfying to the home team.

"We were giving them way too many layups," said Joe Johnson, who began what could be his final season in Atlanta by scoring 25 points. "The win was great, but I thought our play was ugly — especially on defense."

Al Horford chipped in with 24 points and 16 rebounds, helping to slice into Indiana’s dominance on the boards for much of the game.

"He had a monster game," coach Mike Woodson said. "He scored the ball, he rebounded the ball, he protected the paint when guys got beat off the dribble. He was huge."

Smith scored 18 points and led the Hawks in the beginning. Mike Bibby took over at the end, scoring eight of his 10 points in the final period. The bulked-up Atlanta bench also contributed valuable minutes that kept the starters fresh for the deciding quarter.

The Pacers shot 53 percent from the field but only 5 of 15 in the fourth, including an uncontested layup at the end. They also turned it over six times to finish with a staggering 25 giveaways, leading to 32 points for the home team.

"When you turn the ball over that many times in this league," said Danny Granger, who led Indiana with 31 points, "you’re not going to win."

Atlanta, coming off a second straight trip to the playoffs, seemed content to run and gun with the Pacers over the first three quarters, neither team doing much to contest the other’s shots. The Hawks led 66-65 at halftime and 95-94 after the third.

The game finally turned when Atlanta started cutting off the driving lanes and Johnson got in Granger’s face. Indiana’s star was held to four points in the final period and got off just three shots — all from beyond the 3-point arc.

"I was getting as close to Granger as I could," said Johnson, who turned down a contract extension and plans to test free agency after this season. "When he caught the ball, I wanted him to have trouble getting off his shot."

Woodson kept urging his team to step it up when Indiana had the ball. At one point he pleaded, "Come on, man, play some defense" to no one in particular.

"They keep you on your heels by pushing the ball constantly," Woodson said. "But I thought that fourth quarter, when we really had to nail it down defensively, guys stepped up and made the plays they had to make."

The Hawks had four steals, three blocks and went after every Indiana shot with a vengeance. Bibby’s 3-pointer with 8 minutes left put Atlanta ahead for good, 103-101, and sparked a 10-0 run that finally slowed the Pacers.

Granger’s main offensive help came from the bench. Earl Watson had 20 points and Dahntay Jones 17.

"It was an interesting game, especially in the first half," coach Jim O’Brien said. "Our shots were definitely falling, and that gave us confidence."

The Hawks focused on deepening their bench during the offseason while keeping the lineup intact. The moves paid off right away — 10 players scored for Atlanta, which often got by last season with a seven- or eight-man rotation.

Maurice Evans had 12 of the 29 points scored by the bench, which now includes Jamal Crawford, Joe Smith and rookie Jeff Teague.

"When we came out halfway through the third quarter, we knew we’d still get production from our second unit," Josh Smith said. "That was kind of like heaven."

NOTES: Teague, the Hawks’ first-round pick, played 131/2 minutes and scored five points. His first career basket came on a steal and dunk. ... Despite making it to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in a decade, Atlanta failed to sell out its opener at Philips Arena. The announced crowd was 17,998, about 2,000 short of capacity. ... Troy Murphy had 14 points and 10 rebounds; no other Indiana starter had more than six points. ... The Pacers dominated the boards much of the game, but Hawks closed the gap to 40-35 by the end. They outrebounded Indiana 12-7 in the fourth.



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