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Hawks build on playoff lead with win

POSTED: April 8, 2008 5:00 a.m.

ATLANTA — Mike Bibby scored 30 points and the Atlanta Hawks held on after nearly blowing a 22-point lead, giving themselves some breathing room in the Eastern Conference playoff race with a 106-103 victory over the slumping Chicago Bulls on Friday night.

The Hawks were up 31-12 before some late-arriving fans had even settled in their seats, and they appeared headed for a laugher when Al Horford’s dunk made it 72-50 with 7 minutes left in the third quarter.

Not so fast. Led by Ben Gordon, the Bulls twice closed within a point in the final minutes and had a chance to force overtime in the frenetic closing seconds. Gordon, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the fourth, got off a long 3-pointer that rimmed out as the horn sounded.

Atlanta won for the sixth time in eight games and made up for a 103-94 loss at Chicago on Tuesday. The Hawks, trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999, pushed their lead on New Jersey to 11/2 games for the eighth spot in the East. The Nets lost at Indiana 123-115.

The loss was a devastating blow to Chicago’s playoff hopes. The Bulls have lost four or five and dropped four games behind the Hawks with only 10 remaining.

All five Atlanta starters scored in double figures, with Marvin Williams and Josh Smith both contributing double-doubles.

Williams had 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Smith went for 12 and 10.

Luol Deng scored 19 points to lead the Bulls, who got points from all 11 players who saw minutes but were beaten on the boards. The Hawks outrebounded Chicago 46-36.

Bibby scored 18 in the first half and finished 6 of 8 from beyond the arc.

Joe Johnson scored 19 points for the Hawks, including a towering shot from the baseline over two defenders to make it 101-98 with 1:32 remaining. After Andres Nocioni missed a 3 for the tie, Horford hit a couple of free throws to stretch the lead to five.

Gordon threw the ball away after getting doubled near midcourt, but the Hawks couldn’t hit the clincher.

Back to Gordon, who sank another 3 — his fourth of the final period — to give the Bulls hope. Atlanta’s lead was a tenuous 104-101 after Johnson made one of two free throws with 17.7 seconds left.

The Bulls wanted to go to Gordon, of course, but he couldn’t shake a double team.

So, he dumped it underneath to an open Aaron Gray for the dunk. Horford broke free on the inbounds and went the other way for a slam of his own.

The Bulls got one more chance, but Gordon missed. Horford bowed down on the court, looking exhausted but thrilled that the Hawks had escaped.Notes: The teams split their four regular-season meetings. ... Former Florida teammates Horford and Joakim Noah spent time guarding each other. Horford outscored Noah 16-6.



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