ATLANTA — Mike Bibby had a message for all those ambivalent Hawks fans in Atlanta.
“I didn’t come to watch LeBron James,” Bibby said. “I came to play.”
Bibby scored 24 points, Marvin Williams hit the clinching free throws, and Atlanta snapped the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 11-game winning streak with a 97-92 victory Saturday night.
James had 33 points and nine assists for the Cavs, who overcame a 14-point deficit in the third quarter to take a 70-68 lead early in the fourth on Mo Williams’ layup.
The deficit was Cleveland’s first in the second half since its last loss, a 96-89 defeat at Detroit on Nov. 19. The Cavs were trying for the first 12-game winning streak in franchise history, having won 11 in a row four times, the last in 1994-95.
“You can’t win ‘em all,” James said. “We didn’t expect to win every last game and go 79-3. We played hard. It was just a matter that they got more stops at the end than we did.”
After eight lead changes over a six-minute span in the fourth quarter, Atlanta never trailed after Bibby made it 84-83 with a 10-footer with 4:40 remaining.
The Hawks are trying to build their fan support after making the playoffs last season for the first time in nine years. Despite taking eventual NBA champion Boston to a deciding seventh game in the first round of the postseason, Atlanta seemingly has yet to convince many fickle fans that the Hawks are as much worth the price of admission as seeing a superstar such as James.
Joe Johnson, who’s led the Hawks in scoring the last four seasons, remains resolute that winning is the only solution to earn the public’s respect. He answered a five-point run from James midway through the third with two long jumpers and a pair of free throws that put Atlanta ahead 80-77 with 6:35 remaining.
“To come out and put up the fight we did, that shows a lot about the character of this team,” Johnson said. “It was beautiful, seeing the guys step up and make plays. Mike is a go-to guy. A lot of times when I get double-teamed, he is open for a shot. It’s pick your poison.”
Mo Williams finished with 26 points for Cleveland, the only NBA team to rank in the top 10 in both scoring and points allowed.
“The streak wasn’t even mentioned,” Williams said. “That’s not a goal for us. It means we’ve got to start another one.”
Cleveland was playing its second straight game without injured starting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Anderson Varejao’s 11 points and eight rebounds weren’t enough to compensate on the front line with Ben Wallace going scoreless on just two shots from the field.
James made Cleveland’s last field goal, a layup with 1:31 remaining that cut its deficit to two. He then drove the lane with Cleveland trailing 95-92, drawing defenders but choosing instead to whip a pass to the perimeter. After Sasha Pavlovic missed a 3-point attempt from the right corner, James tipped a rebound to Delonte West, whose runner bounced to the Hawks.
“We had a chance to win,” James said. “The team that we’re trying to become, we’ve got to win games like this. They got one more stop than we did.”
Atlanta has won two straight after dropping three consecutive road games at Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
“This was definitely a big win for us,” Bibby said. “They’re one of the top teams in the league. We showed how good we can be when we play defense.”
Notes: Josh Smith’s one block came in the final minute when West tried to launch a 3 in front of the Hawks’ bench. The ball was less than 10 feet from West’s hands when Smith slapped it into the crowd. ... James scored 14 points in the fourth quarter. ... Bibby and Johnson combined for 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting in the final period.