Photo by Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Hawks finally won a second-round playoff game at home.
They can thank a guy who frequently gets booed by the home fans, and a young guard who wasn't supposed to be playing much at all.
Josh Smith answered his critics with a huge game -- 23 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists -- and fill-in Jeff Teague came up with the Derrick Rose-like plays down the stretch to lead the Hawks past the Chicago Bulls 100-88 Sunday night, evening the Eastern Conference semifinals at two games apiece.
The Hawks snapped a nine-game home losing streak in the second round, their misery dating to a May 13, 1996, win against Orlando.
Smith is frequently criticized by Atlanta fans for his inconsistent play. He heard nothing but cheers in this one, staying away from the outside jumpers, dominating on the inside and finding the open man with crisp passes.
Teague has been an even bigger surprise filling in for injured Kirk Hinrich, playing with the poise of a veteran instead of someone who played infrequently during the regular season and first round of the playoffs. He scored 12 points and doled out four assists, putting the capper on a late 10-0 run that broke open a game that had been tight and intense all the way.
Driving toward the hoop with Kyle Korver draped all over him, Teague flipped up a shot as he was falling down. It banked in, giving the Hawks a safe lead, 94-84, with 1:26 remaining. The second-year player bounced off the court with a big smile, bumping his teammates on the way to the bench.
Someone held up a sign, "M-V-Teague."
The actual MVP scored 34 points. But Rose needed 32 shots to do it, and he wasn't nearly as effective as he was in scoring a career-best 44 points in Game 3, leading the Bulls to a 99-82 rout that restored Chicago's home-court advantage. The top-seeded Bulls can still close out the series simply by winning at home, but the Hawks know they'll get at least one more home game.
"Game 6 tickets are on sale now," the Hawks public-address announcer said.
After an embarrassing performance two nights earlier, the Hawks changed up their lineup. They had been dominated on the boards in the two previous games, so they went back to a bigger lineup that worked so well against Dwight Howard and Orlando in the opening round.
Seven-footer Jason Collins started at center between Al Horford and Smith, putting Marvin Williams in a reserve role. Collins had a couple of early dunks, but he wound up playing less than 12 minutes.
More significant was the way Atlanta changed up its defense on Rose, charging at him with double-teams -- even a few triple-teams -- whenever it looked as though he was about to make a move toward the hoop. No one stops him completely, of course. Rose still had plenty of moves for the highlight film, including a soaring dunk of his own miss when no one blocked him out early on.
But down the stretch, the Hawks clamped down on the Chicago star. Rose tied it at 84 on a drive with 4 minutes to go, but he missed his next shot, then turned it over twice before making a late basket that didn't matter. He finished 12 of 32 from the field.
Smith showed what he can do when he's not sitting on the outside, launching up errant jumpers. In the decisive run, he played stifling defense on Rose, had a big rebound and dished out two nifty passes that set up dunks by Horford.
Horford had his best game of the series, scoring 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 24 points, knocking down some early shots to get over a rough showing in Game 3.
Carlos Boozer had 18 points for Chicago, and Luol Deng added 13. Korver had an especially rough night, going 1 for 8 from the field. He missed all five of his 3-point attempts.
The game was in single digits until the end. The Hawks ran to what was their biggest lead, 60-52, when Smith got out on a fast break and passed to Horford slicing in off the wing for a layup.
Chicago responded with a 17-7 spurt to close the third quarter. Boozer capped it with a nice spin move, laying it in with his left hand to send the Bulls to the final period up 69-67.
NOTES: Damien Wilkins, the nephew of Hall of Famer and Hawks executive Dominique Wilkins, had a chance to close the first half with a flourish for Atlanta. He soared off the baseline for a dunk that would've made his uncle proud -- if only it had gone in. The ball ricocheted off the rim just before the horn sounded. Wilkins slammed the padding under the basket in disgust, the Hawks settling for a 47-46 lead at the break. ... Chicago G Keith Bogans went down awkwardly in the first quarter trying to guard Johnson, spraining his right ankle. Bogans went to the locker room to get it taped and was able to come back in the game, but he finished with only three points. ... Horford got poked in the eye by his former Florida teammate, Joakim Noah, after collecting a rebound. Horford was OK, and Noah gave him a pat on the backside.