Hawks overcome 21-point deficit to beat Timberwolves

The upset was the third-largest lead blown in franchise history.

>MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The Atlanta Hawks have won two in a row on the road.

That those wins have come against the teams with two of the worst records in the NBA matters not to these Hawks.

Sure they trailed by double digits in the fourth quarter of both of them, but after losing the previous 17 away from home, the Hawks will take them wherever and however they can get them.

Josh Smith scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter to help Atlanta erase a 21-point deficit in a 94-87 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.

“We stayed together,” said Tyronn Lue, who scored seven of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.

That hasn’t always been the case in Atlanta, where the Hawks have had eight straight losing seasons and are looking for even the smallest signs of progress.

Joe Johnson scored 25 points, and Smith added eight rebounds, five assists, five blocks and three steals for the Hawks, who overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win at Miami on Wednesday night.

“We can’t dig ourselves these types of holes and expect to get out of them every game in the second half,” Johnson said. “I think we still have a lot to work on and we need to start games off right.”

Al Jefferson had 23 points and 16 rebounds, and Marko Jaric added 20 and six assists for the Timberwolves, an NBA-worst 1-10. But the Timberwolves shot 26.5 percent, committed 13 turnovers and managed just 21 points in a horrendous second half. The 21-point advantage was the third-largest lead Minnesota has blown in franchise history.

“Yeah, this is pretty tough,” an exasperated Wolves coach Randy Wittman said when asked if this was the most difficult loss yet in a season full of them.

Things couldn’t have gone much better for the Timberwolves in the first half. Jefferson and Antoine Walker combined to hit all 11 of their shots and they led by 18 points at halftime and 11 to start the fourth quarter.

But once again, these young Wolves couldn’t come up with enough offense in crunch time as they lost their fifth straight.

“We played scared,” Wittman said. “We played on our heels and we played not to lose instead of to win.”

With Jefferson on the bench to start the fourth, Lue opened with a 3-pointer from the elbow that started a 7-0 run, and suddenly Minnesota’s lead had dwindled to four.

After a couple of debatable calls went Atlanta’s way, the Timberwolves seemed to come unglued, and Smith took over.

He hit a pair of free throws, converted a three-point play and then hit a 3-pointer during a 14-0 run to give the Hawks an 87-78 lead with 4 minutes to go.

“They were huge,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said of Smith and Lue. “Lue hit big shots and got us in our offense and did enough to secure the win.”

After receiving a standing ovation from the sparse home crowd at halftime, the Wolves heard plenty of boos as the lead disintegrated and Wittman slammed his hands on the press table in frustration as the game slipped away.

Afterward, Wolves rookie Corey Brewer milled around the locker room and was told of the team’s 10 losses.

“We have 10? Already?” said Brewer, who is coming off two straight national titles at Florida. “Ten came around quick.”

The Timberwolves shot 66 percent and played almost flawlessly in the first half to jump out to a big lead.

Jefferson was owning rookie Al Horford and the Hawks on the low block until Woodson started running double- and triple-teams at him in the second half. That strategy paid off, limiting Jefferson’s touches and creating turnovers that helped the Hawks get back in the game.