MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jamal Crawford came back from a one-game absence due to a toe injury to score a season-high 22 points in his super-reserve role for the undefeated Atlanta Hawks in a 113-103 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.
Josh Smith had 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five more blocked shots, and the Hawks improved to 6-0 despite a low-impact performance by star Joe Johnson for the second straight game. Mike Bibby had 15 points and Al Horford added 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Corey Brewer scored a season-high 18 points for the Timberwolves, rookie Wes Johnson hit four 3-pointers for 18 points and Michael Beasley scored 16 points in his return from a one-game absence due to a hip injury. But after cutting the lead to seven points with 5:42 left, they couldn’t get any closer.
The only unbeaten team in the top-heavy Eastern Conference, the Hawks have designs on finally cracking that elite echelon under new coach Larry Drew with Johnson and Horford the latest core players to sign long-term contracts and enviable depth led by Crawford, who was chosen the NBA’s top sixth man last season.
The Hawks have their weaknesses, like offensive rebounding, an area of strength for the Wolves that they weren’t able to fully exploit in this game, but a balanced lineup and a winning attitude can go a long way for a team that won 53 games last season.
Seven-footer Jason Collins got a rare start so Smith could guard the bulky Beasley at the small forward spot, and Crawford went right back in to his role.
The sharp-shooting Hawks can spread the floor and quickly make opponents pay if they’re not back in transition or out on the perimeter, as the Timberwolves — whose defense is still in the research and development stage — were reminded.
The Wolves kept the game close for most of the first half, but nearly every time they made a big shot or got the crowd going with a highlight-reel play the Hawks had an answer.
Smith got loose for a fastbreak midway through the third quarter and threw down a one-handed dunk, drawing a foul and converting a three-point play for a 75-58 lead.
Sebastian Telfair sank a couple of 3-pointers for the Wolves in the fourth quarter, the last one that cut the lead to 90-81. But right out of a timeout, Crawford drained a runner to stretch the Hawks advantage back to double digits. Brewer’s uncontested fastbreak dunk brought the Wolves within 94-87, but Crawford came right back with a 3 on the other end.
Saddled with a tough early schedule, with eight of their first 12 games on the road, the Timberwolves needed a pick-me-up after lopsided losses at Memphis, Miami and Orlando. Coach Kurt Rambis, pleased by a spirited practice the day before, explained the effort thusly, “I don’t know how you could be embarrassed.”
Wolves center Darko Milicic again struggled with his shot, particularly a left-handed hook he’s trying to use. He finished 2 for 7 from the floor for four points. Shooting was a problem for the entire frontcourt, with Beasley finishing 4 for 15 and Kevin Love going 6 for 19 for 18 points.
Notes: The Hawks were without two small forwards in Marvin Williams and Maurice Evans. Williams missed his first game with a bone bruise on his right knee, an injury he got two days ago against Detroit. Evans missed his fifth straight game with a right knee injury. … The Hawks won their ninth straight game against the Wolves, who last won in this series on April 9, 2006, a 1-point victory at home. … The Hawks have won six straight road games, counting two last season, for the fourth-longest streak in franchise history. One more, and they’ll match their longest streak in 17 years. … Beasley said before the game he still feels some stiffness and soreness in his left hip when he sits down, so the suggestion was made to Rambis that Beasley should play all 48 minutes to avoid the discomfort. “If he’s playing well, that shouldn’t be a problem,” the coach said, smiling. … A handful of wise-guy Wolves fans briefly started a “Fire Childress!” chant at the end of the game, a reference to the embattled coach of the NFL’s Vikings.