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Atlanta Hawks stand tall in prime time and knock off the Nuggets

An ESPN game, Bill Simmons lauding the good guys before hand and playing at home on Josh Smith's birthday had all the ingredients of an old-fashioned, Atlanta Hawks let-down.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

A back and forth game swung last in favor of the Hawks when Ty Lawson dribbled the ball of his foot and into the opportunistic hands of Smith, who took the ball down the court and slammed it home as Corey Brewer fouled him, leading to a three point play and five point lead with thirty seconds to go.

The Hawks would hold that lead thanks to a pair of Lou Williams free throws and another Lawson turnover to seal the game and knock off a good Denver Nugget team in front of a nationally television audience.

Lawson had obliterated the Hawks with 32 points on 12-16 shooting with seven assists and five steals and in the process reduced Jeff Teague to a trailing, flailing, your-next-contract-will-be-less-than-mine flunkie, The Hawks struggled to defend Lawson, with Larry Drew trying multiple lineup combinations to try and combat the Nuggets attack.

With Teague really struggling, the Hawks were best when Devin Harris and Lou Williams were in with DeShawn Stevenson, Horford and Smith. In the nine minutes those five were on the court together, the Hawks scored 31 points on 11-17 shooting and was +13. Yowza.

Also on the plus side for the Hawks, Al Horford was terrific, scoring 25 points on 12-20 shooting, including a key 20-footer that tied the game at 101, setting in motion the 7-0 run that gave the Hawks control of the game.

Horford had six of the Hawks 19 offensive rebounds for the night -- Josh had five and Zaza Pachulia four. The Hawks scored 20 points from those second chances.

On his birthday, you saw what you typically see from Josh, a couple of atrociously bad shot selections, some interesting choices in defensive transition, excellent rebounding, great scoring around the basket and making a big play late when the team needs him.

There were occasions that you could swear there is no way Danny Ferry would bring Josh Smith back and then other times when you thought there is no way Atlanta can let Smith get away.

Exit Question: Who did you think was the difference maker in the game?