The Atlanta Hawks were mired in a slump. They were missing two key starters. And they were facing Kobe Bryant and the streaking Los Angeles Lakers.
Talk about an unlikely time to get a win.
Devin Harris scored 17 points, Ivan Johnson hit a key basket, and the short-handed Hawks shook off a 20-point third quarter by Bryant for a 96-92 victory Wednesday night, a physical game that was marred in the closing seconds when Bryant went down with a severely sprained left ankle after missing a game-tying shot.
The Lakers said Bryant is out indefinitely, just as the team is pushing for a playoff spot.
"I'll just do what I have to do" to get back, he said.
Atlanta won for just the second time in eight games despite missing Josh Smith and Jeff Teague. Six players scored in double figures and everyone contributed to the victory, at least everyone who suited up.
"That's the way we have to play," said Kyle Korver, who hit the clinching free throws. "When we're missing guys, we can't just say, 'You're the next-best guy on the team, you take all the shots.' That's a recipe for disaster."
Bryant took a lot of shots for the Lakers — 33 in all — but he couldn't knock down the one that mattered.
Then he couldn't get up.
With the Lakers trailing 94-92, Bryant put up a shot from the baseline that slid off the rim with 3 seconds remaining. Making matters worse, his left ankle twisted awkwardly when he came down on defender Dahntay Jones' right foot, sending the Lakers star crumpling to the court.
While X-rays were negative, Bryant remained in the training room after the team bus pulled away from Philips Arena. When he finally emerged, he accused Jones of playing dirty, saying he slid underneath the shooter as he was coming down.
"That's a shot I'm very comfortable taking," Bryant said. "You just can't go under these shooters, man. It's a dangerous play."
Bryant finished with 31 points, but made just 11 of those 33 shots.
"We all struggled," he said. "I just tried to will the ball in the basket and hopefully generate some energy for all of us. It seemed to turn for us, but then we all went cold again."
The Hawks got contributions all around. Harris scored nine straight points in the fourth quarter to help the Hawks regain the upper hand after the Lakers went up 80-76. But the biggest basket was made by Johnson with the Hawks clinging to a three-point lead.
Al Horford drove along the baseline and missed the shot. But he hustled for the rebound and knocked it right to Johnson under the basket. He flipped in a reverse layup with 33.3 seconds remaining, pushing the Hawks ahead 92-87.
After the Lakers called a timeout, Horford gave Johnson a big hug on the way to the bench. Smith, in street clothes, mockingly threw punches at the burly forward.
But the Lakers had a chance. John Jenkins and Korver both missed free throws, and Bryant knocked down a turnaround 3-pointer off an inbound pass with Jones right in his face.
That turned out to be their last hurrah. Atlanta snapped the Lakers' four-game winning streak and handed them just their third loss in the last 12 games, at least slowing their bid to rally for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
If Bryant is out for a significant amount of time, it will hurt even more.
"We just didn't make any shots," said Steve Nash, who went 4 of 14 and missed a couple of easy drives. "I feel like I killed us tonight. I had good looks at the basket. I didn't convert."
Led by Harris, six players scored in double figures for Atlanta. Korver had 15, Horford 14, Johnson and Jenkins 12 apiece, and Johan Petro 10.
After scoring just three points in the first half, Bryant was unstoppable in the third. He made eight shots and almost single-handedly wiped out Atlanta's 55-43 halftime lead.
"Kobe got a little heated, which we know he's capable of," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "He got going in the third quarter, and even then we didn't break. That was very encouraging, because we were playing with a short deck."
Without Smith and Teague, Atlanta sent out a patchwork lineup that left some in the crowd with puzzled looks during the introductions: Harris and Jones in the backcourt, Anthony Tolliver and Horford at the forward spots, and Petro at center.
But the Hawks came out with an inspired first half, getting contributions from both the starters and the reserves. Horford, Harris and Petro all scored eight points, while Horford and Petro grabbed eight rebounds apiece. Jenkins chipped in with eight points off the bench, while Korver added seven, Johnson six and even Shelvin Mack — on a 10-day contract — scored four points.
Bryant, meanwhile, was only 1 of 8 from the field.
Notes: Dwight Howard pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds in the return to his hometown. ... Korver extended his franchise record to 57 consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer. He took care of the streak with 3:10 left in the first quarter. ... Jones made his second start since being acquired by the Hawks at the trade deadline. ... Horford picked up a technical late in the third when he complained about not getting a call on a drive into the lane, when he appeared to get whacked on top of the head by Howard. Then, early in the fourth, Drew received a T after another no-call on Howard, this time when he appeared to throw his body into Johnson, sending him tumbling to the court. ... The teams split their season series, 1-1.
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