Head coach Larry Drew kept saying that the Hawks would have to win by playing defense, rather than endeavoring to simply outscore opponents. The man couldn’t be more correct, and it looks like the Hawks listened to him when it counted, pulling another victory from the jaws of a potential defeat for their fifth straight victory. A win is a win, but there is always more to take from it than that. How a team wins is important, too. Being tired in a back-to-back game when you’ve just come off the road, your leading scorer struggling from the field, not having the services of two of your main rotation guys – all of these things are obstacles. Figuring ways to get over those obstacles and winning the game serves as a confidence builder, but this is also one of those moments when a team truly gains some positive chemistry.
The Hawks experienced both against Detroit.
The First Signs
No doubt many of us raised our eyebrows at the idea of Josh Smith being a team captain. Why not? His has been a legacy of brilliant plays one second, bone-headed the next. Whining to the refs after nearly every call that didn’t go the way he thought it should. Going for the big play on either end of the floor. Not playing within the flow of the game. Then last season, Josh began to show some real maturity. Still, many thought this was an unprecedented move by Larry Drew.
Tonight was the first true signs of Josh becoming the leader Drew thought he might be. On a night when his team looked sluggish on defense and on the glass, Smith never gave up. He never got overly frustrated, and he never got out of the flow of the game. Yeah, we all clown him about those jumpers. Some of us have always thought he needed to develop a perimeter game of some credibility, but we didn’t want him to try and make a living off of it. I don’t know about you, but those darn jumpers looked awful good last night. If he can hit a couple of those every game, what’s to complain about? The best part was the fact that he mixed it up really well, taking advantage of a Pistons front line that had no real chance at stopping him, and then bravely stepping up to that daunting free throw line. Could it have possibly gone better?
Even though Josh ended up being the go to man on offense, his impact was felt moreso on the defensive end. It wasn’t just the blocked shots. It wasn’t just the challenge to nearly every shot in the paint. It was the man defense. It was picking up the ball handler at the half court line and never giving an uncontested inch of hardwood. It was the relentless effort, the fight for the rebound, and the exhortation of his teammates that got Atlanta back on track. He blocked, they contested shots. He challenged passing lanes, they got their hands on the ball. He led. They followed. The Hawks ended up making the extra effort and doing the things that they didn’t do in the first half, or early in the third quarter. It wasn’t Josh trying to take over on his own. It was Josh trying to rally the troops, and succeeding.
One game does not make a guy a team leader. But this one game showed the first real signs of leadership in Josh Smith. He’s on the path. If he can stay on it, great things are coming. How about that appeal to us fans during the post game interview?
Youngsters and Wing Mates
Marvin Williams’ stats for the game may not be very impressive, but the box score won’t tell you the story if you didn’t see the game. Marvin’s rebounding is key for the success of this Hawks front line, which is maligned for its lack of size, but lauded for its athleticism. It wasn’t just Marvin’s 8 rebounds that made a difference. It was his willingness to use his leaping ability and impressive wingspan to go after rebounds that helped the Hawks even up the fight on the glass. Marvin’s game looks the smoothest it has since he’s been in the league, and if he can remain aggressive, it will bode well for the Hawks in every game. Meanwhile, Marvin’s defense has been a good bit more consistent than it was last season. Again, in a frontcourt like this, Marvin’s contribution is vital.
Al Horford shouldn’t be sneaking up on anybody after making the all-star team last season. How did he get 18 points? I swear he didn’t hit that many shots, but a quick rewind shows it all, including a crucial 6 points scored in the final 6 minutes or so. After contributing to a lopsided and losing rebounding battle with the Pistons, Al made some key grabs as the game got tight, and helped the Hawks to a win with his solid post defense, despite some impending foul trouble. 18 and 8 isn’t 20 and 10, but it’s darn close.
With Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson struggling to get much done, and Jamal Crawford out, it was time to see what Jeff Teague and Jordan Crawford could do. Both guys deserve some serious credit for manning up to the challenge. Despite facing the taller McGrady and the always deadly Gordon, Teague kept at it and showed some very active hands on defense. Better yet, he showed some of his “hidden” aggression on offense, pressing the attack on most opportunities. Jordan Crawford got beat on a couple screens, but he clearly wasn’t afraid to defend anyone, and both guys made some pretty good passes. Not bad at all, if you ask me.
It’s hard to watch Joe Johnson struggle the way he has in the last two games, but it happens to the best players in the world. To Joe’s credit, he never let it get him down, and never really pressed his game too much. Best of all, Joe kept making plays for his teammates, racking up 8 assists with some very timely passes. It was nice to watch him get that “And 1″ towards the end, and I’m sure even he had to laugh when he threw up that none-too-serious three pointer to beat the shot clock in a game that had already been decided. Swish…
Zaza Pachulia’s offensive efficiency continues to fly under the radar. The Hawks’ backup center piled in 12 points, only missing one of seven shots, and that proved to be a major boost off the bench. What’s not to like about a guy who gets the job done with opportunistic scoring?
So….Can the Hawks make it six in a row in Minnesota?