HAWKSVILLE – Did you see enough of Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith Wednesday night?
How about Jeff Teague and Mo Evans?
Zaza Pachulia and Jason Collins?
I didn’t think so.
Sure, the Hawks did what they had to do in dispatching the Indiana Pacers in their season opener. But I expected more, namely in minutes for the reserves.
We’ve heard for weeks about all this improved depth and how much deeper this team is going to be this season. We saw it in the preseason.
But it wasn’t on display against the Pacers.
Sure, everyone played a minimum of 10 minutes and no one played more than 40 (though Joe Johnson was knocking on the door at 39:23). And they did win the game doing it this way.
But 13 minutes and 36 seconds for Crawford and 10:48 for Smith seems a bit light to me, particularly in a game where the Hawks needed every bit of firepower they could muster to hold of the scrappy Pacers.
“I feel like we kind of succumbed to the way they wanted to play and to the rotation they wanted us to use instead of milking that newly formed bench we brought in here,” said Mo Evans, who made the most of his limited time, piling p 12 points in just 15 minutes. “We’ve got to learn how to trust our second unit as well to go out there and play. We’ve got a lot of talent over there and I think we got a little nervous because they were out there making shots and then we had to extend our starters’ minutes a little longer than we probably wanted. That’s not going to work during those stretches when we have four games in five or six nights.”
Stretches like the one the Hawks will face this weekend with Washington and into the middle of next week’s Western Conference road swing.
Hawks coach Mike Woodson took several questions about his playing rotation after the game – in his defense he did play 10 men in the third quarter, something he never did last season.
“We’re all trying to get used to one another,” he said. “They’re especially trying to get used to me and what I’m expecting when they’re out on the floor. Overall, I thought it was a great effort on everybody’s part, and we were able to secure the win. And that’s what’s most important.”
Mike Bibby didn’t crank his offense up until late against the Pacers, scoring eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter. It’s a new role for the Hawks’ veteran point guard, who is adjusting to so many different offensive options that have either matured or been added since last season.
“I’m going to be a little bit more aggressive,” Bibby said laughing. “Hey, it’s my 12th year. I still get first game jitters.”
He didn’t flinch in the fourth quarter, though, showing that he’s always willing to take and make big shots with the game on the line.
His 3-pointer with the Hawks trailing 101-100 with 8:05 to play put them ahead to stay and his running jumper with 7:28 left gave the Hawks another quick jolt. His 3-pointer with 2:43 left gave the Hawks a 115-105 lead and a little insurance.
But his best work might have been done in the facilitation of the Hawks’ offense all night.
Bibby was efficient and allowed his teammates to make plays of their own (his willingness to keep everyone in a good flow is easily one of his most underrated qualities).
“Mike was doing a great job of getting the ball in the right spots and I was just shooting with confidence,” Al Horford said after his 24-point, 16-rebound effort.
HARD TO MISS
If Johnson’s confidence in his teammates wasn’t sky-high before Wednesday’s game it is now.
After watching Horford and Josh Smith tote the load on both ends of the floor early, he was full of praise after the game.
“I know those guys worked on their games over the summer and you can tell,” he said. “I know it’s the first game, but you can tell they’ve been working. I’m glad they came back with the mindset that they have and that’s what it’s going to take to get us over the top.”
It worked against the Pacers. While many of the Hawks’ looked rattled early as the Pacers piled up the points, Smith and Horford were steadying forces.
“For it to be the first game, you have so many jitters and you’re so anxious to get out there and play,” Johnson said. “I just really wanted to get into the flow of the game early. But it doesn’t always work that way, so I just tried to pick my spots. Al and Josh played great tonight. I thought they were the two guys that got us over the hump.”
The proof was in the Hawks scoring edge inside. They pounded the Pacers 54-38 in the paint.
Another guy that didn’t seem at all fazed by the moment was Teague, the rookie point guard. He certainly wasn’t shy (he took for more shots than Crawford and finished with five points, four assists and three rebounds).
“He looked comfortable out there,” Marvin Williams said. “I like that about him. He’s fearless.”
THE BIG FINISH
Whatever complaints you want to make about the Hawks’ defensive effort through the first three quarters is valid. The fourth quarter, however, was another story.
They limited the Pacers to a 5-for-15 shooting effort (33 percent) and forced six turnovers, allowing just 15 points in the game’s final stanza.
“They’re a tough team from an offensive standpoint,” Woodson said. “They keep you on your heels by pushing the ball constantly and if you’re not back and matching up with their 3-point shooters, they’re capable of making shots like they did tonight. But I thought that fourth quarter, when we really had to nail it down defensively; guys stepped up and made the plays they had to make.”