The Hawks faced their toughest foe since Al Horford went down and won again. After the W they said a lot of things about guys stepping up to do more in his absence. Normally such cliches inspire eye-rolling from a cynical hack like myself but, I’ve got to say, that’s what’s happened so far.
How else to explain a W in which the bench kept the Hawks in it until Joe Johnson got hot, and then the starters closed it out after the reserves faded and Jamal Crawford tried to do his thing where he shakes off all of his earlier misses with fourth-quarter shot-making? What else to think about a game in which Jannero Pargo and Tracy McGrady play big roles along with Joe, Jeff Teague and Josh Smith?
The pieces seem to be fitting together.
“It really feels like these guys are starting to get a feel for one another,” Larry Drew said. “In the first half felt like we had a good flow with the starters and reserves. A few times in the second half we fell out of rhythm but guys are starting to mesh together. Any combination I put on the floor we seem to have some kind of chemistry. We feel like the players we have brought in complement the players that have been here.”
Look at some areas in which Horford produced and the Hawks have several players who, either consistently or at crucial times, have offered a bit more than usual since he went down: rebounding (Joe, Zaza Pachulia, Marvin Williams, Tracy McGrady), scoring (Smith, Johnson, Pargo, and Willie Green), assists (Johnson, McGrady).
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can do different things,” Williams said. “I think everyone has stepped up to give a little more to fill that void. You can’t replace a guy like Al so everyone has to chip in.”
“I think everybody is doubting us because Al went out,” Teague said. “I think it’s [made] us tighter. Guys want to win.”
If you weren’t impressed by the Ws against Charlotte, Minnesota, and Toronto then you at least have to give the Hawks Ps for this one. It’s not like it was a given they would win all of those games after the shock of losing Horford. “I didn’t know how we would fare because he does so much for this ball club,” Smith said.
Since blowing leads against Chicago and Miami, the Hawks have showed some finishing kick to close out New Jersey, Minnesota, Toronto and now the Blazers. None of those teams is as good as the Bulls and Heat but the Hawks have to get it done consistently against lesser competition if they hope to do it against the better opponents (which sounds kind of weird to say since they are missing their All-Star center).
“We maintained our composure,” Drew said. “That’s one area we have to continue to grow in. Last year in a situation you could read our body language, and runs kind of let the wind out of our sails. As of late, we have been withstanding runs and that’s a great sign to me and tells me we are starting to grow in that area.”
The winning plays included Smith blocking Gerald Wallace’s layup attempt and Johnson creeping up from behind on Wesley Matthews for a steal that led to an alley-oop dunk by Jeff Teague.
“I don’t know if he thought I was not going to try to get back in the play,” Johnson said. “He didn’t have any awareness when I was coming from behind. I didn’t want to tap the ball forward to where he could get it so I tapped it to where I could get it. Jeff Teague, I saw him running down the wing and I know he can fly so I just threw it up there and he went up there and got it.”
Johnson started 0 for 5 and then 8 of his next 14 shots. He had 10 of Atlanta’s 30 points in the second quarter and seven of 17 in the fourth. “That’s all it takes is to see a couple go in the basket,” he said. “We are doing a good job mocing the ball but I wanted to be a little more assertive in that second quarter.”
Smith didn’t make jump shots tonight but he had 11 rebounds, three blocks and three assists against three turnovers. LaMarcus Aldridge, Smith’s friend from their prep days, tested his slimmer frame and Smith held up pretty well while taking swipes at the ball to throw off Aldridge’s rhythm. “I was just trying to absorb the contact and get some help as little as possible,” Smith said. “When he caught it deep I was wanting them to come down and scrap a little bit and show him different looks. It definitely wasn’t just me.”
Williams had eight rebounds and 12 points on eight shots in 21 minutes. That’s similar to his production before he got hurt so maybe Drew needs to ride him when Ivan Johnson isn’t having much of an impact, like tonight.
Teague was driving to pass or get fouled (13 points on five shots). He did a good job on the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls–the problem at times was Aldridge easily shaking free on the pop.
Speaking of which, Drew’s decision to play Jason Collins against Kurt Thomas led to Thomas leaking out for those mid-range jump shots he favors and controlling the boards.
Meanwhile Zaza (11 rebounds in 27 minutes) was solid. Finishing at the rim remains an adventure and he didn’t get to the line tonight but he covers so much more ground than Twin and is always challenging ball-handlers and shooters.
Pargo came in and made his first four shots. He appeared to be a bit peeved about coming out after his second turnover in the first half.
Jamal tried to steal one from his old team. “I knew that was coming,” Josh said. “He actually probably still wanted to be here. It would have been nice to see him in a Hawks uniform. Things happen in this business. I wish him the best. I’m glad we were able to slow him down a little bit.”
“I tried not think about coming back to Atlanta and just tried to focus on getting a win,” Crawford said. “The Hawks are playing great even without Al in the lineup.”
The Hawks made 21 of 27 free-throw attempts but, go figure, two of the six misses came in the final 7.6 seconds.
Vladimir Radmanovic was a DNP-CD. “There were a couple times I wanted to get him in there but at that four spot I didn’t want to play him against certain guys,” Drew said. “He will be back into our rotation because I definitely need him.”