Atlanta Hawks: Hawks 101, Suns 99
Phoenix–I’ll let Willie Green sum it up: “First half we allowed them to dictate the tempo of the game. They pretty much got anything they wanted. They just controlled the game. The second half we threw that zone at them, threw them off rhythm a little bit, got our hands up on their shots, got some fastbreak points. We got right back in the game.”
- The Suns shredded the Hawks through three quarters. The Hawks hung around because Willie Green, Jeff Teague and Josh Smith made 3s, Smith controlled the boards and they collected 11 steals.
- The Hawks started to pull away to win in the fourth quarter because the zone slowed Phoenix’s screen-roll game and the Suns couldn’t make enough shots or pry away misses from Smith. “I thought the turning point was we couldn’t seem to get anything going against their zone,” Alvin Gentry said.
- In the fourth quarter Smith scored 10 points and rebounded six of Phoenix’s eight misses. Green and Vladimir Radmanovic each made a timely 3. It also helped that Steve Nash (!) and Ronnie Price picked up some ill-timed technical fouls.
- It wasn’t always pretty for the Hawks. They had some bumbling plays, like Vlad Rad and Kirk Hinrich fumbling away a simple handoff exchange and Josh stepping out of the bounds while setting up for a 3. Josh couldn’t quite kick his jumper habit.
- But the Hawks won and now get two days without a game for the first time all season. “I thought it was a typo on my schedule,” Larry Drew said. “We need it in the worst way. I told the guys I don’t even want to see them tomorrow, just get away.”
- “I don’t want to see him either,” Josh said. “I want to see the bed, the pillow, the cover.”
- Smith deserves some sleep. He played the entire fourth quarter and alternated between scoring on Js and by attacking the basket. He was a beast on the boards, had two steals and was a menace patrolling the middle of the zone in the small lineup.
- “I just wanted to be aggressive,” Josh said. “I knew they were keying in on Joe [Johnson] and we needed some offense somewhere else. Me and Willie definitely picked up the slack. We played like we were supposed to be playing throughout the game.”
- Josh almost didn’t get his chance to carry the Hawks late. “I was going to pull Josh out early in fourth, but Joe said, ‘Leave him out there. He’s young.’ I’m glad he did because he just played a phenomenal game inside and out and defensively he was all over the place.”
- Joe: “When you’ve got a guy rolling like that. . . . He can handle it. He’s only 24, 25 (actually 26). He’s got some mileage left. Ride him until the wheels fall off. We’ve got two days off. He can rest tomorrow. I definitely wasn’t going to let coach take him out of the game, whether I had to sit down or not.”
- Josh’s final line in 45 minutes: 30 points on 23 shots, 17 rebounds, seven assists, four steals, three blocked shots, four turnovers.
- After Josh got off on a steady diet of post-ups during a stretch of the fourth quarter, Drew put the ball in Joe’s hands. It didn’t go well. His deliberate style slowed what had been a crisp offensive rhythm. That’s not a big problem when he’s creating and making good shots but he wasn’t doing that at winning time. “Credit guys like Willie and Vlad for coming off the bench and being ready,” Joe said.
- Most of Drew’s other moves worked out. The zone could have backfired if the Suns made shots and the Hawks couldn’t rebound but, really, it was the only hope of preventing Nash from carving them up.
- “We was having trouble guarding those guys man-to-man,” Green said. “Steve Nash is so good with the ball, if you don’t pick him up and get your hands in his vision he is hitting guys diving down at the basket for pinpoint shots. Second half we were keeping them under control, kept them on the perimeter and making them shoot over us.”
- I also can’t really fault Drew for closing with Green, Hinrich and Vlad Rad over Jeff Teague, Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia. And that’s not just with the benefit of hindsight.
- Teague was having a good offensive game but, when the Hawks did play man on a couple possessions, Hinrich was much better than Teague with crowding Nash and fighting over screens. Marvin was rebounding but Green was making shots (and six free throws). Zaza was having a strong game but the small lineup worked with Vlad Rad as a threat to make 3s.
- “In this kind of game you try to find the right combination of guys out there that can get you in some kind of rhythm,” Drew said. “Josh at five, Vlad at the four, it seemed to work out. We had the defense spread pretty good and we had shooters all over the place.”
- After a rough night checking Andrew Bynum, which happens, Zaza (two blocks, two steals) again more than held his own against an opponent with more accolades and a bigger paycheck. He’s never going to be nimble enough to defend a screen-roll attack this good. But he fills a valuable role on a team where driving to the basket and earning free throws and defense at the rim are scarce commodities.
- Tracy McGrady said it was his decision to sit: “Just resting”
- The Hawks still had to sweat it out at the end. After Channing Frye’s putback, Josh took the ball out from under the Suns’ basket. He sailed a long pass into the backcourt, which was a good idea because Green was breaking free. However, the pass was way too long and bounced away a few feet in front of Green.
- If Green didn’t at least touch it, it’s Phoenix ball under its basket with 2.1 seconds left. “Whatever it took, I was going to dive at it,” Green said. “I knew I just had to touch it.”
- Josh: “He’s athletic enough to run it down. He said he was definitely going to get a hand on it. I’m glad that he did. I’m really happy that he did.”
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat