Vivlamore reporting from Philips Arena. Here is my updated game story from Friday’s victory over the Wizards.
One figure was written clearly on the Hawks’ locker room white board. It read simply 53 percent.
That was the only point coach Larry Drew needed to get across to his team during a halftime speech Friday. The Wizards were shooting such a high field-goal percentage – and the Hawks’ defensive effort was clearly the issue.
The Hawks came out with a much-better effort in the second half, erased a six-point deficit, en route to a 102-88 victory over the Wizards at Philips Arena.
“Defensively, we made a stand,” Drew said. “I came in at halftime and that team was shooting over 50 percent against us in the first half. I just told the guys that was ridiculous. … I knew we could be a better defensive team than what we were showing. We just had to make up our mind to go out and guard people and not rely on help. That third quarter we made a strong stand defensively.”
The Hawks held the Wizards to 43 percent shooting in the second half and had 16 of their season-high tying 30 fast-break points in the final two quarters. The Hawks also forced 22 turnovers, including nine by Wizards point guard John Wall.
“It starts with our defense,” Drew said. “We can’t come out thinking we can outscore people. We have to defend and be solid. The first half I thought we gambled [defensively] entirely too much.”
The Hawks didn’t fall victim of a classic trap game – but they came close for awhile.
Home after a six-game road trip, where they went 2-4 including losses in four of the last five games, the Hawks rallied against the lowly Wizards. The didn’t return from the trip until landing in Atlanta at 5 p.m. on Thursday after a cross-country flight.
Joe Johnson led the Hawks (25-19) with a game-high 34 points, tying his season high set two games ago against the Nuggets. He scored 15 first-quarter points, half the Hawks’ total after the first 12 minutes. He was 6-of-7 from the field, including three 3-pointers. Johnson had 18 first-half points. The Hawks are 14-2 when Johnson scores 20 or more points.
“We had great ball movement and I was in the right place at the right time,” Johnson said. “…You can make the first couple, get a couple easy baskets, and the rim just starts to get a little bigger. Tonight was just one of those nights.”
The Hawks also got 23 points, seven rebounds and eight assists from Josh Smith. He tied Dikembe Mutombo for sixth on the Hawks’ all-time offensive rebounds list (1,228). Smith has scored 20 or more points in eight of past nine games.
“We came out a little sluggish,” Smith said. “I don’t know if it’s because we were traveling so much. Normally when you come from the west coast you have a couple of days to recuperate. We had less than 24 hours to recuperate. We came in and probably were a little flat coming in. When we finally found our stride we were able to play some defense in that second half and go away winning.”
Jeff Teague added 14 points and Zaza Pachulia nearly had a triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high seven assists.
The Wizards (10-33) led by at the half 54-50 and by as many as six points early in the third quarter. However, the Hawks closed the third on an 18-6 run. Smith scored the first eight points of the third to close the Hawks within two points, 60-58. The Hawks got 3-pointers from Johnson, Kirk Hinrich and Jannero Pargo on the decisive run. They led 71-64 at the end of the third quarter. A 3-pointer by Smith early in the fourth quarter pushed the Hawks lead to 10 points. With 6:17 remaining in the final period they lead was14 points and the rout was on.
“That’s been happening the last three or four games,” Pargo said of the team’s defensive effort. “We have to realize we are not playing the type of defense we are capable of playing.”
The Hawks, who snapped a two-game losing streak, extended their home win streak to eight games over the Wizards, who last won in Philips Arena on Jan. 11, 2008. The Hawks also kept their position of sixth in the Eastern Conference playoff race. A loss to the Wizards, combined with Celtics win over the Kings late Friday, would have dropped the Hawks to seventh, a half-game behind Boston.
The Wizards led at halftime thanks to a 17-4 run midway through the second quarter. The Hawks led by seven points before Shelvin Mack and Roger Mason hit back-to-back 3-pointers to ignite the run. The Wizards capitalized with 15 points off turnovers in the first half.
The Wizards were led by Trevor Booker with 18 points. The Hawks limited Wall, who was a major concern, to 14 points.
The Wizards played short-handed without Nene and Brian Cook, who have yet to join the team after Thursday’s three-team NBA trade deadline deal.
The Hawks, who also defeated the Wizards by 18 points in December, will play in Washington in eight days to conclude the season series.