Atlanta Hawks: Hawks 109, Raptors 87
Toronto–The Hawks are in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. If my blog people don’t do anything else, I hope you at least pause for a moment to enjoy this fact and think back to when it was not a given. Also remember how you felt when you heard Al Horford was out and the long series of injuries that followed.
- The Hawks put away Toronto once their help defense got in sync, they turned turnovers into scores or free throws and attacked the basket when all those Js they made early stopped falling. “I’m glad we were able to turn right back around and play this team where we could go ahead and get that sour taste out of our mouth,” Joe Johnson said. “We understand we are a better team that what we showed last night.”
- Not to burst that bubble, but add one more ailment to the mix: Zaza Pachulia’s foot injury is worse than initially thought and could keep him out at least for the balance of the regular season. “We will wait and see how it goes,” Zaza wrote in a text message. “I’m still hoping to be back this season.”
- The Hawks said Zaza had a CT scan to “rule out any fractures that may have been missed by the X-ray in Orlando.” The team said the CT can was also negative for a fracture but that Zaza has a sprained ligament in the foot. Larry Drew: “At the beginning I was under the impression he would be out just the two games but it’s more of a day-to-day thing. We are not going to try to rush him.”
- Obviously losing Zaza for the any amount of time in the playoffs would be a tough blow for the Hawks, who would be left with Jason Collins, Erick Dampier and (possibly) a gimpy Al Horford at center.
- It’s also bad news for the Pick-and-Pape Sy’s, who are in the championship game this week. They’ve benefited from Zaza’s strong play since he was picked up on the waiver wire to replace Andrew Bogut, a move that allows a team that drafted Lamar Odom in the fourth round to somehow have a chance to win the title.
- On the bright side, Ivan Johnson is proving his worth as a legit frontcourt rotation player. He scored and grabbed rebounds over bigger players, played good defense both straight up and in help situations and generally made a case he’s as good as any of Toronto’s big men and certainly no worse than the third-best healthy big on the Hawks.
- Ivan was, as usual, fantastically succinct in explaining his play: “Same thing every game. Play good defense and bring the energy.” Even better Ivan made what was, to my knowledge, his first joke ever. Asked to explain last nights’ ugly W, Ivan said: “It happens. It’s the NBA, where amazing happens.” And I swear to you, blog people, Ivan Johnson laughed.
- Joe Johnson on Ivan: “He’s a hard worker. As you can see he’s not scared of anything. He does everything that the coaches ask. That’s all you can ask for. He’s a hard worker and a guy who’s fearless going into the paint.”
- Drew on Ivan: “The thing with him, he is a guy who comes in every night I know what he’s going to bring from an energy standpoint. He may make some turnovers, he may take some bad shots, he may botch some defensive assignments. But I do know every time I put him in between those lines he’s going to give me 110 percent from an energy standpoint. He did it last night and came back and did it again tonight.”
- That sounds like a guy who could start instead of Collins unless the opposition has Dwight Howard or (maybe?) Roy Hibbert at center. And that’s true even considering that Collins was actually solid tonight with five rebounds, two blocks and reasonably effective help defense in 11 minutes.
- Ivan is the kind of guy who naturally plays with an edge. Not so for Jeff Teague who, after two sleepy games, was awakened by a talk from Drew and dominated Ben Uzoh and Co. in the way his talent suggests he should. “Coach got in me a little bit told me to be more aggressive on both defense and offense,” Teague said. “It starts with me on defense and offense. I’m the point guard. I’m always going to be the ball and I’m always going to be the head of the defense.”
- Josh Smith had what’s become a ho-hum line for him: 15 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two blocks, two steals, two turnovers. After appearing frustrated that he had to help so much against penetrating guards so much early on, he seemed to relish the task later.
- It was a bounce-back game for Joe, who demanded the ball often and got it. His defense was problematic early but he seemed to be rejuvenated during that third quarter when the Hawks defended well as a unit.
- Tracy McGrady got a lot of his production in garbage time but, no matter, he needs those 21 minutes. McGrady is not much for running plays, preferring instead to get the ball in his spots and either getting to the rim to score/draw a foul or delivering the ball to someone else in good position. It’s an approach that works better when he’s actually getting calls.
- T-Mac certainly seemed to enjoy sticking it to the usual hecklers that greet him in Toronto.
- Kirk Hinrich had more help this team against DeMar DeRozan, who still got 22 points on 14 shots. Hinrich made 3 of 6 shots and didn’t have a turnover.
- The Hawks are in a three-way tie with Boston and Orlando. The Celtics own the tiebreaker edge over the Hawks, who have the advantage over the Magic.
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat