Vivlamore reporting from Philips Arena. Here is my game story from exhibition opener against Heat.
The Hawks defeated the defending NBA champion Heat Sunday.
Yes, it’s just a preseason game. But it’s a good start for these new-look Hawks who are implementing a new style, with different offensive and defensive schemes, on a roster that currently has 14 new players.
Josh Smith scored 21 points and newcomers Lou Williams (18) and DeShawn Stevenson (11) were in double-figures in the Hawks’ 92-79 victory over the Heat at Philips Arena. The Heat did play with three of the Big Four with LeBron James (24 minutes), Chris Bosh (23 minutes) and Ray Allen (27 minutes). Dwyane Wade did not play.
The Heat led 26-19 after the first quarter. However, the Hawks outscored the Heat in all three remaining quarters, including by nine points in both the second and fourth stanzas.
“We were a little rusty early on,” Smith said. “After the first quarter, we tightened it up on the defensive end, got some stops, pushed the ball pretty good.”
Jeff Teague started at point guard, but coach Larry Drew used Williams at the position for much of his time in the game. Williams hit 5 of 6 from the field, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range. The Hawks collectively shot 38.1 percent (8 of 21) from beyond the arc.
“I was very happy with the way he led the team,” Drew said. “He was a point for us tonight. In the past he’s played a lot off the ball where he’s been predominately a scorer. He’s been playing some point guard through training camp and I wanted to use him in that capacity tonight. He was aggressive when he had to be. He got us into an offense when we needed to be. I was extremely, extremely happy with how well he defended.”
Smith and Teague said the Hawks were “rusty” for their first game of a new season. New players are still learning – and getting comfortable with – the new schemes.
“A lot of it is just implementing our whole system and being comfortable with it and not having to think about it but it’s your natural reaction,” Kyle Korver said. “Are we forcing high? Are we forcing low? What is our coverage going to be? I’m speaking for myself, I’m still thinking. That just takes reps. This is a different system. We have a lot of new guys, getting used to a lot of new faces. It’s just going to take some time.”
Bosh led all scorers with 22 points. He scored 11 of the Heat’s first 13 points of the second half as they temporarily took a one-point lead, 58-57, early in the third quarter. It would be their last lead. The Hawks went on a 14-6 run to start the fourth quarter, building a 12-point lead, and cruised.
Drew said he was pleased with the Hawks defensive energy, the team’s effort defending the paint and contesting shots after the first quarter and the chemistry. He wanted to see more than the 19 assists but said that will come as the offense clicks.
“My main objective with this team is to get them in a defensive-mind presence every time they step out on the court,” Drew said.
At one point during the game, Drew was shouting instructions when Smith told the coach ‘We’ve got this.’ The forward said he and his teammates must learn to play instinctually.
“We want to get the guys some confidence to play defense by themselves, try to figure out what plays will work for us instead of always having to look for guidance,” Smith said. “We need to play in the flow and not always have to look to him when we are in a half-court set.”
The Hawks had a starting lineup of Al Horford, Stevenson, Teague, Korver and Smith. He said the group will likely change for the next exhibition game, Wednesday at San Antonio.
Keith Benson, John Jenkins, Carldell Johnson, Isma’il Muhammad and Mike Scott did not play. Drew said that was by design with a roster of 19 players.
Zaza Pachulia (groin) and Devin Harris (knee) did not dress out for the game. Both have been limited practice participants during training camp. Drew said he was “almost certain” each would play during the exhibition season.
- Chris Vivlamore
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