Vivlamore reporting from Hawks practice.
It was time.
With the Hawks’ 11-point fourth-quarter lead against the Bobcats nearly gone Wednesday night, coach Larry Drew made a defensive switch. He put forward Josh Smith on Bobcats guard Ben Gordon in the final two minutes. Gordon was almost single-handedly bringing the Bobcats back with 20 fourth-quarter points.
Enough was enough.
Despite Gordon’s improbable 3-pointer, with Smith one of two defenders, that pulled the Bobcats to within a point with 29 seconds remaining the Hawks held on for a 94-91 victory. It was the Hawks’ sixth straight win, their longest since the start of the 2010-11 season.
“A guy like Josh who has the ability to defend all five positions, I knew that he we would take the challenge.” Drew said. “I knew that he would try to fight through screens. One-on-one with him guarding Gordon, I certainly take my chances with that because Josh has length that could affect a shot. If Gordon tries to drive past him, he’s going to meet him at the rim.
“My whole line of thinking was to put a guy on Gordon who was really going to take the challenge.”
Smith was in the middle of the key moment in the victory when the Bobcats threw an inbound pass away with 5.2 seconds remaining, still down by the one point. Ramon Sessions was trying to get the ball to Gordon which sailed out of bounds in front of Smith’s outstretched arm.
“Your main focus is you have to guard him before he catches the basketball because he can hit any kind of shot, whether it’s a hand in his face or you are jumping at him,” Smith said. “When he’s on you can’t stop him. I wanted to stay glued to him.”
The Hawks forced the Bobcats into two shots by center Bismark Biyombo before Gordon’s final 3-pointer and the final turnover.
Gordon did finish with a game-high 26 points. However, Al Horford, Lou Williams and Smith all finished with 17 points for the Hawks. Smith added 13 rebounds, six assists, five blocks and three steals.
The Hawks (9-4) will put their six-game winning streak on the line by hosting the Cavaliers (3-12) Friday. They will most likely be without Kyle Korver. The guard left Wednesday’s game with back spasms. He had missed the previous day’s practice with the injury but started against the Bobcats. However, he was forced to leave the game in the third quarter.
Korver did not practice Thursday. While the team is calling Korver day-to-day, it’s likely they will hold him out because he could be afforded extra rest with their next game Wednesday.
“We’ll use our judgment but it probably wouldn’t make much sense to risk him being back out there with a back that is not 100 percent,” Drew said.
Anthony Morrow left Thursday’s practice with a quad contusion. A decision on his status will be made following Friday’s shootaround.
The Cavaliers are very thin at guard themselves. Kyrie Irving is out with a broken finger and Daniel Gibson is nursing a sore right elbow.
The Cavaliers have lost four straight games and only the Raptors and Wizards have worse records in the Eastern Conference.
They are led by Anderson Varejao, the NBA’s leading rebounder. He has at least 15 rebounds in 10 of his 14 games this season, including the past six.
In the Cavaliers last game, a 91-78 loss to the Suns Tuesday where Varejao had 20 points and 18 rebounds, coach Byron Scott’s post-game press conference went like this: “Andy Varejao was fantastic. Everybody else sucked tonight. Anything else you need to know?”
Still, Drew is concerned about the Cavaliers, although the Hawks have won the last seven games, including four in a row at Philips Arena.
“I really believe our players remember the games we’ve had with Cleveland in the past and they were all tough games,” Drew said. “… They have always been a tough matchup for us because they have a bunch of blue-collar workers.”
The Hawks have not won seven straight games since November 2009.
- Chris Vivlamore