Hawks, Josh Smith bounce back in major way over Bulls

Evidence of the Hawks' improved defense in Game 4: four guys surround the Bulls' Derrick Rose. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Evidence of improved defense: Derrick Rose is surrounded. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(UPDATED: 11:45 p.m.)

This is what effort looks like. This is what defense looks like. This is what Josh Smith taking over in the fourth quarter with his feet in the paint and not near the three-point line looks like (quick, somebody take a picture!).

Imagine if every game was like this.

The Hawks rebounded from a miserable performance again Sunday night, and the only reason to see it coming was because there was no reason to see it coming. Throw a whiffle ball in a wind tunnel and guess which direction that sucker will fly. That’s sort of like predicting the Hawks. But they showed us something again: potential.

After flopping in Game 3 and failing to lead after any quarter in consecutive games, the Hawks’ 100-88 win over Chicago at Philips Arena showed us how good they can be. They showed us what happens when an occasionally dysfunctional bunch plays hard and plays smart.

Remarkably, they have evened this best-of-seven series at 2-2 wins each against the team that finished with the NBA’s best record (62-20).

Go figure.

“We played with energy, that was the difference,” coach Larry Drew said. “And we shared the basketball. When we do that, we’re an effective ballclub.”

How did it happen? Well, start with players crashing the boards and diving on the floor. Start with effort. And yes, start with Josh Smith.

He had his best game of the postseason. He finished with 23 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists. He took over the game in the fourth quarter, when he scored 11. This is what he is capable of.

“I’m going to bring the tape in and bring him in the office [Monday],” Drew said. “And he knows. Josh and I have a number of talks and I know what he brings to the table. He just sometimes finds his way out on the perimeter and lets it go. When he’s rebounding and running the floor and pushing the basketball — that’s who he is. He has a unique ability to impact the game at both ends of the floor.”

Smith had some of those oh-no moments early in the game when he fired up jumpers, although not to the extent of his Game 3 performance.

“There are people who don’t understand the game, who don’t know the game, but that doesn’t faze me,” he said. “My teammates matter more than anybody else. They believe in me. They have confidence in my game. When I was in my rut, they told me to stay positive, to stay in the game, just do what I’d been doing all season long. I stayed with it.”

Even before tip-off, the Hawks could be comforted by one thought: No matter how the rest of this series went, they were assured of winning one more game in the second round of the playoffs than the Los Angeles Lakers (who were swept by Dallas). In most years, that would be considered a monumental success.

But even at this point of the season, the Hawks are still trying to prove something that shouldn’t even be a question in May: a beating heart. Their propensity to not show up for games, let alone playoff games, is maddening. After splitting two games in Chicago, they returned home for Game 3 and, in Drew’s mind, made one huge miscalculation: They suddenly thought they were good. They lost by 17 points.

It was different Sunday. They came out with energy and attitude – defense even. They led after the first quarter (28-26). They led at halftime (47-46). The significance: They hadn’t led after any quarter since winning Game 1.

Things went so well at the outset, Drew didn’t feel a need to use his first timeout until 12:40 into the game, slightly behind the 49-second pace the last time around.

Joe Johnson, who hit only 4 of 12 shots in the last game, hit his first four on this night. His 15 points at halftime exceeded his 10 on Friday. The effort on the boards were better, thanks in part to Drew’s pregame decision to “go big” with his lineup and start Jason Collins at center.

The defense against Derrick Rose (44 points in Game 3) also was superior, partly because Jeff Teague was better but also because he received far more help from teammates. There was one play in the first quarter when Rose drove to the basket and was surrounded by four Hawks: Teague, Collins, Smith and Al Horford. If the Hawks brought that kind of focus and intensity all the time, there wouldn’t be nearly as many skeptics in this town.

The game was tied at 84-84 with four minutes left. Then Teague and Horford hit runners and the Hawks led the rest of the way. Horford scored the next two buckets, both on assists from Smith.

Suddenly, five players were working in unison. They shared the ball on offense, with five players scoring in double figures. Imagine if it was like this all the time.

By Jeff Schultz

Earlier: Collins starts but will Hawks show up?

Earlier: Hawks’ constant Sybil act reaffirms changes are needed

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

128 comments Add your comment

Heath

May 8th, 2011
10:51 pm

Who is that guy and what has he done with Josh Smith?

Chris

May 8th, 2011
10:52 pm

Dylan

May 8th, 2011
10:54 pm

Hawks are the most bi-polar team in the NBA playoffs

Chris

May 8th, 2011
10:54 pm

NOOO I always wanted to be first!!!!!

chas

May 8th, 2011
10:55 pm

Great performance …maximized our parts. Teague was great tonight and Josh and everyone else. Don’t think we will take the series, but at least we can come home one more time if anything. Just goes to show you what this team could do.

Edgar

May 8th, 2011
10:57 pm

Way to go Hawks!!!! Great Game!!!! Lets’ get another one in Chi-Town and come home to wrap this thing up!

Cousin Vicker

May 8th, 2011
11:00 pm

I still think the Bulls take this in Game 7. But how great is it to be in the second round and have a legitimate chance to win? And nothing that happened in the first two games in Chicago makes me feel like that isn’t a real possibility.

Corch Myer

May 8th, 2011
11:00 pm

Tues in Chicago will be ugly – get ready

Gulfwaves Gary

May 8th, 2011
11:03 pm

Never sure which Hawks team will show up. I will take this one for the rest of the playoffs. Josh Smith was what we all knew he could be. And all the highlight film made shots. GO HAWKS.

HawksFan

May 8th, 2011
11:04 pm

Good move by Drew, good game overall!

Chris S

May 8th, 2011
11:05 pm

Good work on the writing, Mr. Schultz

Can someone tell me when Al scored 20? I watched the whole game and did not see that happen.

Also, Kirk getting hurt is the reason we have won two games. Although I hate to say it because I love Hinrich.

realistically speaking

May 8th, 2011
11:06 pm

Anyone else notice Marvin Williams stat line…..hell pay me 5 million a year, I could give you that!

Mapmaker

May 8th, 2011
11:07 pm

Let the Hawks run and forget the half court set. J-Smoove and Teague are hard to defend in the open court.

HawksFanNorcross

May 8th, 2011
11:10 pm

right on realistically speaking

JD

May 8th, 2011
11:11 pm

Damn good game, JS just missed a triple double tonight. 2 more games like this one and its on to the conf finals…..

wxwax

May 8th, 2011
11:11 pm

Man, was I ever wrong.

A ballsy effort by the Hawks.

I guess we’re watching Jeff Teague learn to play in the NBA. In the freaking playoffs!

DHunt

May 8th, 2011
11:13 pm

Josh Smith: 23 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks, 1 Steal. Next time I’m at the Highlight factory I am slapping every single moron that dares to boo when the man takes a wide open jump shot, in the flow of the offense or near the end of the shot clock. Get a life, support the team, or Get Off The Bandwagon!

Gwinnett Fred

May 8th, 2011
11:14 pm

I refuse to get excited about Smith – up in Chicago, odds are he’ll turn back to De.Jeckyl.

I want to give my atta-boy to Teague. As much as I enjoyed watching the team win tonight, that was the first game I’ve ever seen him look like he was having fun. I really believe he is a special talent and damn Drew for sitting him as much as he did this year.

If he isn’t the starting PG the rest of the playoffs, however long they may last, AND starting next year, then Drew should be fired and whoever is in charge (SUND) of working with the coach to put the best team on the court should fired too!

On to Chicago and take game 5!!!!

papason

May 8th, 2011
11:15 pm

Damien Wilkins and marvin williams had the same stats for this game except wilkins only played 1 min and Williams played 25…PLEASE Sit his high butt down

JSS

May 8th, 2011
11:16 pm

@ Jeff Schultz…
Like McAdoo, he is what he is (Josh Smith)… Neither of us have enough hair left to keep going crazy over his play… Now Horford is a different story, when he finally channeled Rick Mahorn on Noah in 3rd Qtr; I nearly ruined a brand new MacBook Pro! That is what the low post is supposed to do!

THE WILLSTER

May 8th, 2011
11:16 pm

Hawks finally decided to rise up. Josh Smith finally decides to play his game….Now Game 5 in Chicago…Do they have the balls to win that one?

Remarkable

May 8th, 2011
11:19 pm

Finally, Josh Smith plays the way he should! Great Game
P.S. I thought I’d hate flipping back and forth between the hawks and the Braves, but I didn’t. What a great night to be an Atlanta fan.

am

May 8th, 2011
11:20 pm

Josh is on NBA TV…just answered a question about the fans booing him when he takes jumpers. He’s in denial…big time!

A Hawks Fan

May 8th, 2011
11:21 pm

Good game Hawks…you and and should beat the Bulls. Just remember games #1 and #4. Let’s finsh this next week in Atlanta. I’ll be there.

am

May 8th, 2011
11:24 pm

I have to say this. I think Josh Smith is the glue to this team in the locker room. Dude really puts his team first. I’m proud of his interviews tonight (minus the jumpshot stuff).

gt

May 8th, 2011
11:25 pm

The real difference maker was Teague. This kid has got some talent. His blowing by defenders on the dribble forces Josh to go with him or be sitting by himself on the perimeter.

DHunt

May 8th, 2011
11:28 pm

How could there ever have been any doubt that Jeff Teague was the best PG on this team? The only reason his assists aren’t higher is because the rest of the team isn’t used to playing with him and doesn’t get into good positions when he drives. And he’s making tough layups when no one gets open for a pass. All we heard all year was this, the coach must know best because he sees him in practice crap. When is somebody gonna seriously call out Hawks coaching and management for that? how good could this team be if JT had been allowed enough playing time to earn their respect and cooperation this season?

am

May 8th, 2011
11:29 pm

I’m a hawks fan…but Derrick Rose is a true MVP. Dude is taking all the blame for the loss….accounting for all of his mistakes in the 4th. Such a refreshing young man…I’m happy for him. Hopefully he’ll get to spend more time with his mother after the Hawks take the next 2!

Reid Adair

May 8th, 2011
11:29 pm

If the Hawks can repeat that type of effort, they’ll have a chance.

wxwax

May 8th, 2011
11:30 pm

I don’t think Josh Smith is a bad guy.

But he really and truly doesn’t get it.

He owned the paint in the 4th Q. But when TV asks him about playing under the hoop instead of taking jump shots, he gives a nonsensical answer about “showing his talents.”

Huh?

DHunt

May 8th, 2011
11:30 pm

@am, I hate I missed the answer to that question. Somebody get me a link or a quote please!!!! He should have cussed all they sorry azzes out.

DHunt

May 8th, 2011
11:31 pm

Rose is worn out from carrying four grown men for 48 minutes every night. That kind of heavy lifting takes it’s toll after a while.

Mapmaker

May 8th, 2011
11:32 pm

I’m going to go out on a limb and compare Jeff Teague to Rajon Rondo. Rondo was basically a non factor his first year and then out of the emerged today’s version of Rajon. I think we’re seeing the same phenomenon in JT. Plus compare their size and speed, it’s almost the same player but with JT being a bit quicker. And oh yeah they play a little bit of “D”.

Sage of Bluesland

May 8th, 2011
11:32 pm

I haven’t seen a more overrated, undercriticized “leader” than Al Horford since Keith Brooking graced us with his pile-jumps and ankle-grabs eight yards downfield…

Swingman912

May 8th, 2011
11:33 pm

Are the Hawks playing tough in the face of adversity? Did J-Smoove respond to coaching finally? Is Jeff Teague STILL playing solid ball against DRose, in the playoffs, after barely playing at all in the season? Did Joe make correct passes out of the double team? Yezzir! And I’m on my Mcdonalds flow…..I’M LOVIN IT……chuuuuuch

dapluva!.

May 8th, 2011
11:34 pm

M-V-TEAGUE!!!!!! as long as josh plays like he played tonight here on out we should be good. i hate when he starts jackin up those 3’s you are a post player dammit aye from me to you thats not your game man stop killin the team with that weak s#*t!!!!

el

May 8th, 2011
11:34 pm

Don’t break this team up. They have 3 good young players in horford, smith an teague and I felt that way this morning not just tonight. Was Kerr an irritating homer on TNT or was it just me. “Noah brings more than Smith”, is he blind and Chicago is always in the game? Smith doesn’t always play smart but he can block shots and pass like Noah wishes he could. Chicago has struggled the whole playoffs, even against Indiana.

Eric

May 8th, 2011
11:35 pm

After two of the worst games of his career the real J-Smoove finally awoke. Now if we can only get Crawford back to himself the Hawks would really be cooking.

Gwinnett Fred

May 8th, 2011
11:35 pm

@Sage:

Consider yourself IGNORED.

Your mother is calling you to go to bed!

WR

May 8th, 2011
11:36 pm

I know its been used alot, even overused at times, but if there was ever a team that should have cardiac preceeding it, its the Hawks. If your a fan of the Hawks a nice bottle of Bayer near the remote is a good thing. With the Hawks, its hard to love them or hate’em because you have no clue what team is going to show up. They take a night off and you wonder how these guys made it to the NBA, they actually show up and you wonder why these guys can’t at the least contend for a conference title. At their best, the Hawks are truly an unstoppable force, at their worse a psychologist could get rich off this bunch, including a major motion picture deal. Please, please no more polls on whether the Hawks will win or not, those kinds of polls just don’t make sense, now give me a poll wondering which Hawks team will show up and now you have a nice debate.

Cardiac Hawks, has a nice ring to it, can anyone really disagree.

NorCal Hawk

May 8th, 2011
11:37 pm

Does it get any sweeter- Hawks tie Bulls at 2 apiece, while Lakers go home after 4. Teague for sure is our secret weapon, and please Josh, stay in the zone you’re in. Who knows what might happen.

IceColdATLien

May 8th, 2011
11:39 pm

Y’all hear the crowd???:

“ATL!!!… ATL!!!… ATL!!!”

Game 6 will seal the deal: Hawks vs Celts in a remix of 2008… but this time the Hawks go to the Finals as the biggest surprise in NBA history!!!!

TruthSeeker

May 8th, 2011
11:40 pm

Regardless of what happens the rest of this series, Jeff Teague gives you hope for the future. I don’t know why this kid hasn’t been playing the last two years but better late than never. He is the first playmaking point guard we’ve had in a long time.

Very, very proud of these Hawks.

Kaye

May 8th, 2011
11:42 pm

LET’S GO HAWKS! We gonna win Game 5 & 6!!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTY074F6Oio

LakeDawg

May 8th, 2011
11:44 pm

J Smoove and Teague were the difference tonight. Who’d have thunk it. As for game 5? Who knows with these Hawks. They could play great or they could take the night off and lose by 40. One thing I’m pretty confident about though is J Smoove wiil not have a game like tonight. I look for him to revert to form. I knew he had a game in him like he played tonight and have been waiting for it. It couldn’t have come at a better time. However, he only has one of those about every ten games against good competition. I look for jacked 3’s, no rebounds, and plenty of complaining in game 5, but who knows? He could put up back to back big time games. That would match the MO of these Hawks….do what is least expected. BTW Have to give kudos to Larry Drew.

b17211

May 8th, 2011
11:48 pm

Marvin Williams has regressed the past two seasons. He’s a good guy but is virtually nothing as a player. Wilkins should play more.

Josh Smith is an all star when he stays within his game and brings energy every game.

Jeff Teague is a very intelligent player and a great athlete. He should have been playing a lot more during the season. His confidence improves with every minute he plays.

McGarrett

May 8th, 2011
11:50 pm

This proves it, NBA Playoffs must be based on some king of script.

JSS

May 8th, 2011
11:50 pm

@ Sage…
You were right. A little extreme; but right none-the-less…

moboman

May 8th, 2011
11:56 pm

Jeff Teague is finding himself as a player. I didnt think it would happen with this team. Glad to be wrong.

Rishi

May 9th, 2011
12:00 am

Jeff Teague is the real deal! Smoove’s play is bipolar. Marvin Williams should never be allowed to take the floor again. I mean how could we pick this guy number 2 and then be foolish enough to give him $8 Mil a year extension? Horford is struggling this series because of Noah. Crawford and Johnson are great when they have it going and not so much when they don’t. I think Drew is doing a much better job then Woody though. He actually makes adjustments between games and tries to implement a workable system