To open a meaningful month, the Hawks win one that matters

Because nothing says "NBA basketball" like Horfy and Co. doing the Gator Chomp. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Because nothing says "NBA basketball" like Horfy and Co. doing the Gator Chomp. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Sometimes I think we’re too hard on the Hawks, and by “we” I mean not just you but me. It wasn’t so long ago that a team on pace to finish with 50 or so victories this season was losing 69 games in a season. It wasn’t so long ago that we wondered if this franchise would ever again make the playoffs, let alone win a series.

So, just for the record, the Hawks are no longer losers, and they’re nowhere close to being a terrible team. They’re a pretty good team, and they have been since May 2008. And yet …

Being human, we want more.

Said Jamal Crawford, who played on his share of lousy teams before becoming a Hawk in 2009: “Fans are appreciative of how far [the Hawks] have come. But now they’re saying, ‘OK, we want more than the second round [of the playoffs], more than winning close to 50 games.’ ”

We’re about to learn if there is indeed more to these Hawks. This month the Hawks will play the Bulls, Wednesday’s stellar opponent, twice more, and also the Thunder, the Knicks, the Lakers, the Heat and the Magic. And then, on April Fool’s Day, they play the Celtics. All but one of those games will be staged at Philips Arena. If there’s to be a great leap forward, it has to start now.

Said coach Larry Drew, speaking before the game: “The month of March could be a good month, or it could be a bad month … We’re in a position where we control our own destiny.”

Drew’s team awoke Wednesday 2 1/2 games behind Orlando for fifth place in the East, whereupon matters got complicated. Josh Smith, whose tender knee was reported not to require an MRI, didn’t suit up because he was off having … er, an MRI. This forced Drew to cobble together a new starting five, which featured Jason Collins at center, Al Horford at power forward and the new man Kirk Hinrich at point guard.

Early returns weren’t positive. The home team required almost seven minutes to score, by which point the Bulls had put up two touchdowns. Right about here, everyone had visions of those epic home wipeouts — a 23-point loss to Boston, a 41-point loss to New Orleans, a 34-point loss to Philadelphia — that have littered this season. Sure enough, the Bulls led by 17 points at halftime, and nothing suggested the second half wouldn’t double the deficit.

But then a funny thing happened, and by “funny” we mean “improbably stirring.” The Hawks made a stand. They took better shots, played tougher D and beat the Bulls to all the loose balls, of which there were many. In sum, the home side acted as if it was tired of being pushed around at home.

Al Horford, stoked by the sight of his old Gators roommate Joakim Noah, played with a focused fury. Horfy, as Noah used to call him, would finish with 31 points and 16 rebounds, and afterward he’d call it “one of the hardest [effort-wise] games I’ve ever played. Playing a team like the Bulls, without Josh, I had to bring that.”

Said Crawford: “That guy’s special. He’s a winner.”

He was also inspirational. From a budding embarrassment, this became a big-time game between serious opponents. The Hawks spent the second half knocking the Bulls backward, and a Horford free throw — he was fouled by Noah — tied it with 56 seconds left. A Noah free throw — he was fouled by Horford — put the Bulls back ahead.

A Horford dunk off a pick-and-roll with Crawford gave the Hawks their first lead. Then Derrick Rose, who had a terrible second half, fumbled the ball, and Joe Johnson dunked. Then Rose missed and Kyle Korver missed, and it was over.

The Hawks had won without Josh Smith after trailing by 19 points. They’d beaten a team they could see in the playoffs. They’d won at the beginning of a month in which they need to keep winning. They’d won, and for the first time in a long while, it felt as if this win meant something.

By Mark Bradley

81 comments Add your comment

Mr.Phil

March 2nd, 2011
9:32 pm

If we can get that kind of defense every game, we might have something here.

Mr.Phil

March 2nd, 2011
9:32 pm

Not doing the first thing.

Headley Lamar

March 2nd, 2011
9:34 pm

Headley Lamar

March 2nd, 2011
9:35 pm

Just kidding.

Kudos to the Dawgs as well. 20 win season is a strong one in Fox’s second season.

Sam

March 2nd, 2011
9:38 pm

Yep, great day to be a fan of the Hawks and the Dawgs!

kaminari

March 2nd, 2011
9:40 pm

“This win meant something.” Perfect.

Hawks Fan Norcross

March 2nd, 2011
9:46 pm

Horford played like the $120 million man tonite

A.T.

March 2nd, 2011
9:50 pm

Horford should be making 20+ mill, not Joe. Al is the heart and soul of this team.

clay

March 2nd, 2011
9:51 pm

Al Horford made the Hawks HIS team tonight. From here on out we dont turn to Joe to be the hero or Jamal. We turn to Al this is now his team going forward. He is the only one that plays all out for 48 minutes (well while he is in the game.) His play sparks everyone else on the team and makes everyone else play better. That is what you call a leader. That is exactly what Al is. This is the kind of win that can turn the rest of the season around and atleast be the 4 seed to get homecourt in the 1st round and do something when we get to the second. I have never seen that kind of emotion from the hawks after a win. Lets just hope they can keep it going because this month will be key for the rest of the season and what they can do in the playoffs. Great win guys.

Najeh Davenpoop

March 2nd, 2011
9:53 pm

Al did his job and Smoove’s job tonight, and Kirk played defense on Rose about as well as anyone can. Not realistic to ask for 31 and 16 from Al every night — which is why the inevitable commenters who will try to spin this as evidence that Smoove is not important are dead wrong — but Al and Kirk gave the Hawks phenomenal performances in this one.

Hopefully this team wises up to the fact that Al is the guy who needs to get the ball in crunch time, not #2.

J.J.M.

March 2nd, 2011
9:55 pm

hmmm so does this mean the hawks can win without josh? does sund look at this “one” game and say “hey we can trade josh in the off season because we beat the bulls without him?”

oldbird

March 2nd, 2011
9:57 pm

Super basketball night. Even our local high school basketball team won to advance to the elite 8 in the AA state playoffs. Go Hawks, Dawgs and Trojans.

merbertmoover

March 2nd, 2011
9:58 pm

man, those hawks be smokin tonite! you know what im sayin?

ATL FAN

March 2nd, 2011
10:02 pm

Horford for MVP!!

Mark Bradley

March 2nd, 2011
10:04 pm

It’s not often a big man’s play can be described as inspirational, but Horfy’s was.

Whopper Dawg

March 2nd, 2011
10:05 pm

Yep. the Hawks won one they were not expected to. Trade Marvin now while we are on a uptick.

Dr. Warren

March 2nd, 2011
10:08 pm

We here in China appreciate the Chairman Mao reference, MB.

kral

March 2nd, 2011
10:08 pm

just had to say..had cut the computer off…but then thought…HHHEEEL YEAH>>BRAVES WIN….HAWKS WIN>>>>UGA WINS ALLL…in the same day…life is goooodd right now

J.J.M.

March 2nd, 2011
10:09 pm

lets hope horford can play like this every game and notjust because he played against his old team mate noah

RethinkPossible

March 2nd, 2011
10:09 pm

Great game, Al is a the future of this team (NO Q’s ASKED)….For all those looking for a “spin” on this game. Shutup and enjoy this win.

Marcus

March 2nd, 2011
10:10 pm

see, this is the maddening thing about the Hawks: inconsistency. I don’t expect 82-0, but bad losses to bad teams is unacceptable (major injuries notwithstanding) at this stage of the Hawks progression.

kral

March 2nd, 2011
10:10 pm

hate to admit it it but I love that bb ball gator

kral

March 2nd, 2011
10:10 pm

hate to admit it it but I love that bb ball gator

[...] To open a meaningful month, the Hawks win one that mattersAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Because nothing says "NBA basketball" like Horfy and Co. doing the Gator Chomp. (Photo by M. Bradley) Sometimes I think we're too hard on the Hawks, and by “we” I mean not just you but me. It wasn't so long ago that a team on pace to finish with 50 or …NBA Game Summary – Chicago at AtlantaKSDKEx-Gators Horford, Noah tussle again as Bulls play HawksPalm Beach PostNBA Standings: Hawks Still Fifth As Crucial Home Stretch BeginsPeachtree HoopsMaddux Sports (blog) -Fast Line Sports -The Spreadall 174 news articles » [...]

glw

March 2nd, 2011
10:13 pm

Horford is definitely the man. I dont think Joe will have any problem with it as he isnt really the leader type, but how will the team respond when Smoove comes back. The ball tends to stop when it gets to Smoove, so in some aspects, Horford is often time left as the 3rd option when he really should be the 1st option. Hopefully this breakout game will lead to what we all know…..RUN THE OFFENSE THRU HORFORD!!!!!!

ATL FAN

March 2nd, 2011
10:14 pm

kral you just admitted it twice, dont think you hate it

Mark Bradley

March 2nd, 2011
10:15 pm

I knew I could count on you, Chairman Warren.

Daddy (no relation to Eddie) Long Long ;- )

March 2nd, 2011
10:17 pm

Man coach don’t change this lineup! Horfy’s a beast! LOL

I’m just glad the trade deadline came and went. We might be thinkin of doin da “dummy” and tryin to live life w/o Smoove. Hawk (Heck) NO!

Dr. Warren

March 2nd, 2011
10:22 pm

Of course, MB. Hopefully, it won’t be a long March.

Gwinnett Fred

March 2nd, 2011
10:26 pm

GREAT WIN!!!

But those that wonder why we never get any national attention or ESPN love—

Head over to the ESPN blog about this game and you’ll find my one post and dozens of Bulls fans all pizzed off about the loss.

You gotta comment on more than the AJC.com folks if you want people out there to think we have any kind of true fan base.

Seriously, I was the ONLY Hawks poster in the entire article and that’s just plain sad – especially after a game like this!!!

Gwinnett Fred

March 2nd, 2011
10:33 pm

Hollinger (ESPN) posting that this was the wildest Hawks home crowd since the Celtics series 3 years ago.

Take a bow those in attendance!

Bangladesh

March 2nd, 2011
10:38 pm

Gwinnett Fred…You are an inspiration to the Hawks fan base…Im bout to head over there right now…

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Najeh Davenpoop

March 2nd, 2011
10:40 pm

Damn, and I really wanted to go to this game, too…

RA

March 2nd, 2011
10:42 pm

Hawks need Josh Smith, but they needed an attitude adjustment more, and they got it. The rub on the Hawks all season wasn’t their talent, it wasn’t their depth. It was whether or not they were tough enough to stand toe to toe with a great team and come out on top. Well, for the first time this season, the Hawks answered that question with an affirmative. I resist using the phrase “signature game” but this was one of them. And if there was a signature moment to this game, it was late in the second quarter when Boozer threw Horford to the ground and Horford popped right back up and got the crowd into the game. If the Hawks make anything out of this season, they’ll look back at this game. Having made something out of this game, they should look back to that moment. No, Horford isn’t going to score 30 points a night. No, the Hawks aren’t going to win every game from here on out. No, they probably won’t be crowned champions in June, but if they can put their stamp on the rest of this season, they way they put it on this game, they’ll definitely be a team that nobody wants to see in the first round, or maybe, the second.

MitchC

March 2nd, 2011
10:49 pm

As I’ve posted before, I dont get the Hawks games, and dont subscribe to the NBA out of town games package, so I only know about the Hawks from what I read on this website. I’m not as emotionally involved with them as I am with the Braves, but I want them to do well.

I’m glad they won this meaningful game. Hopefully it will provide a spark.

You posted something that struck me. The idea of the fans, and yourself, Mr Bradley, being too hard on the Hawks. I say this with respect, because I think you are a good writer, and I enjoy reading your columns, and posting on your blogs, but.. you seem to do this with many of your blogs. You are often harsh on the teams.

The Braves are a team I do know a lot about, because I have the Extra Innings package, and watch many of their games. You have written many negative blogs about the Braves in my years posting on here.

So, my question in general is: You mention the fans, and yourself, the sports beat writer, being “hard” on the Hawks. My response is : “Isn’t that your job, to be “hard” on the teams of Atlanta? Aren’t you supposed to put them under a microscope, and tell the truth, the way a professor would grade a college paper? I have rarely seen you be Yippee! about any of the teams I read about in your columns.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: I’m aware the Hawks have many home games this month, and can perhaps move up in the seedings with a good month.. but.. this team is what it is. We are not the NBA elite of Boston, Miami, LA, or San Antonio. We may win a first round series, perhaps, and get to the second round, and get bounced. Its just reality.

Am I being too negative, or am I realistic?

National Pundit...boooo

March 2nd, 2011
10:55 pm

We do have the ability to put together a run, but only as underdogs achieving above our talent level. So, MIA,BOS,ORL,CHI beware!!! Mark, what say you?
Of all the likely playoff outcomes, ORL is actually the worst match up for the Hawks-last year I remember telling guys that we should have lost a couple of games to match ourselves up for CLE because we had competed well against them in the regular season. I am not scared of the other big guns in the East because we would be playing at a more aware level anyways, so I would expect good things.

dawg day afternoon

March 2nd, 2011
11:01 pm

I was close to going to this game too. At least I got to see the Thrashers win in person this week!

coolio

March 2nd, 2011
11:05 pm

Where is the props for marvin making two big plays to keep them in the game?

RethinkPossible

March 2nd, 2011
11:20 pm

Props to Marvin – I wish I could yell “MARRRRRVINNNNNNNNN” like I did tonight in my APT more often.

HWJ

March 2nd, 2011
11:26 pm

Al Horford is a class act guy. Were lucky to have him!

[...] To open a meaningful month, the Hawks win one that mattersAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Because nothing says "NBA basketball" like Horfy and Co. doing the Gator Chomp. (Photo by M. Bradley) Sometimes I think we're too hard on the Hawks, and by “we” I mean not just you but me. It wasn't so long ago that a team on pace to finish with 50 or …NBA: Atlanta 83, Chicago 80UPI.comEx-Gators Horford, Noah tussle again as Bulls play HawksPalm Beach PostNBA Standings: Hawks Still Fifth As Crucial Home Stretch BeginsPeachtree HoopsMaddux Sports (blog) -Fast Line Sportsall 246 news articles » [...]

real deal holyfield

March 2nd, 2011
11:30 pm

HAWKS WIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Like I Said Horford brings it, Marvin made some clutch plays, Hinrich defended Rose better than Bibby ever did, And oh yeah Bibby thanx 4 yo efforts, but HAWKS did not disrespect u, U disrespected us with yo half hearted play dis year.

jgsbrids

March 2nd, 2011
11:33 pm

finally this team shows some heart!!! watched the first half with my 7 and 9 year old sons and they like me were getting upset–after getting them to bed at the start of the 4th qtr–i thought that wouldn’t if be nice to wake them up in the morning before school and tell them the hawks won…well i didn’t have to wait til in the morning because after horford’s dunk to give the hawks the lead–i screamed out so loud that both my kids ran up to the bonus room to see the final 30 seconds…the steal and jj dunk and the bulls failed attempt to tie at the end. great memory and great to see my two boys getting to enjoy the late night heroics.

great comeback!!!!

Mark Bradley

March 2nd, 2011
11:41 pm

That’s it for the day, folks. Thanks for hanging with me through all four posts. (Not that I was counting. Even though I kind of was.)

tom

March 2nd, 2011
11:49 pm

i was at the game…amazing finish. do fans of other teams really start cheering for the hawks if their team is LOSING? how convenient right?

Lenny Wilkens

March 3rd, 2011
12:00 am

Al Horford=BEAST. Get the ball out of Joe “why are we paying you 20 million dollars” Johnsons hands cause Horford can lead this team.

Dito Kush

March 3rd, 2011
12:19 am

Great win 2night but Teague only gets 6 or 7 minutes after starting the last couple games what is up with that Larry Drew

MsDee

March 3rd, 2011
12:23 am

Not sure if yall notice but ever since Kirk joined the team, WE HAVE HAD SOME GREAT DEFENSE ALL AROUND!! We are 3-1 since Kirk joined us and that 1 lost was when he DIDN’T play. DEFense, ‘THAT $HIT WOKS!!’

Hawks Fan In New Orleans

March 3rd, 2011
12:32 am

Horford continues to own Noah. His dominant performance in a thrilling victory just solidifies that. I think the Hawks could be in the Bulls psyche now because we have dominated them for the past couple of years – despite all the adoration from the national media, Hawks are 1-0 the season series and on the rise. Chicago has a tough road ahead, finally -