It is important to keep perspective and realize that last night was but the first game of a long season. However, there were enough good things to take from last night's game to get excited about. Especially coming off an exhibition season that seemed to produce more questions than it answered.
The Hawks raced out to an early 30-22 lead after one quarter of play. In the process, Al Horford picked up two quick fouls the last of which led to a hard fall by Zach Randolph that would limit him for the rest of the game. In Horford's absence Zaza Pachulia stepped up and had a huge impact on the game. Pachulia exhibited his trademark hustle in battling for what seemed like every rebound that was available. He also showed that in the new Hawks motion offense he is not to be forgotten as he worked into open space where his teammates found him. By halftime, Zaza had played 20 minutes and had 13 points and 9 rebounds.
In terms of rotation, I thought it was interesting that the entire second team was on the floor with two minutes to go in the first quarter. The Hawks went ten deep before getting Jordan Crawford into the game late in the fourth. It is hard to argue with the results as the Hawks bench outscored the Grizzlies by a 50-28 margin.
The Hawks withstood a Grizzlies run in the third quarter that was led by point guard Mike Conley. The Grizzlies found some success with the high pick and roll with Conley taking advantage. To combat it, coach Drew inserted Jeff Teague into the lineup as he is more capable of staying in front of Conley rather than Mike Bibby. The move worked as the Hawks closed the quarter with a big 12-0 run that erased any doubt in the outcome.
The motion offense was on full display as there were a lot of back screens and we even saw a Zaza to Joe Johnson lob out out of the high post. The fact that I just recapped this game and didn't mention Joe Johnson until now is also good news for the Hawks. Johnson didn't have his greatest shooting night but did have a big impact on this game. He scored a team high 22 points on 6-16 shooting while also dishing out 7 assists. The assists are big in the context of this motion offense but the most encouraging thing Johnson did on the night was get to the free throw line 11 times where he made 9.
I do want to take a second and talk about offensive diversity. It is important to point out that the Hawks didn't run the motion offense exclusively. They still called some high pick and roll plays and a few isolation sets in certain instances. I was critical in the comments section of Jamal bogging down the offense but in looking at the situation again it appeared that the Hawks probably had a high pick and roll called instead. There were two instances in the fourth quarter where Memphis rookie Xavier Henry was matched up on Joe Johnson. Joe immediately backed him down into the post scoring on the first opportunity and passing out for a Mike Bibby three after the Grizzlies were forced to double team on the second.
The fact is set plays and isolations are a part of basketball at all levels. You just don't want it as the backbone of your offense as it was last year. The more times you can keep a defense off balance the better. So don't be surprised if you sit down to watch the Hawks this year looking for this new offense and be surprised that there are still some iso situations mixed in.
The only negative that I will throw out there was that more than half of Josh Smith's field goal attempts came from outside sixteen feet. Even though he finished 5-10 for the night and hit his only three point attempt, I am not ready to call that a success. He didn't attempt a free throw and that coming with two thirds of Memphis starting front line missing the game due to injury. The Hawks have to get him in the paint and that is the challenge for coach Drew going forward.
Defense this season will be a work in progress. We already in game one witnessed an adjustment being made when Jeff Teague was inserted into the game during the third quarter to guard Mike Conley. For the most part I thought the Hawks did a good job of keeping their man in front of them. There were a few mix ups at times, I noted once that Josh Smith appeared to duck under a screen looking for a switch that led to a Rudy Gay three pointer. He however more than made up for that with constant effort defensively and challenged everything at the rim finishing with five block shots. It is true Josh probably covered up a few defensive mistakes at the rim but that is a nice luxury to have.
I was very pleased with what I saw last night from the Hawks. It is important to keep in mind that this game will be long forgotten if they don't bring the same intensity on Friday night, but you can see that this is a talented team that has been kind of written off by many prognosticators this season. It is true that the Hawks won't shoot 53% from the field every night, but it is also true that Al Horford won't finish many nights with two points either.