The Atlanta Hawks snapped a four game losing streak with a much needed 111-105 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday afternoon. While the Hawks made this game a little tougher down the stretch than they needed to that doesn't diminish the victory in my eyes. The Hawks met a couple of challenges in this game and if not for a loss of focus or a couple of bad decisions down the stretch, they could have raced home to victory. Still if you can possibly have a must win game eleven games into the season then this was it. They absolutely had to win this game against a Timberwolves club that in the words of coach Drew were "very different" from the team that the Hawks had defeated just a few days before.
More after the jump
Minnesota came into Sunday's game leading the NBA in offensive and total rebounds per game. In case you missed it that was an area that the Hawks had struggled with big time during the four game slide. Coach Drew told us before the game that rebounding was a priority. That he had harped on it time and time again and would continue to do so. It is something very simple yet something that is easily overlooked. Well on Sunday the Hawks met that challenge by actually out rebounding the T-Wolves 40-39. The Hawks also held an advantage on the offensive glass 15-12. That against a huge Minnesota front line that essentially starts two power forwards in Michael Beasley and Kevin Love. Love grabbed 17 rebounds by himself in this game, yet his teammates could only grab 22 on their own.
If you witnessed the Hawks meltdown Friday night from the free throw line you had to wonder if there would be any carry over to the game on Sunday. The Hawks erased any thoughts of that by making 17of 18 in the first half and 34 of 39 for the game. Al Horford who missed four in a row down the stretch on Friday was a perfect 10 of 10 on Sunday including a perfect 4 of 4 inside the last 30 seconds. The Hawks have been one of the best free throw shooting teams in the league up until Friday night and it has been key to their success in the early going.
Al Horford and Josh Smith each recorded double doubles in this game. Horford finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds while Josh tossed in 23 points and 10 rebounds. Combined they went 19-34 from the field and a perfect 12-12 from the free throw line. Joe Johnson missed practice on Saturday because he wasn't feeling well and only played about 28 minutes in this one. A shame really because he looked locked in scoring 17 points, grabbed 3 rebounds, and dished a team high 5 assists. He also was matched up against Michael Beasley for a lot of the game. Johnson and company didn't shut Beasley down but they did make him work hard and he was visibly frustrated for a stretch in the third quarter when the Hawks seemed to take control of the game.
The Hawks bench played much better in this one. It is also worth noting that coach Drew adjusted the rotations somewhat and stayed with his starters a little longer in the first quarter. Horford didn't come out in the first until about the 11 minute mark of the quarter. That might not have been by design but could have instead had something to do with the 17-7 start the Timberwolves had to the game. Jamal Crawford scored 11 points on 3-8 shooting (more on him later) while Mo Evans gave the Hawks 16 quality minutes scoring 9 points on 3-5 shooting. Despite his efficient shooting he seemed to set the tone for the second unit defensively. I will stop short of saying their defense was exceptional but it was a stark improvement over what we have seen out of the unit in recent days.
Over the last few games two things have come up to bite the Hawks. One was a lack of rebounding in key moments and the second was turnovers. The Hawks solved the rebounding problem on Sunday but turnovers were able to keep the T-Wolves in the game. The Hawks committed 15 for the game with the T-Wolves scoring 23 points off of those miscues. The Hawks committed four of those fifteen in the fourth quarter. Those four turnovers led to the T-Wolves cutting what was a 14 point lead down to 5. The Hawks relaxed at that point and I admit I never felt like they lost control of the game, but the four game losing streak in which the Hawks failed to close teams out raises concern even in this game.
Sebastian Telfair finished the game with 18 points and eight assists proving once again that the Hawks have a problem defending the smaller and quicker point guards in the league. I thought Jeff Teague did a pretty good job defensively in this one but as Michael Cunningham points out in his recap he still at times isn't on the same page that the coaching staff wants him to be offensively.
At one point in the first half L.D. corrected Teague on four straight possessions. Teague seemed to be getting tired of hearing it and Lester Conner consoled him.
So for everyone that is ready for Teague to take over this team, realize that there are some things that happen in the game that we can't necessarily see because we aren't in the huddle or in practice each day. I still think Teague is a big part of this team's immediate future but the preseason robbed him of some valuable development time. This would be a moot point if Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford were better defensively on the ball.
It was a win that they absolutely had to have to keep the sky from falling around Peachtree Hoops. Now the schedule lightens up on a Hawks team that has played 11 games in 18 days including three sets of back to backs. That is paramount when you consider that the Hawks also had injuries in that time. Not making excuses but it is worth pointing out that the schedule has been grueling. They play Tuesday night in Indiana and then don't return to the court until Saturday's match up at home with Dallas.