The Hawks 80-74 victory over Orlando on Monday night was a stark turn of events for the the two teams that dates back to last season. This time it was a Hawks team that grinded out a victory in a less than stellar played game from either side. This was also a game where new Hawks coach Larry Drew showed a willingness to change in an effort to grab a victory. In case you missed it, the Hawks started a big lineup that featured Marvin Williams at shooting guard, Josh Smith at small forward, Al Horford at power forward, and Jason Collins at center. The decision to make the change in the starting lineup was made a little easier with Joe Johnson out but the decision to place Collins on Howard with no double teams was different than the way the Hawks have approached this team in the past.
By single covering Howard, the Hawks were able to stay on Magic shooters and weren't constantly trying to chase following a rotation. Without Jameer Nelson, the Magic were missing that penetrating force that usually draws the defense in and that led to Vince Carter having to try and go out and win this game alone. Add to the fact that the Hawks big men were able to take Howard out of his comfort zone which led to him only scoring 14 points on the night on eleven shot attempts.
Whether this was bad offense or just good defense by both teams in this one I am not completely sure. What I am sure of is the Hawks made enough plays down the stretch to win this one and Mike Bibby was a huge part of that. Without Nelson on the floor, the Magic were unable to attack Bibby off the dribble which led to him playing a lot (36 minutes) and delivering some crucial daggers down the stretch (3-4 three point attempts +19 for the game).
Josh Smith came up with a huge stat line of 19 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 blocks while spending a lot of the night at the small forward position. Smith probably settled for way too many outside shots tonight and that is not the recipe for success over the long haul but his rebounds and block shots are not to be overlooked in this one even if his shot selection still leaves something to be desired. Al Horford probably benefited the most from Collins starting as it freed him up from being matched up on Howard early. Al recorded a double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds yet still appeared to rush a few opportunities as he no doubt was looking for Howard to come with help defense. Still it was his free throws down the stretch that iced the game and as I noted in the game thread there was no one else that I wanted to see taking them.
Josh Powell tossed in eight more points to continue his string of strong offensive play. Those points were huge because most came with Howard on him and that prevented Dwight from straying too far from Powell and drastically cut down on the help defense that he could provide. Jamal Crawford was a mixed bag in this one going 6-17 from the field but was intent on taking the ball to the basket rather than firing away from deep. Crawford finished with 15 points yet he is slow to get into the offense when at the point which usually results in an iso situation for himself.
We called for it and coach Drew answered as Al Horford and Josh Smith both topped 40 minutes of playing time in this one. While you don't want that to become habit over the long haul it was nice to see Atlanta go for the win so to speak when they had the opportunity.
All in all it is a great win for the Hawks and no matter the circumstances hopefully it is a confidence booster for down the road.