There is a growing concern among some Bird Watchers that the Hawks may not have the mental focus and drive to be anything more than part-time participants in the NBA Playoffs. Recent games have been consistently marked by uneven play offensively and minimal defensively.
For those who count those traits as a serious issues, then the Hawks 105-99 win at Washington did nothing to assuage their concerns.
The Hawks found a feisty foe in the you-name-it depleted Wizards, but the playoff bound Hawks decided they would try to see if they would win with two arms tied behind their backs. One of those arms was named Defense and the other named Discipline.
The Hawks offered little resistance against the shooting of Andray Blatche, who tossed a (30) point game in on behalf of the hosts. And when the nearly (40) Wizards misses caromed into the air, almost half the time (17) the ball landed in the hands of the team that shot the ball. The Wizards outrebounded the Hawks on the defensive glass 25-17, despite the Wizards missing two more shots than the Hawks. Al Horford had a single defensive rebound to numerically illustrate the point.
The Wizards are one of the bottom 10 in Offensive Efficiency, and hadn't done much offensively in their last (5) games. The Hawks were obviously willing to take their chances by resting defensively and planning to outscore WAS.
In regards to Discipline, the Hawks manufactured (10) first half turnovers (14 for the game), a gaggle of missed shots around the hoop--courtesy of loose passing and poor decision making, and a miserable 15-25 (60 percent from the free throw line.
The Hawks were fortunate in two ways to get the win despite their own attempts to handicap themselves. One, the Wizards were a generous bunch, providing the Hawks (32) points on their own (21) turnovers. How does Blatche score (30) points and still pull a (-9) in a six point game? Providing (7) turnovers goes a long way towards that dubious achievement.
Two, the Hawks were shooting very well from the outside--a good thing considering they scored only (36) of their (105) in the paint against the less than exalted Wizards front court. Jamal Crawford made over half his shots and got to the free throw line for (11) attempts (made 9) to ring up his Hawk-high (29) points. Mike Bibby was also 7-11 (16 points), knocking down the open shot against a defense-optional Wizards team that gave him many opportunities.
Despite giving some ground up late (We heard folks saying here we go again even in DVR mode), two fourth quarter sequences stood out in a good way.
(No, we're not going to pick on Joe Johnson's airball from the corner--Geez, people would begin to think THHB doesn't like him and didn't really praise him in the Top 10 countdown and are currently trying to "run him out of town".)
One was with around 7 1/2 minutes left to go, the ball zipped in and out, and side to side, eventually landing in Zaza Pachulia's mitts near the baseline with (2) seconds left to shoot. He nailed it. Perfect way to kill clock while getting a good look. Pachulia had a nice second shift tonight and ended with a 5/3/1/1/+6 line in (18) minutes.
The other was a flashback to how the Hawks beat back the Utah Jazz earlier in Salt Lake City---using Josh Smith in the high post, looking to pass. On this play, Smith got the ball up there and looked as if he was going to pass to a shooter coming off a Horford screen under the basket. Instead, Horford slipped the screen and when JaVale McGee turned his head to potentially defend the shooter off the screen, Smith zipped the ball into Horford for a jam. Pure Poetry.
Though the course of the NBA season, sometimes you are just happy to go on the road, play a lottery bound opponent, and get out of there with a win, no matter how ugly or hard you played.
The difficulty with accepting such a conclusion leaving the Nation's Capital is that it's not as if the Hawks had been playing basketball the way they want to over the last 30 or so games and just took this one off. This would have been an excellent opportunity to show mental resolve and get the starters some extra rest while taking care of the business of playing strong team basketball. Instead, they had to leg it out all night, not practice good habits, and still don't know if they can divine a full game's worth of effort when it's needed, as they will have to post-season.
The Hawks are nearing the end of the regular season line--when are they going to show the mental consistency needed in the playoffs? When will they gain momentum that isn't derived solely from their record, which can disguise games such as this one?
Still, even though those questions remain unanswered for at least one more game, they did come away with the win. So maybe next time. We'll keep hoping.