Question: Is it better to lose close games to good teams on the road or is it better to be blown out? I feel it is a legit question as that is exactly what is happening to Atlanta. For a variety of reasons, the Hawks have not been able to break through against anyone but a flu ridden Orlando team on the road. They don't have that signature win yet that makes you think "hey this team might can compete". Actually the Hawks are 2-6 against teams with a winning record on the road. Yet it is the fact that they were withing striking distance or had the lead in all of those only to come away empty handed that stings the most.
"You keep plugging," L.D. said. "Hopefully at some point it will click in. We went into the fourth quarter with a two-point game; that’s a great position to be in. It’s a little frustrating but still I am encouraged we are putting ourselves in that position."
While watching this game, I kept checking the score expecting to see a twenty point deficit with the way it seemed that the Thunder were shooting. When you factor in no one essentially being able to stay in front of Russell Westbrook and Marvin Williams not being available to check Kevin Durant and it seems that the last thing the Hawks could afford was an offensive barrage from beyond the arc.
Yet there the Hawks were facing a two point deficit in the fourth quarter despite never establishing a rhythm offensively. Josh Smith finished with 23 points and 9 rebounds but forced up some jump shots after returning to the game. Smith left the game in the third after he suffered a gash to the top of his head in which he collided with Serge Ibaka's chin and mouth area. It was a bazaar situation where Smith was bleeding and went straight to the locker room. The only problem was he had to attempt two free throws on the play. If he was unable to goto the line then he would have been lost for the remainder of the game. It forced the Hawks to take a time out, after which Smoove emerged with a bandage on his head that was held in place by his headband. He made the two free throws, and immediately removed the bandage to show the ref he was bleeding and off to the locker room he went once again.
Jamal Crawford had one of his best games in recent days scoring 26 points off the bench and essentially keeping the Hawks in the game. He scored in a variety of ways and was even active on the defensive end recording five steals. He finished from long distance where he was 3-7 and even one time finished at the rim with a thunder dunk. I will point out that the Hawks only recorded 19 assists on the night which is lower than they have been averaging and is a direct result of Jamal mostly getting his points off the dribble. Thank goodness he was there tonight because this game would have been over much earlier without his contribution.
Oklahoma City is one team that can the make the Hawks look slow. While Atlanta is no longer one of the youngest teams in the NBA, they still on many nights can make the other team appear nonathletic. Well the Thunder does just that to Atlanta and that was a direct cause of the Hawks never quite getting the offense going. Al Horford scored 14 points on 6-12 but the Thunder length bothered him early. Granted I would have liked to have seen the ball in his hands a little more down the stretch.
Which brings us to Joe Johnson. If you just look at the final numbers 16 points and 11 assists, you would probably be satisfied. When you notice that Joe was just 6-20 from the field and that brings down the value of the performance some. As Jason pointed out in the initial reaction post, Joe had the ball in his hands a lot to come up with those numbers. The thing is the Hawks desperately need him to knock down some shots especially in games like this. The reality is that Joe has admitted that he can't straighten his arm out completely. From what little I know about shooting a basketball, that is a significant part of ones follow through on a jump shot. Now I will let you guys debate the merits of a highly paid player coming back early from injury to try and help his team. He clearly didn't have to return early as no one from the Hawks was urging him to do so. There are a lot of players out there that wouldn't have come back until they were completely healed no matter what their team's record might have been. I will say that while Joe works on regaining range of motion in his elbow that he has to recognize what he is capable of doing on the court and adjust his game accordingly.
As bad as it felt the Hawks were offensively they still shot 45% from the field, got to the free throw line more (23-29) than the Thunder (15-17) and actually won the points off turnovers column 16-13. The biggest difference was from beyond the arc where the Thunder were 10-18 for the game. If you watched the game then you know that the Thunder made some long contested threes that simply left you shaking your head many times.
Before I close I want to touch on for a second the last second Serge Ibaka dunk that had Josh Smith upset following the game.
"That’s a sign of disrespect," Josh said. "Everybody in the whole league knows that you don’t do nothing like that. We remember something like that."
I saw it live and thought to myself that teams don't usually do that. I didn't notice Josh's on court actions at the end of the broadcast but reportedly Mike Bibby was also upset. Only after I checked the box score did I understand why Ibaka went through with the dunk. The pass came from Russell Westbrook which gave him his tenth assist and a triple double for the game. Basically I will leave the situation with this. If you want teams to stop disrespecting you, then do something about it.