The Atlanta Hawks closed out a 3-1 western road trip with a 110-87 victory over the Utah Jazz Wednesday night. For the second straight night the offense clicked. This time there was no lapse in the fourth quarter as Atlanta played perhaps its most complete game of the season. It most certainly was the most impressive win to date for the Hawks over a club with a winning record.
One of the biggest developments of this season has been the increased impact of Josh Smith and Al Horford offensively on the Hawks. With the injuries that the Hawks have suffered this season, both players have had to carry the load for the team. Often they have carried the load even with Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford both in the lineup. We have talked many times about the quality looks at the basket that the motion offense had produced Johnson and that he hadn't been able to cash in on a lot of those opportunities during the first quarter of the season. That left us wondering what this Hawks offense would look like if Johnson was able to return to form. We have got our answer the last two nights in Sacramento and Utah.
While any team can go through hot streaks shooting the basketball, I want to point out that it isn't just about the shooting with the Hawks but the ball movement that was displayed last night. You saw Atlanta dump the ball into the post last night and then forced Utah to scramble as the Hawks swiftly passed the ball from one side of the court to the other. Anytime that the ball swings to both sides of the court on a possession there is a greater chance of an open shot being produced. Throughout various times this season the Hawks have produced those shots. Now Johnson and Jamal Crawford are making them. Combine that with Al Horford and Josh Smith and this Hawks club can be a pretty potent offensive team.
Joe Johnson scored 28 points on 10-17 shooting. He was 5-7 from three point range. Jamal Crawford continued his hot streak scoring 26 points on 9-18 shooting and 4-7 from deep. While the Hawks can't reasonably expect those kinds of shooting numbers night in and night out I would expect that Johnson's shooting percentages start to creep up to more along the lines of his career numbers. The shots have been there for Joe, he just hasn't been making them. Jamal is on the attack now and when his outside shot is going down it makes him that much more harder on the defense. When he is enjoying a streak such as this, then you have to ride him for as long as it lasts.
While the Hawks were outstanding offensively last night, something needs to be said of how they finished the road trip defensively. I consider Utah to be one of the best system oriented teams in the NBA and the Hawks last night forced them into a lot of one on one play. That is not there game and even a great one on one player like Deron Williams found the going tough. To the Hawks credit, they stayed locked in defensively for the whole night.
With the offensive nights that Johnson and Crawford had it is easy to overlook the contributions of the other players. Mo Evans continues to improve and his corner three point stroke is starting to come around. Evans scored 13 points in this one and the Hawks need him to be a trash guy on offense looking for offensive rebounds and to hit the corner three when called upon. They don't need anything else from him offensively and he is getting back to that lately. Al Horford snapped a mini slump with a 9-16 night totaling 18 points and 8 rebounds. I like Al getting 16 looks at the basket. Josh Smith's numbers aren't eye popping (12 points, 6 rebounds) but he helped to set the tempo that got Atlanta off to a 20-6 start of which they never looked back.
It was a great win for these Hawks and one that we have been waiting for it seems the entire season. Atlanta is now 24-14 and just a half a game behind Orlando for the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference. They have won seven of their last ten including three in a row. The Hawks play four of their next five at home before heading to Miami for another match up with the Heat. This is a golden opportunity for the team to build some momentum as Marvin Williams is expected to rejoin the team for Saturday's game. The key over this next stretch is simply finding consistency.