A couple of things jumped out at me last night when watching the Hawks 114-109 loss to the Houston Rockets. It was encouraging that it felt like the effort was there for the entire game even if the execution wasn't. If anything this game felt like one of those that took place before the All-Star break when Atlanta played well enough many nights to capture a win but one glaring deficiency usually prevented them from doing so.
Atlanta was near text book offensively to close the first half. The Hawks finished that half on a big run while showing a determination to punish the smaller Rockets inside. The beauty of it was that they did it in a variety of ways. Whether it was a Joe Johnson post up, or Josh Smith and Al Horford in the lane. Jeff Teague came in and pushed the pace with the Hawks racking up 40 points in the second quarter on their way to 63 points in the half. In the process, Atlanta got lured into trying to outscore the Rockets as neither team showed that much interest in defending.
Shot selection was once again probably the biggest factor preventing an Atlanta victory but their defensive effort was sub par the entire game. Consider the impact that Chuck Hayes had with 19 points and 12 rebounds. No one for the Hawks was able to slow down Hayes and his presence helped propel the Rockets to 57% shooting for the game and a decided rebounding advantage, 35-30, over the much bigger Hawks.
As good as Hayes was, he was rendered more effective by the Hawks failing perimeter defense. Houston's perimeter players pretty much penetrated the Atlanta defense at will. The Hawks help defense was either late which usually resulted in a basket and or a foul going to the hoop, or when it was on time it put the Rockets in position for offensive rebounds.
Yet had Atlanta kept electing to go inside they might would have won anyway, but that is where we are currently at with this team. They seem to know the answer but don't have a clue as to how to carry it out. After scoring those 40 points in the second quarter, Atlanta could only muster 18 in the third. The majority of their 20 free throw attempts came in the first half which is a clear signal that most of the Hawks offense was coming from the perimeter. Atlanta didn't have a problem scoring as they themselves shot 53% but they couldn't match a Rockets team that was doing most, if not all of its damage in the paint or at the free throw line.
Joe Johnson scored 25 points and dished out seven assists for the Hawks. Josh Smith added a near triple double with 21 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists of his own. Jamal Crawford had a nice second quarter but finished with 15 points on 5-13 shooting.
Hawks fans will be pleased to know that Jeff Teague had an impact in this game playing 20 minutes while scoring 10 points and handing out four assists. Teague has now gotten a lot of the back up point guard minutes in the last two games. We will see if that trend continues heading into the playoffs.
Atlanta missed out on a chance to nail down the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and their magic number remains at one. They will try again tomorrow night against the Spurs.