We previously discussed what the Atlanta Hawks would have to continue to do to maintain their status in the Eastern Conference without Al Horford. Two games in it is so far so good after the Hawks overcame an 18 point deficit to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves 93-91 at Philips Arena Saturday night.
As impressive as an 18 point comeback is, it was how the Hawks went about it that raises an eyebrow the morning after. Atlanta essentially whittled down that deficit with a lineup of Jeff Teague playing alongside Willie Green, Vladimir Radmanovic, Ivan Johnson and Jason Collins. The names aren't impressive but on this night the pieces fit and they were the boost that this Hawks team needed after struggling for much of the game thanks to Minnesota's hot shooting and Atlanta's own turnovers.
This game breaks the norm when it comes to the Hawks because rarely do you look at a box score afterwards and see the team winning a game without having a higher field goal percentage. Normally it is going to be about even or the Hawks will have an advantage. That wasn't the case Saturday night as the Hawks won in large part to going 22-27 at the free throw line and by out rebounding the Wolves 51-40 and 14-10 on the offensive glass.
That leads us to the contributions of Ivan Johnson who despite having limited effect with his field goal attempts (1-4) was a major factor on the glass (11 total, 4 off) and from the free throw line (8-8) including the two that gave the Hawks the lead for good.
The beauty of this game was that you can't pin the success on one solitary player. Jeff Teague (20pts, 10ast, 3stl) was awesome despite six turnovers. Joe Johnson (25pts, 5reb, 3ast) looked like vintage Joe down the stretch scoring eight points in the fourth quarter. Atlanta didn't have to force feed Joe the ball in the fourth thanks in part to the play of Willie Green who scored all 10 of his points in the closing quarter.
That breaks the norm for this team and I doubt any of its close followers would have been completely surprised had they mailed it in down 18 in the second half. We have seen that numerous times in the past but not much from this 2012 version that has much more leadership in the form of a mostly veteran bench.
For all tenths and purposes, the pressure is now off this group. They are playing with house money because frankly not a lot of people expect much from them after the Al Horford injury. That is assuming that many expected much from them in the first place. If you have watched this team for any length of time then you already know that they are usually at their best when everyone else thinks they have no chance.