ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 21: Jerry Stackhouse #42 of the Atlanta Hawks reaches for a steal against Samardo Samuels #24 of the Cleveland Cavaliers at Philips Arena on January 21, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Shortly before Saturday's game with the Cleveland Cavaliers began, Hawks coach Larry Drew was asked about his comments following Friday night's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Drew didn't back down from his statements in which he said that his team quit on Friday night during the Sixers' third quarter run that eventually led to a 90-76 loss for the Hawks.
I went back and watched it. We had a good first half. They made a run in the third quarter and, as stated, we didn't respond to it, which is very disappointing.
Drew later indicated that he was looking for a strong response from his team against the Cavs and that was exactly what he got in Atlanta's 121-94 blow out win. The Hawks used an 18-6 run to close out the first half with a 61-42 lead. A point of contention for these Hawks has been slow starts to the second half and coach Drew challenged the team at halftime and asked his team to come out of the break with a killer instinct.
"At halftime, I threw the challenge out there. Our last couple of ball games we have gotten off to very slow starts in the third quarter, and they responded to the challenge tonight and extended the lead and never looked back.
"I said, ‘Let's come out with the killer instinct.' I think this is the first game where we really extended a lead like we did in that third quarter. We were a team on a mission in that third quarter. You could clearly see that."
The offensive numbers for the Hawks were exceptional. Hitting 55 percent of your field goal attempts is a great start at erasing the memory of a tough loss and recording 31 assists on 46 made baskets indicates the ball movement was once again a big part of the Atlanta offense. Five different Hawks players totaled at least four assists led by Jannero Pargo's six.
Joe Johnson led the attack for the Hawks with 25 points as, unlike Philadelphia, Cleveland doesn't have anywhere close a favorable defensive matchup for Johnson who hit 10-18 shots from the field and often benefited from the Hawks extra ball movement. Jannero Pargo had his best game statistically of the season and finished with 14 points. Jeff Teague also finished with 14 points and five assists but as Jason pointed out earlier, that doesn't really tell the whole story to his impact on the game.
Zaza Pachulia returned to the starting lineup to finish with 13 points and six rebounds. Marvin Williams finished with 12 points and Ivan Johnson 11 to round out Atlanta's double-figure scorers. Josh Smith had just eight points but grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out five assists to go along with four steals for the Hawks.
Kyrie Irving impressed with his shooting (8-10) and scored a team-high 18 points but struggled with seven turnovers. He looks like he will be a fine lead guard once his supporting cast improves. The Cavaliers other rookie Tristan Thompson scored 16 points and finished with five rebounds. Holdovers like Antawn Jamison, Anthony Parker and Anderson Varejao were hardly a factor in the game.
Cleveland shouldn't be confused with a good team and it was very likely that the Hawks were going to get some good looks at the basket but Atlanta's offensive performance shouldn't be completely overlooked either. When the Hawks are penetrating or playing inside-out their offense usually produces some high quality shots. Its when they forget the inside part of the equation that they struggle. That was what coach Drew was most upset about during the third quarter of the game against Philly. Jeff Teague was a huge part of that on Saturday night but it was a collective effort and has to remain that way going forward.