Hawks vs. Bucks Final Score: Atlanta Hawks 97, Milwaukee Bucks 92

Quick Thought: First half, a bad Joe Johnson. Second half, a good Joe Johnson. So very, very good.

Game Balls:

After a four point fourth quarter, Joe Johnson woke up in a big way. 24 second half points, including 14 in the fourth quarter. Joe also made every last free throw and wisely passed the ball out to Teague instead of forcing things on the Josh Smith three. 2-9 in the first half with no free throws versus 8-13 in the second with 8-8 FT. Glad the second half was better than the first. For sure.

Admit it, you held your breath as Josh Smith launched that go-ahead three pointer. Or maybe exhaled with NOOOOOOO coming out of your mouth instead. Whichever, Josh hit that AND two big free throws down the stretch and has joined Joe in stepping up production in Al Horford's absence. 11 rebounds per game since Al went down is contributing mightily to his career highs in all rebounding rates. It's good to see. 19 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists, including a sweet backdoor cut pass to Tracy McGrady late in the game. Just another average box score stuffer.

I don't know what it took to get Zaza Pachulia 38 minutes, but it worked. Hard fouls, excellent rebounding (14 tonight), and a key three point play are reasons why it's essential he gets the majority of the vacant Horford minutes.

Afterthoughts:

Jeff Teague had it going early, scoring at will during that 11 point first quarter and looking like nobody on Milwaukee could check him. Then, as coaches do, Larry Drew took him out in the midst of this hotness and we didn't see it again. The Hawks could have used that in the fourth quarter, but Teague vacillated between deferring to Joe and McGrady and making mistakes when he did get aggressive. Another chapter in the book of learning for Teague, but some of that is on Drew for pulling the hot player and unintentionally icing him.

McGrady played the whole fourth quarter and didn't provide a lot, save for the backdoor layup from Smith. I'd like to see Larry Drew reading the game for Tracy and only playing him that much when he has the obvious matchup win and is proving that on the court. Else, since it is obviously a McGrady or Marvin situation, I'd like to see Marvin's aggressiveness on the glass and defense in there.

Imagine if Larry Drew had benched the starters like Scott Skiles did at home in Milwaukee against the Hawks., especially front line talent like Andrew Bogut. I imagine we'd have 200 comments alone that could be deduplicated down to three work involving something about Drew and something you'd do with a straw. Skiles kept all but Brandon Jennings on the bench after they came out in the third quarter and while they played hard and were in position to win, they didn't, leaving such strategy up for question. I am eager to read Brew Hoop to see the reaction to this.

Speaking to that -- I, for one, was happy to not see Luc Richard Mbah a Moute out on Joe Johnson in the fourth quarter. Not that Stephen Jackson played bad defense -- on some of those plays you couldn't do much better -- but Johnson has had problems in the past getting loose against him, especially late.

The Hawks defense righted itself just in time, holding the Bucks to a number of outside shots in the fourth quarter. Even though Milwaukee hit some of those, and Josh Smith flat out lost Mike Dunleavy on a game tying attempt near the end, I would rather take my chances on teams beating the Hawks from the outside late rather than attack the inside. 10 of the Bucks' last 14 shots were classified as jumpers by Synergy.

Final Thought:

6-1 without Al Horford. Joe Johnson averaging nearly 23 points per game and over a point per possession since Al's injury. Josh Smith corralling rebounds galore. What is this? 6-1 since Al got hurt and I am beginning to wonder now if the inevitable fade and the struggle to go .500 in Al's absence will even materialize.

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