The Atlanta Hawks got their five-game road trip off to a solid start with a gritty 97-92 win over the Milwaukee Bucks Monday night. Atlanta sealed the victory thanks to a second half flurry from Joe Johnson, a Josh Smith three and a timely deflection from Marvin Williams.
Now through 18 games this season it is almost like we are seeing this team grow up again. The veteran presence from players like Tracy McGrady and Vladimir Radmanovic has certainly played a big part but dare I say that this team is starting to make better decisions on the floor and that has paid huge dividends without Al Horford in the lineup.
Case in point was the stark contrast in Joe Johnson's first half and Johnson's second. After struggling during the first half, Johnson found a rhythm by penetrating and finding some easy shots in the second half which also led to eight free throw attempts. Another sign came when Johnson passed out of a double team with the game tied that eventually led to Josh Smith's go-ahead three.
Smith taking that shot might not always be ideal but how many times have we seen Johnson defer at that juncture when he had it going offensively? In this instance, Johnson made the correct pass to Jeff Teague who had a shot or a drive but swung the ball to Smith in the corner for a rhythm shot. That is the biggest difference in this team this season is that the added ball movement makes them increasingly hard to guard. They have simply been playing the game the right way and have been able to lesson the sting of subtracting Horford from the lineup.
- I thought Larry Drew might elect to go with Jason Collins against Andrew Bogut in this one but he opted instead for Zaza Pachulia who finished with nine points and 14 rebounds in 38 minutes. Collins got the DNP and Ivan Johnson essentially was the back-up center in this one.
- Jeff Teague finished with 15 points, six boards, five assists and six turnovers. It was a good game, bad game for Teague with 11 of his 15 coming in the first quarter. Despite his struggles late, I felt like he set the tone in the first quarter with his aggressiveness and he is the one Hawks player that has the quickness to chase around Brandon Jennings.
- Josh Smith continued his All-Star push with 19 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Even better news was his 4-5 shooting from the free throw line including two clutch one late.
- Tracy McGrady got the crunchtime minutes again and played the playmaker role well with five assists and no turnovers. His shot has looked flat ever sense he returned from a back injury but the Hawks are using his high on court IQ to their advantage. At some point Larry Drew may have to find a balance between McGrady and Marvin Williams because Atlanta could have used Williams to help work the boards late.
- Atlanta got 20 points from five guys off the bench. Many may have laughed (or cried) with the signings of players like Jannero Pargo, Willie Green and Vladimir Radmanovic but more often that not they have been giving the Hawks something positive. As recently as last season Atlanta's bench production and usage would have come from a single player. The bench unit has done an excellent job of sharing the basketball and that has carried over to the starting unit.
- Which brings us to Kirk Hinrich who is set to make his return Wednesday in San Antonio. Hinrich will add another defender to the back court and a player who is capable of initiating the offense as well as knock down an outside shot. Atlanta will be slow about bringing him back but his presence should just give the Hawks another weapon at their disposal.
- Atlanta has 15 players currently on the roster and several have non-guaranteed deals. The date for when those contracts become fully guaranteed is approaching and the Hawks are also slightly above the luxury tax threshold. That means that at least one player is likely to be waived before their contract becomes fully guaranteed.
- Final roster note. Buried deep inside MC's Monday pre game blog was this tidbit regarding the Hawks and free agent centers. MC reports that the Hawks aren't enamored with the options available but will make a run at Kenyon Martin once he is released by FIBA from his Chinese contract.
- The win improves the Hawks record to 13-5 which gives them a one game lead in the Southeast division over both Orlando and Miami.