Kevin C. Cox
The Hawks were able to get a victory in their first game back from their west coast trip, albeit in a sloppy performance, but as Josh Smith said after the game, "We got a win. Got a win."
The Hawks struggled offensively in the game shooting just 38.2%, which happened to be better than the Magic's 37.8% performance, and were out-rebounded 55-48 by Orlando. Despite the poor shooting night and the relative struggle on the boards, Atlanta cruised to a victory (the final score is much closer than the actual game). Atlanta held a 24 point lead in the fourth quarter, but after Larry Drew inserted a lineup of Lou Williams, John Jenkins, Anthony Morrow, Anthony Tolliver, and Mike Scott with 7:15 to play, the Hawks allowed the Magic to make it a relatively close game in the end. The starter returned at the 2:42 mark to stop the bleeding, and Atlanta held on for the nine-point win.
Al Horford led the Hawks with 15 points and nine rebounds, while Lou Williams added 14 points off the bench, and Jeff Teague had nine points and seven assists.
The first half was one of the worst halves of basketball I've witnessed in a long time, with both teams looking out of sync offensively (this has been the norm for Orlando apparently). The Hawks fell behind after the first quarter 23-21, but they were able to regain the lead behind a very solid performance in the second quarter from their bench unit that was led by Ivan Johnson and Zaza Pachulia. Johnson and Pachulia (the Hawks version of the Bash Brothers) are not only crowd favorites, but have been producing extremely well early in the season. Tonight was no different as the pair combined for 17 points and 19 rebounds (Ivan 9/8, Zaza 8/11) and gave the Hawks a big energy boost after the starters looked sluggish coming off of a long road trip (that included half the roster catching the flu).
As Larry Drew noted, the first game coming off of a west coast swing is never easy.
"I've seen this enough times being in this league, the first game back [off a west coast trip] is always a tough one, it's like you're running in quicksand and I saw that with our guys, but I'm proud that they did grind it out."
Josh Smith echoed that sentiment calling games like tonight's, "Trap games."
Atlanta came out extremely flat and the rhythm they found in Sacramento was completely gone early as the Hawks ball movement was not crisp, and when they did create good looks, they struggled to knock down the shots. Drew seemed to be monitoring the minutes of his players, as no one played more than 27:43 (Lou), and the minutes were spread throughout the roster. Ivan Johnson seems to have firmly taken over the spot of first power forward off the bench (after Drew's early infatuation with Anthony Tolliver), and Anthony Morrow also has earned himself a more prominent role in the rotation playing just over 21 minutes in the win tonight. Drew talked about the bench and how they gave the Hawks a spark that the starters seemed to lack early.
"The guys off the bench came in and gave us a lift. I thought Lou came in and gave us some great minutes. I thought Ivan did a good job, Zaza did a good job, and Morrow did a good job. Devin got us off to a good start early making some shots, but really a gutsy win today."
The Hawks were up just four at the half, 41-37, but came out and played a lot more energized in the third quarter and were more aggressive on both ends of the floor. Josh Smith did a better job getting shots inside and led the team with six points in the third, while Al Horford and Kyle Korver added five a piece. The Hawks created better looks off of pick-and-rolls with Teague finding Horford on two occasions slipping to the basket, and their penetration led to open looks from the outside as well. The Hawks outscored the Magic 24-12 in the quarter and held the Magic to just 6-of-22 shooting (27.3%) as they ratcheted up the defensive pressure forcing contested shots and limiting them to just six points in the paint.
Zaza Pachulia and Josh Smith talked about what changed for the Hawks in the quarter.
"We definitely picked up the energy [in the third quarter], Josh got involved, Al got involved, and we got fast-break points," said Zaza.
"We just wanted to be aggressive, whatever we did we wanted to be aggressive doing it. We was able to be aggressive in that third quarter, especially taking the ball to the hole. Driving and kicking, finding open people, and we got back flowing. Whenever we picked it up on the offensive end the defense takes care of itself," said Josh.
The fourth quarter started as the third ended with the Hawks dominating and that gave them a 24-point lead. As noted earlier, the Hawks bench unit (more the third unit not even the second) struggled to find any rhythm on either end of the floor, and the Magic were able to crawl back into the game. The Magic outscored the Hawks 20-5 down the stretch as the Hawks small lineup was unable to keep the Magic from penetrating and getting either easy lay-up attempts or to the foul line.
Despite that comeback, the Hawks accomplished what they needed to get done. They got a win, played solid defense, and were able to rest their starters that have played an awful lot of minutes early in the year. As for the defensive performance and keeping the Magic in the low 70s, Josh Smith smiled and said, "It was cool, it was cool. I want to do it against the Heat." We'll just have to see about that one Smoove.