March 11, 2012; Sacramento, CA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith (5) dunks the ball against the Sacramento Kings in the first quarter at the Power Balance Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE
The Atlanta Hawks evened their record on their current six-game road trip at 2-2 with two games left to play after Sunday night's 106-99 win over the Sacramento Kings. Atlanta rode the good play of Josh Smith and a smaller three-guard lineup to earn the victory. Prior to the game, Larry Drew made the decision to alter his starting lineup by sliding Joe Johnson to the small forward position while starting Kirk Hinrich alongside Jeff Teague in the backcourt. The move was made to help counter the King's three-guard lineup of Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans.
Both teams got off to great starts offensively with both hitting more than half their shots in the first half. Sacramento led 52-51 at the intermission thanks to nine turnovers in the first half by Atlanta that lead to 11 points for the Kings and some bad free throw shooting from the Hawks.
Third quarter struggles have plagued the Hawks for much of the season but that wasn't the case Sunday night. Atlanta outscored Sacramento 29-22 in the quarter, shot 65 percent from the field in the period and limited the Kings to just 37 percent shooting. Josh Smith led the attack in the third quarter hitting 6-7 shots and scoring 12 of his 28 points.
Atlanta played the Kings even in the fourth quarter but some good free throw shooting by the Hawks helped keep them at arms length. Entering the fourth, Atlanta was just 5-10 from the line but they made 10-13 down the stretch to seal the victory. Joe Johnson scored nine of his 21 points in the fourth and hit all six of his free throw attempts.
Josh Smith led the way for Atlanta with 28 points and six rebounds on 13-23 shooting. Smith hasn't been as good on the glass the last couple of games and with the smaller lineup that could have been a concern but a strong night rebounding from Zaza Pachulia and Vladimir Radmanovic off the bench helped off set that. Atlanta out rebounded the Kings on the night 45-36.
Joe Johnson finished with 21 points after a rough start and did a good job in the second half finding open spots in the offense as the team played through Josh Smith. Johnson finished 5-13 and went 9-9 from the free throw line. Johnson also finished with six assists and four steals in the game. Atlanta came up with 14 steals in the game and did a great job converting them into points. Sacramento turned the ball over 16 times leading to 23 points for the Hawks. Conversely Atlanta had one more turnover (17) but the Kings only scored 15 off the extra opportunities.
Jeff Teague had an excellent game finishing with 16 points, seven assists and three steals for the Hawks. Kirk Hinrich and Marvin Williams added 12 points each with Williams coming off the bench due to the lineup change. Williams finished 5-11 from the floor, didn't hit a three (0-3) but was active going to the basket and on the break where he finished nicely at the rim. Hinrich played just over 42 minutes hitting 5-10 shots and handed out four assists.
Zaza Pachulia along with Josh Smith might be the hardest player to replace for this Hawks club. Pachulia did most of his damage in the first half but finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds while battling DeMarcus Cousins the entire night. He is doing the dirty work and showing a nice little base line jumper when the opportunity presents itself. Vladimir Radmanovic came off the bench to score five points but grabbed a season-high 10 rebounds.
For the Kings, DeMarcus Cousins finished with 28 points and 12 boards before fouling out late. John Salmons scored 14 points off the bench while Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette finished with 12 each. Atlanta's small ball approach started slow but worked late as they held Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas to just eight points each with the two combining to shoot 6-21 from the field.
Atlanta was without Ivan Johnson who returned home to San Antonio to attend a funeral and was also awaiting the birth of his first child. Willie Green sat out again with a back injury and Tracy McGrady was a DNP-CD. Coach Drew cited the smaller Kings lineup as the reasoning for not going to McGrady.
I am not sure the smaller lineup is one the Hawks should go with permanently but it should be one that they utilize going forward assuming Kirk Hinrich is still with the club through Thursday's trade deadline.
Next up for the Hawks is a matchup in Denver on Tuesday and then back to Los Angeles to face the Clippers on Wednesday to wrap up the trip.