Mar 3, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith (5) reacts to making a dunk with center Zaza Pachulia (27) during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Thunder 97-90. Mandatory Credit: Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE
Improbable? Absolutely especially considering the circumstances. Josh Smith led a depleted Hawks squad to a rousing 97-90 win over the Western Conference leading Oklahoma City Thunder. Atlanta began the game with four of its 15 man roster unavailable due to injury and by halftime Tracy McGrady had joined that group on the sideline. Yet this group didn't blink even when the Thunder rallied to take the lead in the second half.
Before the game, Larry Drew was asked how Atlanta would deal with the league's leading shot blocker Serge Ibaka and if it would deter them from attacking the basket. Drew answered absolutely not but given this team's jump shot tendencies I immediately jotted it down in my notebook as something to watch for. The Hawks were true to Drew's word attacking the Thunder inside and outscoring them in the paint 42-26. Ibaka ended up with three blocks in the game but was hardly a factor as Oklahoma City struggled to stop Atlanta's penetration.
Atlanta took advantage of 21 turnovers by the Thunder and turned those into 22 points. Some were good plays by the Hawks defensively and others were just sloppiness from Oklahoma City who has often been plagued by giveaways this season. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were magnificent as usual combining for 60 points on 19-44 shooting but the rest of the team combined to score just 30 points.
For the second straight night, Josh Smith came up huge for the Hawks with 30 points and 12 rebounds. Except for a jump shot filled third quarter, Smith looked comfortable as the primary option for the Hawks who ran a variety of sets to get him in the post against the Thunder. Jeff Teague was solid with 16 points while Zaza Pachulia and Kirk Hinrich each finished with 10. Pachulia worked the glass effectively finishing with a game-high 14 of which nine were of the offensive variety. Hinrich played within himself making 4-7 shots and 2-2 from long range for his 10 points and drew the difficult assignment of chasing Westbrook for much of the game.
Marvin Williams added nine points while Ivan Johnson and Jannero Pargo each pitched in eight off the bench. Williams finished just 2-7 from the field and doesn't look comfortable at all with his jump shot but did find his way to the free throw line five times. All six of Vladimir Radmanovic's points came on threes including one crucial one from the corner to give the Hawks back the lead for good.
Kevin Durant was his usual greatness against the Hawks totaling 35 points on 9-23 shooting and 14-17 from the free throw line. Russell Westbrook added 25 points while James Harden and Serge Ibaka finished with 10 each. Kendrick Perkins scored just two points in just over 15 minutes after spending the entire night in foul trouble which added to the Hawks success in the paint.
This could have been the biggest win for the Hawks this season when you consider the circumstances and who was available to play. If not the best win then it is certainly in the top two or three and was much needed confidence boosting game considering the struggles of the past month. The win marks the first consecutive wins for the Hawks since wins over Indiana and Orlando back on February 8-10.
The recipe for success for this club was once again on display Saturday night after disappearing for more than a month. Offensively the continuity came back and the Hawks looked like they had a purpose on offense which was to play inside out. Once the defense collapsed, the ball movement returned with crisp passes around the perimeter that resulted in high percentage shots. You don't have to watch this team long to understand that their energy level on the defensive end of the floor is a lot higher when they aren't struggling offensively.
All in all it was a great win and one that hopefully everyone can learn from.