Quick Thought: First round, Games 1 and 2 against the Boston Celtics in the ATL. Are. You. Ready?
The Hawks were tied at six with Dallas. Then, all at once, the mission that the team spoke of and the swiftness of the ball movement and athleticism the Hawks hold came crashing down all around the Mavericks. The result of this was a 38-21 first quarter that effectively gave the Hawks enough cache to play around with jump shots the rest of the night and, because a lot of them went down, they had to do little else to put away the Mavs.
10-14 shooting, 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists -- in 28 minutes. Does that say enough about the efficiency of Josh Smith tonight? There are so few guys who play that position that can put up those kind of numbers.
I want to take time to recognize a guy who hasn't seen this space much, if at all, this season. But I thought the way Kirk Hinrich played on both ends is worthy of a game ball. Hinrich worked around screens better than any time this season and kept Delonte West from even coming close to replacing the production Jason Kidd (who sat out for the second straight game) might've delivered. Offensively, Hinrich was hot early on and finished with 12 points, five rebounds and three assists to go with a pair of steals.
Jeff Teague (17 points, five assists, zero turnovers) and Joe Johnson (15 points, four boards, three assists in 24 minutes) could easily have been recognized, but Ivan Johnson stepped forward and provided the toughness and aggressiveness one can only hope translates to a positive effect in the series against Boston. Johnson scored 10 points, grabbed six rebounds and had a block and two steals -- and that doesn't even count tying up Dirk Nowitzki when he made the mistake of showing Ivan the ball for a split second and Johnson forced a jump ball, which he won.
It's nit picky, but Teague needs to pay attention to being a facilitator of happiness when the timing calls for it.
Case in point: Jerry Stackhouse, all 74 years old of him, tumbled out of bounds hustling for a loose ball, which the Hawks didn't come up with. A couple of seconds later, Teague broke on a silly cross-court pass by West and Prime Time'd the ball. Stackhouse was now up and near the basket with nobody around him, but Teague drove right on in, undefended by any Maverick, and slammed it down. I would like to see the young man be aware of a veteran giving up his body to try and get the ball and reward him with an easy hoop for his trouble. Jeff played great and that episode in no way diminished his game -- just something extra to be a leader that needs to be developed.
Jason Collins is doing a much better job of making himself ready and available around the basket in order to make teams pay for double teaming Joe and Josh or cheating out to stop Teague's driving. If he can be quick and effective when receiving the ball, it gives those guys that much more room to do their thing and bring it back to a five on five game when Twin is on the court.
Erick Dampier made dang sure Dominique Jones was not going to get a layup, even in mop-up time. Dampier "rose up" and denied the dunk attempt, sending Jones down to the floor in a heap in the process. On the bench, wearing a snazzy suit that looks one or two sizes too small (but I'm sure that's the style -- somewhere), Zaza Pachulia was smiling -- nothing easy.
Kris and I both thought it was ridiculous that people were picking this team to miss the playoffs -- with Al Horford healthy, mind you -- and to finish .500 and below, to boot. 40 wins later, after a season-ending injury to Horford, here they are, not only in the playoffs, but enjoying home court against the Celtics to boot. Congratulations -- now go take care of the dreaded Celtics, eh?