Kevin C. Cox
The Hawks find themselves slipping down the Eastern Conference standings and playing with just one point guard left on the roster. With a loss to the Spurs on Saturday, the Hawks fall to 22-18 and are searching for answers.
With the 98-93 loss to the Spurs, the Hawks fell to 22-18 on the season and have lost eight of their last 10. The day could not have gone much worse for Atlanta who found out that Lou Williams will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL suffered Friday night in Brooklyn. During the Hawks' loss, Devin Harris went down with a sprained ankle early in the fourth quarter leaving the Hawks with Jeff Teague as the only healthy point guard on the roster. Neither team was at full strength with the Hawks missing Williams, DeShawn Stevenson (rest), and Anthony Morrow (hip/back) while the Spurs were without Manu Ginobli (hamstring) and Tim Duncan (rest). Despite the injuries, both teams battled throughout and it came down to the Spurs and Tony Parker executing down the stretch while the Hawks failed to hit open looks.
While the Hawks lost, their performance was encouraging because of the way they played. They kept their effort level up throughout and fought back multiple times from double-digit deficits to give themselves a chance at the end to win the game.
"First of all, let me just say I thought my guys really came to compete," said Larry Drew. "Given what happened to us yesterday, I thought we competed and there were stretches were we could've easily folded the tent, but our guys hung in there and fought back."
Josh Smith had 21 points and eight rebounds to lead the Hawks in scoring on a relatively efficient 8-of-15 night from the field. Smith, who has been the center of attention for his suspension and standing with the team, seems to be able to keep the distractions off the court from effecting his on-court performance since his return from suspension. Smith, who played much of the night at the three, was not particularly active on the glass, but was able to avoid turnovers (1) and stayed away from jump shots for much of the night.
Al Horford struggled shooting, going just 4-of-11 for nine points, but he did have a game high 15 boards. Horford, who got the start at the four with Zaza Pachulia (four points, nine rebounds) at the five,was active but his shot looked rushed much of the night. Al's shooting has been up and down all year and tonight was another example of how his cold spells can really hurt the Hawks offense. Al was effective guarding DeJuan Blair and Boris Diaw much of the night, but he, like the rest of the Hawks big men, really struggled guarding Matt Bonner (17 points) who stretches the floor.
Kyle Korver added 19 points and eight rebounds of his own in one of his best shooting nights in the past two weeks as he went 7-of-12 from the field and 5-of-8 from three. Devin Harris was productive scoring 13 points in his 17 minutes of play before his injury, but neither he nor Teague had an answer for Tony Parker.
Teague finished the night with 16 points and eight assists, but had just one assist in the second half and shot just 6-of-16 from the field. Teague struggled to handle Tony Parker, especially down the stretch (although Parker hit a few very difficult shots) where Jeff allowed Parker to get in the lane almost at will. While Parker was making shots down the stretch (10 of his 23 came in the fourth quarter), the Hawks struggled to put the ball in the hoop despite having a number of open looks. Drew has always stated the importance of Jeff to the success of the team in getting the offense going and playing aggressive, but with Lou's injury and Devin being sidelined his role is even bigger and he says he's embracing that role. When asked if the injury situation would make him less aggressive in order to stay healthy, he responded that if anything, "It will make me more aggressive." That's something Hawks fans hope he can do because as we all know, an aggressive Jeff Teague is the best Jeff Teague.
Atlanta shot 7-of-24 (29.2%) in the fourth quarter and had some key misses both inside and outside by reliable scorers. John Jenkins, who scored nine points on the night, struggled in the fourth and shot just 1-of-5 in the final period including a missed layup and putback and a wide open three that would have closed the gap to one late in the game. Jenkins was 3-of-12 on the night and at times looked to be pressing and off rhythm. Jenkins' minutes will see a sharp increase with Lou's injury and the other injuries in the backcourt, and while he struggled to score he is taking some positives away from the performance.
"Oh yeah. Even though I didn't make shots I was able to play good defense, so I'm doing something right. You know, last year around this time I wouldn't have made shots and I wouldn't have played defense so I'm moving in the right direction. With Lou being out, I'm not sure what Devin's situation is right now, someone's got to step up and I want to take that responsibility and do that. Last couple games they told me to take more shots. I had been passing up shots so I just want to take as many as I can."
The Hawks inability to score down the stretch was less an issue of execution of the offense as it was an issue of not making shots. They missed everything; layups, threes, floaters, mid-range jumpers, everything. After the game, everyone pointed to their shooting woes and turnovers down the stretch as the biggest issue for their loss.
"We got some good looks, we really did," said Drew. "We got some good looks and just didn't knock them down. I thought we did a good job attacking the rim, we just missed some easy baskets. I thought Jeff got to the rim a number of times we just couldn't get the shots to fall."
"It's got to be turnovers," said Smith. "I think we played a pretty good basketball game, but they just capitalized on all our mistakes."
"Yeah we got some great looks. I think all of us did," said Horford. "We just couldn't execute and couldn't score with them. You just got to give Tony Parker credit and their whole team. They're great moving the ball around and making plays."
The Hawks will have to have guys like Jenkins and Korver step more prominently into scoring roles, while Teague will feel a lot of pressure as the only true point guard left on the roster. After the game Larry Drew was very adamant about needing to bring in another player quickly. He said that he would talk to GM Danny Ferry and they would need to bring in a player, "in the next couple days." Hawks fans can expect the team to make a move quickly being down to one point guard. Anthony Morrow remains day-to-day but won't play until he's practiced and DeShawn Stevenson's minutes will continue to be monitored and will continue resting on back-to-backs.