Kevin C. Cox
The Hawks came back from 18 down to beat Minnesota in a battle of depleted rosters Monday afternoon. Al Horford dominated with 28 points and 10 boards, while just signed Jannero Pargo scored 14 in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback effort.
The Hawks fell behind by as many as 18, but clawed their way back to get a much needed 104-96 comeback win over the Timberwolves Monday afternoon. Al Horford led all scorers and set a season-high with 28 points along with 10 rebounds. The 18 point comeback was the largest by the Hawks this season, and they tied a season-best by shooting 57.7% from the field. The Timberwolves took a 58-44 lead into the half, but the Hawks outscored the Wolves 60-38 in the second half by shooting the lights out. Atlanta went 23-of-31 (74.2%) from the field including 7-of-9 (77.8%) from three. The win keeps the Hawks five games above .500 (23-18) and seemed to really pick up the spirits of the locker room.
"This was just a really big win for our ballclub," said Larry Drew. "First half, we couldn't do anything right; couldn't hit a shot, we were sloppy with our passes, we didn't chase down long rebounds, didn't contest shots the way we should. It was a very sloppy half. It took me giving them a wake up call at halftime and they responded. I was prepared at the start of the third quarter to start yanking people early because I was looking for energy. We did come out with energy in that third quarter and it started with Jeff Teague. He got us going."
While Horford led the team in scoring, it was Jannero Pargo who took over in the fourth. Pargo was signed to a 10-day contract Monday morning and was expected to play limited minutes being his first action since early in the season with the Wizards. Instead, Pargo played 25 minutes and scored 16 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter.
"I'm surprised, but I work hard so I'm not too surprised," Pargo said. "It's definitely a blessing to play like that. I think [the 25 minutes] hit me with about two minutes left in the game. I really wanted to come out, it was a tough game, but I didn't want to bail on my teammates like that and this 25 minutes will help me for the rest of the 10 days. I'll hopefully get in better shape and play better defense."
"I take my hat off to Jannero Pargo," said Drew. "The way he came in, it was a really gutsy performance. I know he had not been in really basketball shape. I did not intend to play him that many minutes tonight, but he got into a groove and into a rhythm and that's what he's capable of doing. I thought he did a phenomenal job, not just making shots, but his energy defensively. He was up on the ball and trying to make it difficult for Rubio and Ridnour and he just played a heck of a game."
Coming out into the second half, Drew switched up the lineup, sending Mike Scott and Kyle Korver out in place of starters John Jenkins (who struggled in his first career start with 0 points) and Zaza Pachulia (who also had a quiet night with 2 points and 0 rebounds). Drew explained his reasoning after the game (Spoiler Alert: It worked out great).
"Matchups. I was looking for something a little more favorable. Starting the game with John [Jenkins], who played very well up in Minnesota he handled the smaller guards, I didn't want to start the game with Kyle having to chase those guys early. I wanted to put a smaller guy and a little quicker guy on Williams, with Mike Scott. That certainly, I thought, played favorable to us."
Mike Scott set career highs with 11 points and seven rebounds and for a stretch in the second quarter, was keeping the Hawks in the game with hustle plays. Not only did Scott set career highs, but it was his most complete performance on both the offensive and defensive ends. Despite the success tonight, Scott's focus was on what he can improve moving forward. (When Mike turned around and saw the small group of us waiting for him, he was genuinely surprised and said, "Oh, sorry, were ya'll waiting for me?" Yes Mike, when you have an 11/7 game, we'll be waiting.)
"I felt comfortable," said Scott. "I still gotta work on defense, knowing the strategies and just learning different matchups. Just gotta work at it. With repetition comes confidence."
"Yeah, I do [think this was Mike's best game]," said Drew. "I always thought Mike's capable, but just having that log-jam at that position. Now we're depleted at that perimeter area so you've got to move people around. I played Anthony Tolliver at the two and the three. Mike, the last week or so, I told him to focus more on the three spot so he can learn all there is to do at the three. I thought early he showed some aggressiveness. He's a terrific shooter, that's never been a question, his ability to score the ball."
One of the pivotal plays down the stretch came early in the fourth quarter when Derrick Williams drove the lane and dunked on Ivan Johnson. The dunk came after the shot-clock went off and was later taken off the board, but Williams made the mistake of grabbing the ball after the dunk and not giving it to Ivan. Ivan took offense to this and went on a tear over the next two minutes as he scored six points had one assist, one rebound, and one steal to help close the Wolves lead to two. Ivan picked up his fifth foul and exited the game for good, but his presence was felt and he seemed to energize the team for that brief period. Ivan finished with eight points, three rebounds, and five fouls in less than eight minutes of play. I asked Drew if he felt that Williams dunk fired up Ivan and how he views this sort of Ivan performance.
"Yeah, but when have you not seen Ivan fired up?" laughed Drew. "Yeah, Ivan did a good job, he got into foul trouble early, but, as I told him after the game, he didn't play a lot of minutes but the minutes he did play his presence was felt. We have guys that are going to play the bulk of the minutes, but those guys on the bench those few minutes they play, their presence has to be felt. When Ivan plays, you know he's in the game. Whether he's fouling or making drives to the basket, his presence is felt and that's what we need."
Al Horford had his best offensive night of the year, scoring 28 points and was extremely aggressive going to the basket. Horford had at least four dunks on the night, each of which came with authority, and Al seems to have challenged himself to be more aggressive and attack more, which is a very good thing for the Hawks offense.
"I tell ya. I see signs of that old Al Horford, when we first got him, the way he's going quicker into his moves and he's going with authority," said Drew. "He's not just flipping things up or going with a jump-hook he's recognizing the fact that when he goes quick and gets that step whether to get it over his shoulder for the jump-hook or go to the hole and flush it. That's the Al of old, so I'm hoping he's back to his old, old self. When he plays like that it brings out another level of aggression in him."
Part of Al's success, particularly in the second half, came off of the high-low game with Josh Smith. Smoove, who had a quiet night scoring and rebounding (10 points, four boards), seemed more content to facilitate (six assists) and allow Al to take the majority of the shots (Al had 20 attempts, Josh had eight). On at least three occasions, Josh made a feed from the high post to Al near the hoop for an easy look. Josh said it was something he saw early on in the way the Wolves were covering screens that let him know those passes would be open.
"Yeah I did [see something in the first half], I saw them switching out on the pin-downs with Kyle Korver and [Al] and saw Kirilenko front a little bit. I told the guards to look for me a little earlier on the high-low and we got a couple of those plays accomplished."
The Hawks will be back in action in Charlotte on Wednesday to take on the Bobcats and hope to get a couple of their guys back. Devin Harris is day-to-day with his ankle injury and could be available on Wednesday and they hope to get DeShawn Stevenson back at practice Tuesday to have him ready to play on Wednesday.