Hawks escape depleted Raptors behind Al Horford and Josh Smith

Kevin C. Cox

The Hawks fell behind by as many as 13 in the first half, but another second half comeback fueled by Al Horford and Josh Smith got them a 93-92 win over the Raptors who were missing two starters that were traded for Rudy Gay hours prior to the game.

Up until about two hours before tip-off, the Raptors had 11 healthy, available players. By tip-off, two of their key players (Ed Davis and Jose Calderon) had been traded to Memphis (Calderon then getting sent to Detroit). The two hours in between were surreal.

I watched Ed Davis go up to the Hawks offices to meet with the Raptors brass to let him know he had been traded (he had just come off the floor from early shooting warmups). Davis came back down the stairs visibly upset, took his warmup shirt off and slapped it against the wall. He would emerge 10-15 minutes later from the locker room, in street clothes with a towel over his head. Jose Calderon did not show nearly as much emotion, and as he was leaving he passed Korver who asked, “What’s up,” to which Calderon responded, “I’m leaving…now. I’m gone.” Both departed Philips Arena around an hour before tip-off and their absence changed the complexity of the game.

Early on, it was the Hawks who seemed most effected on the floor by the trade news. They came out sluggish as if they expected to be able to roll the depleted Raptors. Toronto seemed inspired and played with much more intensity than the Hawks. Atlanta fell behind by as many as 13 in the first half, and were down 55-45 at the half. Larry Drew said that he worried before the game that the team would play that way early.

“I really felt our biggest challenge was going to be us. How could we handle that, knowing that they only had nine players? Would we come out with a sense of urgency and would our energy be up right at the beginning of the game? That wasn’t the case. We didn’t have energy early.”

Drew said he laid into the team at the half and, as he said, “was very candid” in his halftime speech. The Hawks took Drew’s challenge and came out inspired in the third quarter, and quickly overcame the 10 point deficit. Atlanta outscored the Raptors 30-14 in the third, and was riding all of the momentum after a monstrous fast-break jam from Ivan Johnson put the Hawks up 75-66 with 3.3 seconds to play. Then, with 0.2 seconds to go, Jannero Pargo fouled DeMar DeRozan on a last-second desperation three. DeRozan hit all three foul shots, and subsequently took back the momentum for the Raptors. (Disclaimer: I cannot comment on the legitimacy of the foul call because I did not see it. I was still busy freaking out over Ivan Johnson feasting on the souls of all in his path.)

The Raptors were able to fight back in the fourth quarter and had a three point lead with just under a minute to play. Two Al Horford free throws cut the lead to one and a missed John Lucas jumper gave the Hawks the ball with 27.8 seconds to play. In that timeout, LD drew up a fantastic set play for the sideline inbounds that got the ball to Josh at the top of the key, ran Korver off of baseline screens with the final one set by Al, who slipped to the basket for the easiest score of the game to put Atlanta up 93-92 (This was the NBA’s friendly reminder that LD set plays > any other coach’s set plays). Josh and Al both talked about that last play after the game, and gave credit to Drew for the design.

“It was a good play,” Josh said. “They were hedging out on Kyle all night long, which is respectable because he can knock down that jump shot, and the play was just ran to perfection, Al set the screen, slipped it hard, I gutted it and thread it down the middle for the dunk…I do, I do love it. That’s our fourth-and-one play.”

“Yeah, it was a good play that we have and we work on it,” said Al. “You gotta give credit to Coach Drew cause he’s the one who drew it up and we just go out and execute it. Really, just credit to coach. He really spends a lot of time running through these ATO (after timeout) plays and I think we’re probably one of the better teams in the league at doing them. We’re executing them and they work for us.”

After that play, the Raptors had 21.5 seconds to try and take the lead. Kyle Lowry went quickly and came off a high pick-and-roll and darted towards the hoop, but Al chased back and stretched to block the ball out of bounds with 12.5 seconds to go. The Raptors had to take a timeout on their first inbound attempt, and on the second, well, something happened. In one of the strangest sequences, the Hawks somehow kept the Raptors from scoring, didn’t foul, and got out with a win. I’ll let Josh describe it.

“Yeah it was [crazy]. You know, played some pretty good defense, DeRozan lost the ball, Kyle kinda grabbed it, fumbled it a little bit. The ball came out to Anderson, [I] contested it and after that… [chuckles] I don’t know what happened.”

Alright, well, maybe Josh didn’t see it. Al will know what happened, hell, he got the “block” at the end.

“Everything just happened really fast. My first instinct was to block the shot and then the ball just kinda hung around so I just grabbed the rebound and saw there was one second on the clock and threw it out.”

Welp. All you need to know is that the Hawks got the stop and the win. Despite the fact that Kyle (accidentally) kicked DeRozan in the face scrambling for the ball, at least three or four players were lying on the ground at the end of the play, and the Raptors got multiple chances to score; the Hawks won. (Kyle was icing his ankle coming into the locker room…from kicking DeRozan).

Al Horford led the Hawks with 22 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and three blocks (his 23rd double-double; Hawks 17-6 in those games). Josh Smith added 20 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three steals, and three blocks. Kyle Korver shot the ball well (again) going 5-of-9 from three and scored 17 points. The Hawks, aside from Al and Kyle, struggled shooting the ball, turned the ball over 17 times, and were pounded on the glass 52-36 (15-3 OR). Still, Atlanta completed its third comeback of 13 or more in the past two weeks and seems to be a team that plays hard and is capable of making runs no matter what the deficit.

The win gives the Hawks a 1.5 game lead on Milwaukee for sixth in the East, 4.5 games out of first and just a half game behind fourth and fifth (Brooklyn and Indiana). Despite the win, Drew had some concerns about the team’s play in the fourth quarter of late.

“We’re going to have to be better in the fourth quarter, particularly in taking care of the basketball. We had a couple of costly turnovers down the stretch; unforced errors. It happened to us in New York and it ended up costing us the game. We just have to be better in the fourth quarter and down the stretch.

Al Horford was also unhappy with the team’s performance, especially early on. Horford felt that the team did not put forth enough energy early, and even some of that fell on him. In the second half, his aggression, and the team’s aggression seemed to pick up, which led them to victory.

“Yeah I mean I try to set the tone early in the game that we all have to be able to [play aggressive]. In the second half, I felt that I needed to step it up and be aggressive, I did that.”

Even though there were frustrations with the team’s play early on, everyone seemed in good spirits after the game. The Hawks will be back in action Saturday night against the Bulls as they try to avenge their 58 point record-setting (not the good kind of records) performance in Chicago earlier in the month.

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