The timing couldn't have been any better for the Hawks who defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 124-101 Wednesday night to snap a three game losing streak. Atlanta needed a solid effort after three straight losses, two of which were very lethargic. The other one was a slim two point loss in San Antonio that spearheaded by the bench led by rookies John Jenkins and Mike Scott.
Early on Wednesday night it looked like it might be another struggle for the Hawks. They fell behind by eight early, came back and took a 12 point lead in the second and watched the Sixers trim that to just two right before the half. Atlanta closed the half strong and led 59-51 at the half.
The Hawks took control in the second quarter as they clamped down defensively which helped to ignite the running game. Jeff Teague and Josh Smith went on the attack with Smith scoring 11 of his game-high 28 in the third.
Larry Drew preached effort and energy before the game and Al Horford agreed that it was difference in turning in a solid performance. "It was just a matter of us tightening up our defense" said Horford.
One encouraging sign was that while the starters turned in a great performance the bench also came up big in the win. Rookies John Jenkins and Mike Scott shined for the second straight game and brought a scoring punch off the bench as they combined 38 points on 14-23 shooting. Drew praised his rookies following the game saying "I think John (Jenkins) and Mike (Scott) are really starting to find their niche."
In the grand scheme of things the Hawks are playing out the string with three games remaining in a long 82 game schedule. They are likely to end up as the sixth seed but still have a shot at finishing as high as fifth in the standings. Perhaps more importantly that positioning is this team's needing to focus as the post season approaches. For the last couple of weeks they haven't looked very engaged as a group.
That has led Drew to bemoaning their play in post game segments where he says that the Hawks can not afford to try and outscore opponents. He has often referred to the "blue collar" approach that he wants this team to take on. When they have then they have typically done well. However, finding consistency has been the issue for most of the season.
As up and down as things have been Wednesday's win improved Atlanta's record to 43-36 on the season with three games left to play. Prior to the season some of the most optimistic projections for this team had the Hawks in a 45-47 win range which is still within reach. The people making those projections weren't likely to have counted on Atlanta having to endure season ending injuries to Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia.