Trailing 81-76 with just over six minutes to go in the contest, the Atlanta Hawks closed the game with an 18-4 run to turn away the Pistons and run their record to an Eastern Conference best 5-0. Al Horford scored all but two of his eighteen points in the second half including three straight baskets coming down the stretch. Josh Smith had that break out game offensively finishing with 22 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks.
Still the Hawks failed to take control of this game until that run in the fourth quarter. When looking at the final stats you see that the Hawks out shot the Pistons 53% to 40% and also got to the free throw line eight more times. In addition the Hawks racked up 25 assists as a team on 36 made shots. So how was this game so close? Seventeen offensive rebounds for the Pistons leading to 16 second chance points kept them in the game. Those second chances enabled the Pistons to put up 23 more shots (90 to Hawks 67).
This game was kind of strange from the outset. For a little while it looked like the Pistons would be very shorthanded but Tracy McGrady was able to suit up and play. I should have talked in the preview about the Hawks having to match up with Rodney Stuckey and or Ben Gordon. Gordon was a pain in the Hawks' side the entire night as they had Mike Bibby matched up on him for much of the night. Gordon was able to get off early scoring 11 of his team high 22 points in the first quarter.
Not sure what the thinking was for Rodney Stuckey in this one but Pistons coach John Kuester elected to only play him a little over 13 minutes in this one, and only three minutes in the second half. Could have been due to injury or something else but the Hawks looked intent on trying to post Joe Johnson against him early. With Stuckey off the floor, Kuester employed a long line up that sometimes included 6'8" McGrady, 6'11" Austin Daye, 6'11" Greg Monroe, 6'9" Tayshun Prince, and either 6'11" Charlie Villanueva or 6'8" DaJuan Summers. Many times that put Mike Bibby or Jeff Teague matched up against a much bigger opponent.
With the big lineup in the game the Pistons sunk into the lane and the Hawks were unable to do much damage from three point range going (3-14) in the contest. One thing the Hawks were able to do was get out and run. The Hawks finished the night with 28 fast break points. Josh Smith was at his best running the floor and either finishing or finding open teammates. He appeared to be looking for Joe Johnson on the break as he found him 3-4 times wide open for three point looks. Joe had another tough shooting night but it was good to see Josh making the correct play in transition.
Without Jamal Crawford,who sat out this game with turf toe, the Hawks kind of slogged their way through the first three quarters. It always felt that if they could go on a run they could take control but couldn't find the offensive rhythm to make that happen. Jeff Teague (7 points) and Zaza Pachulia (12 points 6-7 shooting) helped to keep the Hawks close. Jordan Crawford got some meaningful minutes in Jamal Crawford's absence and looked comfortable running the pick and roll with Pachulia. Jordan finished two points and two assists in just over 11 minutes of action.
The Hawks came alive during that 18-4 run that was sparked by Al Horford and Josh Smith to seal the win. Horford and Smith combined to score 14 points in the fourth quarter and grab seven rebounds. The rebounds were key as that was essentially the difference during that run. The Pistons stopped getting second chances and the Hawks were able to finish them off because of it. Just three minutes into the fourth quarter, Marvin Williams (11 points, 8 rebounds) was involved in a collision and suffered what the team called a sprained knee. That forced the Hawks to finish the game big with Smith, Horford, and Pachulia all on the floor together to end the game.
Joe Johnson played his third consecutive 40+ minute game and finished with 14 points (5-15 shooting) and had 8 more assists. To Joe's credit he passed up some shots in the fourth leading to drives and dishes for teammates. Joe looked like he had tired legs tonight and that leads to the outside shot being off. He only got to the free throw line twice in the game but had the ball inside several times in the first half and didn't get the call.
With an off day today all eyes will be on Marvin Williams and the Hawks small forward position. Mo Evans remains out with a knee injury of his own which leaves the Hawks very thin at the three position. Joe Johnson has been spending a lot of time there of late. Marvin was walking with a limp in the locker room but stated that he thought he would be fine.
"I've already gotten a lot of treatment," Williams said. "I will go home and kick my feet up and see how it feels in the morning."
The Hawks head to Minnesota for a game on Friday and we will be keeping an eye on Marvin's status for the game. So 5-0 feels pretty good for these Hawks especially given the uncertain exhibition season. We have seen a lot of poise from the group in areas where we saw them panic last season. Being in the locker room these guys seem like a loose and confident bunch and that is key going forward. Coach Drew mixed and matched lineups tonight at will trying to match up against the Pistons when they went big. That willingness to adjust and not just adhere to the norm gives this team a lot of flexibility going forward.