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Hawks Drop First Game of the Season to the Suns 118-114

The Hawks lost a shoot out today to the Phoenix Suns 118-114 and dropped their first game of the 2010-11 NBA season. The Hawks used a huge third quarter to erase a deficit that had grown to 18 points at one time. After not hitting a three point shot in the first half (0-8) they went on to bury six in the third quarter alone. 

At the 8:27 mark of the third quarter the Hawks trailed 72-57 and I wrote in my notes that it was danger time. Truthfully they were already in trouble and I was just late in noting it, but coming out of that time out the team seemingly flipped the switch. It started with a couple of Joe Johnson baskets and then an Al Horford put back dunk. After another Johnson basket Mike Bibby stepped up and buried a three pointer that cut the lead to eleven at 79-68 forcing a Phoenix time out. That three pointer opened the flood gates for the Hawks who had been shut out to that point from beyond the arc. Bibby would go on to nail two more three pointers in the quarter. Jamal Crawford, who was shut out in the first half, would bury two more of his own including his second four point play in as many nights. When the dust had settled, the Hawks had closed to within two points 90-88 as the quarter ended. 

More after the Jump

The see sawing continued into the fourth quarter with the Hawks able to draw even but never to take the lead. For every punch the Hawks landed Steve Nash was there to land a counter. Whether it was an assist, a big shot, or a clutch tap out for an offensive rebound, Nash showed the Philips Arena crowd why he is a two time MVP. The Hawks fought matchup problems the entire game and it was fitting that the basket that put the Suns ahead for good was scored by Channing Frye who had a mismatch with Mike Bibby guarding him. Looking for the tie the Hawks ran a solid play that had the ball swing from side to side before finding Joe Johnson. Johnson's runner in the lane was off and the rebound skipped out of bounds off of Al Horford's fingertips. Four Nash free throws later and the Hawks were handed their first L of the season. 

The biggest problem with what we saw from the Hawks in this game is that due to injury they were forced into doing things that they wouldn't normally do. They were forced by the Suns and to an extent the Timberwolves to adapt and change the way they would normally play. It worked out for the Hawks in Minnesota, but the Suns are a formidable challenge if the Hawks were healthy and the injuries tonight just compounded the problems that the team faced. Larry Drew touched on this in his post game press conference:

"The thing that hurt us as far as the switches, we couldn’t match up the way we wanted to match up if you don’t have perimeters when they go small," he said. "You have to go small along with them, especially when you play big and playing big is not effective. Tonight was a clear case how bad we needed a Marvin or a Mo so we could look at going a lot smaller and trying some other things defensively."

Another thing to take from this game was that the Hawks could have phoned this one in early in the second half. Where as last year they might have folded, tonight they fought back and overcame an 18 point deficit in the third quarter. A third quarter that they would ultimately outscore the Suns 38-29 in . In a game that was this close at the end you can always look at a rebound (or three) that they couldn't corral or a couple of costly turnovers that were committed. The fact is that you can't dig this big of a hole early against a quality team especially one with a player like Nash. 

Box Score Musings:

  • Joe Johnson rallied back from three sub par shooting games to tally 34 points on 15-27 shooting. He grabbed seven rebounds and dished out 6 assists. It appeared early on that he was making a concerted effort to get to the basket. A few layups later and it looked like the lid that has been on the basket for JJ had finally been removed. 
  • Al Horford arguably was the best player on the floor tonight scoring 30 points on a red hot 13-16 shooting and grabbing 10 boards for his 5th double double of the season. Horford hit a myriad of jump shots early and forced the Suns bigs to come out on him where he beat them on drives during the second half. Horford came up with five offensive rebounds and made four clutch free throws down the stretch. If he hadn't showed it before, it was clear tonight that the Hawks got a bargain when they signed him to an extension. 
  • Josh Smith came away with 19 points and 9 rebounds but the most impressive stat would be his 7-8 shooting from the free throw line. Smith also threw in 4 assists and 3 steals for good measure. 
  • Mike Bibby had a pedestrian first half before coming alive in the second half. Those (3) three pointers that he buried in the third period were monumental in getting the Hawks back into the game. However, once again he was a liability on defense. The Suns looked to attack him and Channing Frye eventually scored the game winner over him in a switch when the Hawks chose not to double team. 
  • Jamal Crawford went scoreless in the first half but rallied to score 11 points. He added two threes in the third quarter including his second four point play in as many nights. Crawford like Bibby was another point of attack for Phoenix with Grant Hill and Josh Childress trying to post him up at every opportunity. The Hawks bench was outscored tonight by a 46-19 count
  • The Hawks shot 54% for the game which is the fifth time in seven games that they have topped 50% shooting as a team. The Suns conversely shot 56% from the field.
  • The Hawks led the Suns in Points in the paint (50-44), 2nd Chance Points (18-13), and Fastbreak points (18-16)
  • Both teams were 17-22 from the free throw line
  • The Hawks won the rebounding battle 40-35 and held an advantage in offensive rebounds 13-11
  • The Hawks committed 14 turnovers which led to 23 points for the Suns, conversely the Suns turned it over 15 times leading to 30 points for the Hawks.
  • The Suns shot 48% from three point range (11-23) while the Hawks shot 30% (7-23). The Hawks were 0-8 from three point range in the first half.
  • Three Hawks players topped 40+ minutes of playing time: Al Horford (42 minutes), Josh smith (42 minutes) and Joe Johnson (43 minutes)
  • Fans booed Josh Childress heavily when he checked into the game which was surprising for me with all of the bring back Josh talk that has occurred the last two summers.  
There were times tonight where the Hawks were really slow in locating shooters or were unsure of rotations. The Suns forced the Hawks into switching more than I am sure they wanted but that is the nature of the beast when you play the Suns. That switching led to a lot of Al Horford matched up on Steve Nash. Many times I thought Horford did a pretty good job of staying in front of Nash but he was able to score with his jumper. It was almost pick your poison down the stretch with the Hawks unable to get either that key stop, rebound, or basket they needed to take the lead.