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Los Angeles Lakers/Atlanta Hawks Game Review: What a Difference (48) Makes

Bob Rathbun, on his telecast towards the end of the Hawks 109-92 lockdown of the visiting Lakers, said that not even the most ardent of Hawks fans could have pictured this.

He was right, but in the wrong way.

Every time the Hawks have come out of the locker room this season, they merely scratched at the surface of what was possible as a team. They would have moments, quarters, even halves of what their potential is, but have often lost focus. On (47) nights this year, that has been enough. To think that, in game (74), things would be any different would indeed be outside the "picture-able".

Against the Lakers on Wednesday night, in front of over 20 thousand basketball fans, the Hawks opened up a can of "what could be" and took turns frustrating, confounding, and ultimately beating the defending champs by playing a full (48) minutes of team basketball.

The Hawks came out determined to defend and though they did give up (25) points in the first quarter to the Lakers, Kobe Bryant had to get involved early to make it so. The Hawks disrupted Los Angeles' fabled triangle offense so much as to force them into a series of Iso-Kobe, Iso-Ron, and Iso-Pau sets. It stole the rhythm from the Lakers and set the tone to a perfect pitch for the Hawks.

An early turning point came late in the first quarter, when Al Horford picked up his second foul on somewhat questionable circumstances. What could have been an invitation for the Lakers to pound the ball inside and to deflate the Hawks offense was completely unscrewed by Zaza Pachulia.

As we said in our piece yesterday, Zaza's last double-double came at the expense of these cats in Philips last season, so it was little surprise to see Pachulia giving Los Angeles fits again inside. Everywhere the ball was, there was Zaza. Pachulia was passing, rebounding, scoring, annoying--he did everything but take the dry erase board from Woody and draw a big "Gotcha" for the Lakers to throw an elbow at. Zaza needed (7) free throws to make four, but on that last made free throw, Pachulia had his first double-double on the season.

But he wasn't the only thing cooking from the bench. Maurice Evans brought his aggression and attitude to the floor against his former teammates, taking a very efficient mid range game on offense on the way to an (18) point game. Defensively, Evans helped maintain the level of energy and fire that propelled the Hawks. Kobe Bryant scored (28) points against the Hawks Wednesday night, but he only scored (8) after the half and had to work like crazy for almost every single one of his points, thanks in large part to efforts like Evans'.

Jamal Crawford is often the leader of this pack, but he didn't have it from the outside tonight, even missing a couple of wide open gifts from Lakers. This would have been one of those nights to see more Mike Bibby late in the game, considering Mike was hot, hot, hot early in the game, scoring the Hawks first (7) points.

While talking about the bench, it has to be mentioned that Jeff Teague had a good couple of shifts. Teague moved the ball well and, on a sequence to remember in this one, went up high for a rebound on one possession, and then corralled a jump ball around Jordan Farmar and beat him down the court for a breakaway slam. Pride.

The bench helped the Hawks modest first quarter lead turn into a (9) point edge going into the half. Then the Starting Five came out and stretched things out further behind the play of Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. Joe had (8) points and (4) assists in the quarter and his defensive participation on Kobe was significant. Johnson had his usual ho-hum (25) points and (8) assists while knocking down a bomb in the fourth quarter that defined the term "heat check" (ummm--yes---still hot).

Smith was again brilliant with his passing (6 assists) and the Hawks were more than willing to swing the ball to him at the top of the circle to survey the moving parts of the Hawks offense and then send a laser to his target. His pass to Joe Johnson under the basket rivaled NFL caliber passing, whipping the ball between two Laker defenders and catching Johnson in stride. Also, to continue to pro football like tribute to Smoove's efforts, Josh played the passing lanes like an All-Star defensive back, anticipating a swing pass and bolting for the pick, deflecting a number of passes and stealing (2) more.

Whereas the fourth quarter has been somewhat troublesome with the Hawks in terms of putting teams away, they had no such problem against the Lakers as the visitors' defense was unable to stop the Hawks and allow themselves to significantly lower the Hawks' lead. This despite a technical foul on Evans (Artesticide), an odd flagrant foul on Marvin Williams, and a slew of fourth quarter three pointers (mostly by Jordan Farmar) from the Lakers.

In the end, the home team had an easy victory, the folks who came dressed in gold and purple went away unhappy, and the Hawks showed what can be done if they come out focused for (48) minutes.

They can beat anyone.