Games like last night are strange. Strange in the way that a loss is much more devastating than a win is satisfying. Simply put, Toronto came into last night's game having lost 12 straight games and had an exceptionally hard time just traveling to Atlanta, only arriving a few hours before the game. Still even with a weakened opponent, Atlanta toyed with the Raptors and the game was a lot closer than it probably should have been and more than the final scored indicates. I will credit Atlanta with this, they never lost control. Even when Toronto started the third quarter on a 10-0 run to take the lead, Atlanta answered back with a 7-0 of their own. It wasn't ideal, it wasn't textbook, but it was a win and no other outcome would have been acceptable given the circumstances.
Joe Johnson was simply amazing scoring 37 points on red hot 15-21 shooting. He was 5-8 from three point range and also dished out eight assists. Simply put it was one of the most dominating performances offensively I have seen from Johnson in a Hawks uniform. He scored inside and outside while also setting up teammates. Even better I would say the majority of his points came within the context of the offense. If there was a silver lining to the elbow surgery that sidelined Johnson earlier this season, it is that he has less wear and tear on him at this point of the season than there was last season. He looks strong and the Hawks are a really hard team to guard when he is making shots while also looking to pass the ball and set up teammates.
Offensively this was a mis-match from the beginning. Toronto can make Atlanta look like a strong defensive club and they had no chance of slowing down, Johnson, Josh Smith, or Al Horford. Essentially Atlanta could get whatever shot they wanted when they wanted it. It was just a matter of execution.
One more thing I want to file away under the good column is that Jeff Teague got minutes in both halves again following up a pretty good performance in Dallas over the weekend. The final line doesn't look that great of two points, two assists, and three turnovers, but I thought he had a positive impact especially in the first half. Will be interesting to see if the trend of playing time continues into the next game.
First as MC points out in his post-game blog post, the Hawks played about half a quarter of respectable defense. During that stretch, they pushed the lead from six to eighteen points and essentially put the Raptors away in the process. In fact it looked like Toronto was begging Atlanta to put them away earlier but the Hawks never did. A combination of turnovers (14) and offensive rebounds for the Raptors (11) enabled Toronto to stay in the game for far longer than they should have. It is easy to get lured into not extending yourself defensively when you are playing a team that can't stop you offensively. Still that in my opinion is what separates Atlanta from a team like Boston or San Antonio that will bury an opponent early and then coast home. I never once felt like the Hawks were going to lose this game but Toronto stayed within striking distance most of the game. Amir Johnson scored 20 points for the Raptors and most came off of simple hustle plays where he grabbed offensive rebounds or sprinted the floor for layups.
As good as the Hawks were offensively in this game they settled for long jump shots throughout most of it. Granted they made a lot of them and who am I to complain about that but Josh Smith and Al Horford's zero attempts from the free throw line validates my claim. Toronto wasn't going to provide any resistance and the Hawks were able to get any shot they wanted at the rim or from distance. It is just a lot easier to get those from distance. You aren't going to beat good teams attempting 24 three points shots and only nine free throws. Luckily for Atlanta, Toronto isn't a good team.
After a long lay off, the Hawks got back on the court last night and got a win. A win that once again puts them in a tie with the Orlando Magic for the 4th spot in the Eastern Conference. Al Horford flirted with a triple double posting 12 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists. Josh Smith contributed 18 points and 11 rebounds, two steals, and three blocks. Mo Evans scored ten of his 12 in the third quarter when the Raptors made their run. Great offensive numbers across the board in what was largely an offensive game. Atlanta just needed to have mixed in a little more "D" to have turned this performance from good to stellar.