In a pre-game interview, Hawks coach Larry Drew talked about his team's offensive execution down the stretch of recent games. Drew noted that his club had struggled lately while closing games out. It is something that we have talked about quite a few times around here and it appears it could be a returning topic for the remainder of this season. Early in this season, coach Drew talked about sometimes teams having to grind out victories, particularly on the road. In last night's win over the Wizards, Atlanta wasn't seamless offensively but was effective by taking the ball inside and either scoring or forcing Washington to put them on the free throw line where Atlanta made all thirteen of its attempts in the fourth quarter alone.
Getting to the line was significant because is recent games the Hawks have been even more perimeter oriented than usual. The AJC's Ken Sugiura outlines the Hawks free throw totals over the last ten games.
Hawks free throws for the last 10 games – 12, 20, 14, 11, 23, 23, 23, 22, 9, 13. Notably, the Hawks took (and made) 13 free throws in the fourth, when in recent games they’ve resorted to jump shots.
Atlanta got to the line 35 times in this one which is significant because they don't win the game without the free throw differential. Add in that it would have been easy to settle for jump shots as they no doubt were available, the Hawks chose the inside route and the aggressiveness paid off.
Josh Smith once again showed that he can be a dominant inside player. Andray Blatche had no chance against Smith in the post and credit the Hawks for running the ball through Smith down the stretch. Josh saw an extended run at the center position as he was flanked by Damien Wilkins and Marvin Williams for much of the fourth quarter. Smith finished with a game high 29 points and 16 rebounds while looking like the best player on the floor the entire night.
Joe Johnson was the focal point of the Wizards defense and finished with a quiet 21 points on 7-12 shooting. I say quiet because it wasn't necessary to force Joe the ball as his presence alone opened up opportunities for Josh Smith and Marvin Williams.
Williams helped pick up the slack with Al Horford out both offensively and defensively, playing a team high 41 minutes and recording 15 points and 12 rebounds. Williams was on the floor at crunch time and along with Damien Wilkins helped to set the tone defensively for the Hawks. Wizards guard Nick Young scored 16 of his 21 points in the first half but found the going much tougher with Williams and Wilkins shadowing him throughout crunch time. In fact I thought that this was perhaps Damien's best game as a Hawk as he brought energy while also scoring on a couple of nifty drives and a soaring dunk in the lane. Wilkins finished with eight points and two rebounds while hitting four of his five attempts from the field.
The only reason the Wizards were able to stay close was the play of John Wall as he attacked the Hawks in the third quarter putting his lightning speed from end to end on full display. Wall was able to get to the basket in transition or find easy lay ups for teammates as Atlanta struggled to keep him in front. The game would have been even closer had Wall been able to convert opportunities at the free throw line where he was just 2-7 on the night. Still it was his presence that kept Mike Bibby on the bench for the entire fourth quarter. Coach Drew elected to go with Jamal Crawford for the duration who really isn't that much of a better defender than Bibby. After enjoying playing time in the last two games, Jeff Teague was once again a DNP-CD in the box score. The decision to go exclusively with Jamal was also strange considering he was 3-12 from the field scoring nine points. Crawford did dish out a team high five assists on the night. I won't second guess a victory but I would have liked to have seen whether or not Teague could have been effective against Wall.
As Jason points out in the initial reaction piece, it is a good win for the Hawks because it was on the road and they were missing perhaps their most important piece in Al Horford. You can't discount road wins in this league and while defeating a 13 win team might not look that impressive I needn't remind you that losing to a 13 win club would have been much worse.
The Hawks will enjoy two off days before taking on the suddenly resurgent Philadelphia 76ers at the Highlight Factory. The Sixers have won seven of their past ten games and three straight going into their match-up with the Knicks today.