Prior to the game, Larry Drew was asked about the impact that Kirk Hinrich will have on the Hawks defensively. Drew's reply was that it offers the Hawks the opportunity to match-up more traditionally. Often times in the past, Joe Johnson was called upon to defend the opposing team's quickest and best guard. Over the course of a game that can wear on a player especially one with the offensive responsibilities that Johnson has. Drew said that he wanted to keep Hinrich or Jeff Teague matched up on players like Chicago's Derrick Rose but he wouldn't hesitate to slide Johnson that way late if the situation called for it.
That was exactly the way that the situation played out with Atlanta holding a slim one point lead and Chicago inbounding on the side out-of-bounds. Rose inbounded the ball to Boozer and was supposed to get the ball right back. Only the much bigger Johnson fronted Rose and prevented him from getting the exchange. Boozer forced a pass that Johnson deflected to Al Horford resulting in a Johnson dunk at the other end and a three-point lead for the Hawks. A play that would cap off one of the most exciting and improbable comebacks that I have witnessed with this team.
We have seen this Hawks team get down early before, a few times they have managed to dig themselves back out of the hole but other times we have seen the lead snowball with the seemingly checking out early. I won't lie, after watching games against Philadelphia and New Orleans earlier this season I too was wondering just how bad this one might have been when the Bulls started the game on 10-0 run. In many of those games where the Hawks dug themselves out of holes, they did so by having extraordinary offensive nights. Well that clearly wasn't the case in this game because if you take away Al Horford's superhuman performance, the offensive numbers were very ugly.
This time the Hawks made the comeback on the defensive end. I know it sounds crazy but the second half of this game was a dominating a performance on the defensive end that I have ever seen out of this team. Consider that Derrick Rose so dominated the first half that it had me wondering if I had taken a wrong turn somewhere and were in the United Center with the amount of MVP chants going on at Philips. There wasn't many highlights in the second half for Rose who was 1-11 for two points with six turnovers after halftime.
Make no mistake that this wasn't just about Kirk Hinrich defensively . This was a total team effort on defense. Out of all of the possessions in the second half, the Hawks lost Kyle Korver twice. Everything else was hard for the Bulls. They only could manage thirty points in the second half and they had to work extremely hard for every one of them. Jamal Crawford was matched up on Korver when he made both of his shots in the fourth quarter, yet with a three-point lead on the final possession it was Hinrich that drew Korver while Johnson was matched up on Rose.
Offensively there is really only one person to talk about and that is none other than Al Horford. Al single-handedly kept the Hawks in it hustling for loose balls and offensive rebounds. He played the entire second half going 9-12 from the floor while scoring twenty-two of his game-high thirty-one points in the second half. He took his game to another level while putting the Hawks on his shoulders and carrying them to the finish. His pick and roll dunk gave Atlanta its first lead of the game with just twenty-nine seconds left in the game. It was fitting that he got the steal off the Johnson deflection that sealed the game.
The rest of the Hawks offensive numbers were scary. Besides Horford's career high tying thirty-one points, no one else scored more than twelve. Marvin Williams scored all ten of his points in the second half including a huge three that came immediately after a Korver make on the other end. Joe Johnson struggled shooting 5-20 but was still able to hand out nine assists.
When asked about this game post game, Larry Drew stopped short of calling it a statement game. He instead said that he told his team that it should give them confidence that they can play with anyone when they go about things the right way. This Bulls team came into Atlanta playing very well and Derrick Rose has arguably been earning a lot of those MVP chants. Yet the Hawks still found a way at home, even without an injured Josh Smith and they did so by digging in defensively while grinding the game out on offense. If that doesn't give you confidence then I am not sure what will.