Quick Thought: This team is ugly, but it's our ugly....and it's always nice to send the C's packing with the "L".
Josh Smith sat. Zaza played. To be simple, that was the difference in the game for the Hawks.
Josh was as far to the naughty side as he could be in this one, playing maybe the worst 3 1/2 minutes of basketball of his season to start the game. Jump shots galore, out of position on defense, etc. He got loose on a couple of dunks later in the quarter, but didn't score a single point after that. In 10+ minutes in the third quarter, Smith had zero points on 0-2 shooting, had 3 boards, an assist, and a turnover.
So it's no wonder that, in a game that saw the Hawks fall behind by double digits late in the third quarter and sorely lacking in momentum, Zaza Pachulia would rise up against the Celtics and help bring the Hawks back at home and did so with Smith's minutes.
You can't understate what Pachulia did in playing out the rest of the game alongside Al Horford. Pachulia, in the final 13:52 seconds, scored 12 points on 3-4 shooting, grabbed (7) rebounds, (4) of which chased down one of the many, many errant jump shots from the expensive Hawk backcourt, and made (6) big free throws, including (2) clutch tosses with 36 seconds left to go.
In a game where it seemed like the Celtics ball movement would never relent in giving the visitors plenty of easy shot opportunities, suddenly, they went outside and cold. And when they missed, the Hawks made dang sure they didn't get it back, allowing only a minuscule (3) offensive rebounds to the C's, compared to the (14) pulled in by the home team.
It was ugly, don't let anything fool you. These Hawks wore out the Celtics by outworking them, period. Joe Johnson, Kirk Hinrich, and Jamal Crawford---otherwise known to Coach Larry Drew as "the shotmakers"--didn't even come close to earning their name, especially in the fourth quarter, where the three of them combined for an unsavory 2-13 from the field, many times lobbing ridiculous shots in the process.
So let's give Larry Drew credit for figuring something out: By taking Josh Smith out, meaning one fewer "shotmaker" on the perimeter, and replacing him with a guy in Zaza whose specialty is corralling those frequent misses and turning them into second chance buckets, he gave the team a significantly better chance to win. And considering that the only way the offensively disorganized Hawks were going to beat the purring, efficient engine that is Boston was to grind the game up and outwork their guests, then Zaza's your man and Josh certainly isn't.
And that change, bold I am saying, was the reason the Hawks came out on top.
Final line for Zaza Pachulia: 15 points on 4-6 from the floor, 10 rebounds (5 offensive), all in 23 minutes. He was the Zaza of 2006-2007 out there and his play tonight indicted Larry Drew for ever playing Josh Powell instead of he throughout the season. Love us some Zaza.
Al Horford played a little up and down, reverting back to trying to sneak the ball into the hoop at times instead of going strong around the rim, but he had a gigantic tip-in with less than 10 seconds left after Joe missed, sealing the game. Al still managed to stick in 16 points on 7-14 shooting and was a catalyst on the defensive glass, snagging 12 of his 15 total rebounds there. All with his usual (4) assist flourish and basically calling plays and getting guys in the right places offensively. Boss.
A Postgame confessional: Let me take this space to say that, at times this season, I really haven't liked this franchise, but what am I, as a fan, going to do? I'm not going to dump them even though I have zero confidence in the front office, can't stand what the team does at many times on the floor, and feel the coach is toothless and makes some head scratching choices when he does assert himself. I'm a fan of the Atlanta Hawks--and sadly, I can't let go, even for a game. Even when I want to curse, gesture, or slam my hands down, I stick with it. I have to. I love the Atlanta Hawks.
So really all any of us can do is buckle up, tune in, and hope that--for a few minutes, maybe---the team can pull their collective head out of their rear ends and get the job done. I never wish for failure to achieve some supposed higher purpose like lottery luck or getting someone fired---I just can't do it.
My fist still pumped tonight for Joe when, finally, one of his 4 makes out of 20 shots went in. I was stoked when the Hawks finally made their run in the late third/early fourth quarter behind Zaza and Al's efforts.
At points in the game I was angry, very angry, and then, especially the last 13 minutes, I was happy, very happy.
And we won. Doesn't matter tonight that I still believe this team can't get far in the postseason with this kind of play. They played Boston, the dreaded, so so tough Celtics, and won. By working hard. With a Horford tip-in.
That's what's up.