With their backs firmly placed against the wall, the Atlanta Hawks came out in Game 4 and played like their playoff lives depended on it. In the process they showed what is possible for this group when the energy and effort levels go up. Many people hate hearing constantly about energy and effort being the difference in this Hawks club and other teams. They would rather point to deficiencies in talent or X's and O's as having a bigger impact. The truth lies somewhere in the middle but this Hawks team clearly laid it all out on the line in Game 4. The results were there as they held their own on the boards against the Bulls after being obliterated in Games 2 & 3. They ran down loose balls and played until the whistle. For once this Hawks team looked like they cared that their season was in the balance and they went out and gave themselves a chance to win.
There was much talk and debate about a potential lineup change before Game 4. Larry Drew elected to insert Jason Collins into the starting lineup therefore going with the big lineup that was successful in the Orlando series. Collins ended up playing 12 minutes, scoring four points and grabbing zero rebounds. Dare I say that it was his presence and the play of Zaza Pachulia that helped set the tone for this game in the early going. Pachulia grabbed nine boards in 26 minutes and gave Atlanta some big bodies to combat Joakim Noah and a driving Derrick Rose. Drew hasn't been afraid to change up his lineup all season long and this was another instance where it paid off well yet again.
Atlanta won out on most of the statistical offensive categories. The Hawks shot 49% from the field, hit on 4-11 three-point shots, and got to the free throw line 20 times where they made 16. Atlanta worked the ball inside garnering a 56-40 advantage in points in the paint. There Game 1 performance was attributed to their shots simply going in but in Game 4 we saw them work hard to get good shots. Joe Johnson scored a very quiet 24 points on just 14 shots because he got those in the context of the offense. Al Horford got an even quieter 20 points going 9-11 from the field and got back to running the break and finding hustle points. Josh Smith was just 8-22 from the field and still took too many jumpers but he was the difference for the Hawks in this game as he moved his game inside finishing with 23 points, 16 rebounds, and eight assists. Josh played all out last night on both ends of the floor. I thought Collins and Pachulia sparked the club early but there was no mistaking that Josh Smith carried them home down the stretch.
Following the game, Larry Drew said that Atlanta switched up some coverages against the Chicago pick and roll but in my opinion it was more about five guys being determined to stay in front of their man and make things as hard as they could for the offense. I will reiterate that Atlanta played Chicago to a stalemate in rebounding just like in Game 1. It isn't a coincidence that both of those games were Atlanta victories. Further proof that Atlanta picked up their defense was holding the Bulls to just 3-16 shooting from three in Game 4. Make no mistake though, MVP Derrick Rose is where it starts for Chicago and he needed 32 shots and 11 free throw attempts to score 34 points. When Rose is efficient the Bulls are much more balanced. In the fourth quarter of Game 4 it was Rose Vs. the Hawks on offense and Atlanta's 33-19 fourth quarter suggests they will take that challenge every single time.
There was a lot of talk about the inadvertent whistle by Bennett Salvadore that would have given Derrick Rose three free throws but instead resulted in a jump ball won by Atlanta. It was a tough break as was the 13-1 free throw advantage that Chicago held over Atlanta during the first half despite the Hawks basically living in the paint on offense. It was a physical game and the officiating left something to be desired for both teams on both ends of the floor.
Teague was the X-factor coming into this playoff series and has clearly established himself as one of if not Atlanta's most important player. Jeff played 40 minutes while scoring 12 points and handed out four assists. It was however his defense that has provided the spark for Atlanta. If anything the play of Jeff Teague in this series has me excited about the future. For those that point to a small sample size for Teague, I would argue that he is having this success while being matched up with the league MVP in Derrick Rose. The impact Teague can possibly have on this team is sure to be discussed at length over the off season.
Heading To Game 5
You can't blame a lot of Hawks fans for being less than confident heading into Game 4. However, this team is showing you that while they are still wildly inconsistent, they are very good when they do things the correct way. Seeing Chicago take the lead at the end of the third despite how well Atlanta had played to that point was concerning. To see the Hawks respond with one of their best quarters of the season was both gratifying and served as a confidence builder all at the same time.
Here is hoping that Atlanta saw the blueprint for success in Game 4. There was still room for improvement but when they play the game the correct way and are not their own worst enemy, they give themselves a chance to be successful. That is the only way they can play and hope to be successful when the series shifts back to Chicago.