The Atlanta Hawks were able to escape a tough Denver Nuggets team Wednesday night on national television. The Hawks keys to the game going in were to protect the boards, force turnovers, and get out in transition. They accomplished all three of those goals as they out-rebounded the Nuggets (the top offensive rebounding team in the NBA) 47-40, and 19-11 on the offensive glass. Atlanta also forced 20 turnovers, including 13 steals, and turned those into 20 points. The ability to turn the Nuggets over helped the Hawks jump-start their fast-break which scored 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Josh Smith and Al Horford combined for 25 of the Hawks 47 boards and discussed how that was the focus coming into the game.
"Yeah man, we got to tip our hats off to ourselves," Josh joked. "I mean, this is the number one offensive rebounding team in the league and we made a conscious effort to boxing out. I think watching that long videotape of us not boxing out against Cleveland kind of paid off tonight. We were able to match their physicality, even though their big and long down there, we were able to create contact early and discourage them from getting to the bucket for offensive rebounds."
"That was one of the points of emphasis for tonight's game," said Al. "Coach [Drew] talked about how good they are on the glass and I think we took the challenge, and as a team we did a pretty good job."
Atlanta executed in all facets of their game-plan, which focused on preventing the Nuggets frontline from dominating, but they seemed to forget about the dynamic Ty Lawson.
Lawson had 32 points, seven assists, and five steals on the night including going five-for-five from three-point range (he came into the game 28% from behind the arc). Lawson took advantage of Jeff Teague's lackadaisical defensive effort, and Lawson's energy let him build confidence early with some easy drives to the lane.
"Ty Lawson got off to a good start," Larry Drew said. "As I told our players, one of the things we were going to have to do a good job with dribble penetration, and it was going to take everybody to try and keep Lawson out of that paint, but he got off to a good start."
The Nuggets bench also played a role in keeping the game close, especially in the first half when Corey Brewer came in and scored 14 of his 19 points. Brewer kept the Hawks off balance and pushed the pace, even after made baskets, to find some easy buckets.
Atlanta was led by Al Horford who had his third consecutive double-double with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Al was a force on both ends of the floor, and for a stretch in the middle of the third quarter abused Nuggets center Javale McGee. Horford, in a stretch from 6:00 to 4:30 in the third quarter (Javale entered at the 6:00 mark), scored six points, grabbed two rebounds, and blocked a McGee shot. Al was integrated into the offense more than he has been all year, taking 20 shots (twice he's had 19) and hitting 12. Al, as always, complimented the play of his teammates for getting him the ball in good position to score.
"Josh was finding me, Jeff, a lot of the guys were just [finding me]. I was just running the floor and getting a lot of easy baskets. My whole purpose tonight was to bring that energy from the get-go, and I think I was able to keep it up."
Josh Smith celebrated his 27th birthday last night by getting a double-double (16 points and 13 rebounds) and the win (pre-game he said, "I want a win [for my birthday], that's all."). Josh was limited to just 13 first half minutes because of the great play from Zaza Pachulia, who recorded 11 points, six boards, and two assists in the first half (finished with 11/7/2). In the second half, Smoove found himself involved in the offense more, and was very active on the boards. He had 12 points and nine rebounds in the second half, and iced the game with a fast-break two-handed dunk on Corey Brewer, who fouled Josh. Smith even converted on his free throw (4-of-6 on the night from the FT line) to put the Hawks up by five.
As for the dunk, when asked if it was the icing on the cake for his birthday, Josh replied, "It was the icing on the cake for the game."
Lou Williams provided a lift off the bench for the Hawks with 16 points, and, most importantly, went four-for-four from the free throw line in the final minutes of the game to help salt away the victory. Lou also made a pair of good defensive plays on Ty Lawson down the stretch, first knocking the ball away leading to the Josh Smith dunk, and then poking the ball away from behind on the Nuggets final possession as Lawson drove the lane.
Atlanta's win pushes their record to 10-5 on the year, and 7-1 in their last eight games. The Wizards come to town Friday before the go on a road trip that begins in Memphis Saturday night, then goes to Miami on Monday night for two very difficult games. The rebounding of the Hawks will need to continue to be strong for that stretch, especially against the bruising Grizzlies.