The Hawks were able to pull out another close victory over the Washington Wizards 104-95 thanks to good shooting and good rebounding. The Hawks were out-rebounded 58-37 in their first match-up, and came into this game determined to improve. They dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Wizards 47-32 (15-7 offensive). The Hawks also moved the ball, 23 assists, and shot well from the field, finishing the game at 48.2%, and were extremely efficient early, shooting 56.5% from the field on their way to an early 31-19 lead.
The first half was dominated by the Hawks, who led 54-41 at the half behind 14 points from a very aggressive Jeff Teague. Teague wanted to shrug off his past two poor performances and get back in the rhythm that he had early in the season.
"Man, just trying to get back on track, I've been missing a lot of easy shots lately so I was just trying to force myself, will myself back in that mode."
Josh Smith also started strong, with nine points and six rebounds in the first half. Devin Harris had his strongest night as a Hawks, scoring 11 in the first half, and was dynamic getting in the paint as well as knocking down a couple threes. Al struggled early offensively, scoring just two points, but was active on the glass and pulled down six rebounds in the half. Zaza came in and, like Al, was not involved in the offense, but had seven rebounds in the half and played physically against the likes of Nene and Kevin Seraphin.
"We got off to a pretty decent start, and then we found some momentum and were able to create some separation," Larry Drew said. "I thought Josh had a big game. Jeff got off to a great start for us. In the first half, I thought he was really aggressive. I thought Al played very well. DeShawn started knocking down shots in the first half. Overall, it was a really gutsy performance by our guys."
Josh finished with 23 points and 15 boards, while Al picked his play up in the second half to finish with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Jeff Teague was not as active scoring in the second half, but still finished with 19 points, six dimes, and four boards. Devin Harris and DeShawn Stevenson both poured in 15 points, with seven combined threes.
DeShawn started out five-of-five from three-point range (missed his last six) and continued his streak of his last 16 made baskets coming from behind the three-point line. For Stevenson (proper spelling is now D3Shawn Threevenson), it was simple; get open, get the ball, hit the shot.
"The point guards did a great job. Devin and Teague passed the ball out, and I just knocked down shots."
Down the stretch, Atlanta's lead dwindled to just two points with four minutes left, but Josh Smith took over and lifted the Hawks to the victory. The Hawks moved Smoove to the three, and he took advantage of his mismatches on the offensive end. Smith hit a three-pointer to give Atlanta a six-point lead with under three to play, and then hit another long-jumper followed by an and-one on a running hook to close the game out for the Hawks, scoring eight points in 1:23. Jeff Teague iced the game with a steal and breakaway dunk with a minute to go for the Hawks final points. Josh refused to let Atlanta have another lead slip away, and was able to take over when it mattered.
"They were looking for me," Josh said. "Coach moved me to the three so I wanted to be able to take advantage of the mismatches I had. When they trapped, I was trying to make the right play out of it, but when they left me alone I was trying to be aggressive."
As for the rebounding, the Hawks attribute the positive change over the last two games to a commitment from the whole team to be active pursuing rebounds.
"I think that we're making a conscious effort of boxing guys out," said Smoove. "[The Wizards] are definitely a big team, a long team, and we're doing whatever we need to do to limit the offensive rebounds. Whenever everyone takes the individual challenge of boxing one man out during a possession, I think we're going to have good rebounding totals."
Atlanta's commitment to rebounding will be tested tomorrow night against the very physical Grizzlies as they kick off a three-game road trip in Memphis (a trip that goes to Miami and Orlando as well). Atlanta will need to continue to "take the challenge" on the glass if they are to keep their hot streak alive, as Atlanta's record now stands at 11-5 after going 8-1 in their last nine to move into third in the Eastern Conference. As Larry Drew said, "I'll take the win." If they keep rolling them in, Hawks fans will take them too.