A tough stretch in the second half ended up costing the Atlanta Hawks in a 79-76 slug fest at Philips Arena. It may be tough to isolate any set of events in a game like this and focus as the reason a team lost but the Hawks seemed to be in control for most of the night but were unable to push enough distance between themselves that they could withstand a hot shooting stretch by men in green.
The reality was that against another more than solid defensive team, Atlanta's ball and player movement came to a screeching halt. The result was the ball sticking on one side of the floor and usually led to a Hawks player trying to iso his way into a good look. The Celtics pushed Josh Smith out away from the basket early on and he struggled once he got the ball in the post as a scorer in the second half.
The Hawks struggles in the halfcourt against the Celtics aren't that surprising but their reluctance to push the basketball was despite it apparently being a key point coming into the game. Atlanta finished with eight fast break points in the game but did a very poor job of trying to dictate the pace and succumbed to the Celtics tempo which negated one of Atlanta's biggest advantages.
Which brings me to Jeff Teague who finished with eight points, three assists and two turnovers. Teague tried to attack at times and was passive at times. He had a tough game from my standpoint in terms of decision making and badly whiffed on a game-tying attempt in the final moments. As someone who has more than once complained that Teague wouldn't take the shot at crunch time you are not going to hear me complain about his last shot whether or not he looked like he wanted to take it. I will instead chalk this performance up to a young player playing key minutes consistently for the first time in three seasons.
From a coaching stand point, the Hawks can not afford to play very many stretches without having either Joe Johnson or Josh Smith on the floor. The decision to play Jason Collins just under 10 uninspiring minutes is eye raising even if he wasn't in his second game back from an elbow injury. Ivan Johnson wasn't particularly effective either but at least he is a threat to score which is something Collins can't claim to be when 100 percent healthy. I'm glad Collins is healthy but he needs to return to the situational big man role and doesn't warrant regular minutes.
Joe Johnson's three-point barrage in the final moments of the game nearly brought the Hawks all the way back from a 15 point fourth quarter deficit. Johnson finished with 25 points and six rebounds but was saddled with seven turnovers in the game. He did seem to win his matchup with Paul Pierce at the small forward position who spent most of the game in foul trouble.
Josh Smith logged another near triple double finishing with 10 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. He was however 5-20 from the field, launched a few jumpers and had a hard time scoring against the Celtics length inside. His biggest detriment in this game was his reluctance to give the ball up to a speedier guard to help push the pace. However, one of his biggest contributions remains to be finding shooters in the opposite corner from the low post which is an area that the Hawks have been burning teams of late.
Enough can't be said of Zaza Pachulia in this game. 16 points and 13 rebounds, 4-7 shooting from the floor and 8-9 from the line. Adding three steals for good measure all the while getting pounded inside against a physical Celtics' frontline. Anytime Boston gets a chance to deliver a hard foul on Pachulia they take it and his departure from the game to receive stitches and the subsequent insertion of Collins into the game helped ignite the big 17-2 run by Boston.
The numbers in this game were close enough that it comes down to one thing in my opinion. Atlanta turned the ball over 17 times in the game which the Celtics turned into 22 points. Boston also turned the ball over 17 times but the Hawks scored just 15 points. Boston was the recipient of some easy baskets while it seemed like the Hawks had to work and scrap for every bucket they got.
The most important thing to take away from the game is that the Hawks still have a lead over the Celtics in the standings and have two more shots at the them before the season is over. They have to heal up quickly because this loss becomes much more damaging should Atlanta lose a very winnable game on Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.