Quick Thought: Josh Smith at his finest. In a related story, Hawks beat the team with the best record in the NBA.
Don't pretend you don't know -- and if you don't -- now you do:
What can one say? It's the embodiment of what the Hawks can do when they play the game -- for the most part, no team is perfect -- the right way.
The ball moved, Josh went inside -- though there were some of the usual dalliances with the jump shot-- and was aggressive way more than he was passive. That's huge and the way the Hawks held off the Thunder, even when OKC did their usual late game turbo boost, was impressive.
21 assists against 12 turnovers for Atlanta. 21 turnovers against 11 assists for Oklahoma City. That was big enough to overcome the 24-15 deficit in free throws made, most of which came courtesy of Kevin Durant, who knows how to pick up fouls away from the ball or even with the ball when his team is in the bonus -- very crafty.
Russell Westbrook was pretty on his game tonight, going 10-21 for 25 points, four assists and only two turnovers. James Harden was pretty good, too, going 4-8 for 10 points and six rebounds. Durant wasn't money from the outside (9-23), but he got to the line for 14-17 free throws, grabbed eight rebounds and three steals.
So how did the Hawks pull this out? They held everyone else to 7-22 shooting, made enough of their shots and protected the ball enough to limit the game changing transition game of the Thunder and when the Hawks did miss, Zaza Pachulia kept it alive for another chance to score. Pachulia had nine offensive rebounds against the Thunder, none bigger than....
Behind the Dunk:
The irony of the game's signature play was that it started in the polar opposite position, with Josh Smith, early in the shot clock, launching a 22 foot shot. It airballed.
Instead of giving up on the play, Pachulia dove for the ball and remarkably pitched it back to Marvin Williams, who collected the ball and went back up to shoot. That shot hit the bottom of the backboard and was loose again.
As the ball popped loose Zaza, who had hustled back onto the court and re-established his eligibility, ended up with it. He could have rushed it and fired up a shot, but instead he calmly threw it back to Josh who, and I know you are going to be shocked by this, was still standing approximately if not exactly where he launched the airball to begin with. I know, I was surprised, too.
This time however, something came over him. Something said 'No, don't settle again. Take it inside!". Was it a crowd hungry for an upset. Was it a few season ticket holders who had just witnessed an airball from right where he currently stood? Whatever it was, Josh shook off the temptation to launch again and drove to the basket, with malice on his mind.
Ibaka, who has made a season out of rejecting dunk applicants like Smith, rose to challenge as Josh approached. Josh pulled his arm back in a tomahawk position, as if loading a catapult with a single boulder to strike at the heart of the Thunder shot blocker. In a second, they arrived together, and Josh threw down the dunk on top of Ibaka, right through the man known as "Air Congo". I came up off my seat and strutted as if I had made the dunk myself. Josh understandably stormed around HIS half of the court and Ibaka turned his back on the proceedings almost immediately, hoping nobody got a good look at what had just happened.
Oh yes, we all did. Welcome to Posterville -- Population, You.
Josh Smith deserves everybody's game ball tonight. Not sure what else can be asked of the man, in that he was 10-22, scored 30 points, 9-13 from the free throw line, got 12 more rebounds, still had time for four assists, a block and a steal. You want to nit pick about the two times he insisted on leading the transition only to badly turn the ball over, fine, that's on you. He was everything that explains why the Hawks have stood by him -- not many guys in the league can put the kind of game he did tonight.
He even made a fantastic hook shot late in the game, asserted himself to his team late in the huddles, then called for the ball in the post late in the game and delivered. Second look at Josh Smith, Team Leader?
Zaza Pachulia deserves one also, for his nine offensive rebound effort for sure, giving him 14 for the game to go with his 10 points. He also frustrated the emotional Kendrick Perkins way off his game, fouling him out in 15 1/2 minutes. Pachulia's hustle on the Smith dunk and on another loose ball that he dove to the floor to save kept the Hawk energy level on maximum.
Go ahead and give one to the Bench Bums also, as Jannero Pargo and Vladimir Radmanovic made some big shots again tonight and Ivan Johnson pitched in early on with some buckets and his energy was felt throughout.
Tracy McGrady aggressively drove the lane, got fouled and was out for the game. Bummer after seeing him prove himself again to Larry Drew last night with 11 rebounds.
Jerry Stackhouse couldn't shoot straight again, going 0-4, but had five assists and two steals -- very nice effort -- led by example.
Kirk Hinrich found his stroke somewhat tonight, going 4-7 and hitting both his threes to score in double digits for only the second time all season.
The Hawks held the Thunder to only 26 points in the paint, huge considering the transition game and Westbrook, Harden and Durant, who are very quick and can get to the basket. Seemed like the old Dwyane Wade Wall was up tonight defensively for the Hawks.
Jeff Teague played very well, absent was the trail stealing that got him into trouble against Brandon Jennings the game before and he made a number of excellent hesitation - acceleration dribble drives that led to points. 16 points, three steals was solid.
Don't worry about the next game against Indiana or what it does/doesn't mean long term for the team. Enjoy a big, emotional win over the team with the best record in the NBA coming into the game. Revel in it. Celebrate. Watch it again.
I know I will.