Two good playoff teams went toe to toe in Atlanta last night and the Hawks were able to make just enough plays down the stretch to put themselves over the top. If you look at the stats it was a virtual deadlock which is how it should be in a game when 1 point is the difference. In our preview we said that the Hawks needed to control Suns Point Guard Steve Nash. While the Hawks didn’t stop him (12 points, 11 assists) they certainly contained him from having a huge game. The famed “Nash Rules” defense saw the Hawks switch a big out onto him countless times and for the most part the Hawks were able to control him and get the ball out of his hands. Kudos to the Hawks for making the switching defense work. Countless times saw Joe Johnson or Marvin Williams switched off into the post against a bigger offensive player and they were able to either get a stop or make the Suns take a difficult shot.
Offensively I thought the Hawks moved the basketball well and they established Al Horford and Josh Smith inside after a sluggish first quarter. Horford finished with 24 points on 10 of 13 shooting. Smith finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds. I also said that the Hawks couldn’t settle for long jump shots however, with the Hawks seemingly scoring at will inside the Suns went into a zone defense resulting in the Hawks having a ton of open three point attempts. These weren’t the usual dribble around and chuck up a 3 at the shot clock buzzer Hawks though. They kept attacking the defense and kicking out to the open man. They simply just could not get one to go down shooting 5-23 from deep as a team. Phoenix wasn’t any better shooting the three going 2-13 for the game. Had the Hawks been able to knock down any once Phoenix switched to the zone there would not have been any need for Jamal Crawford’s heroics.
With 10 seconds to go the Hawks trailed by 4 points. Josh Smith was on the line made the first free throw and missed the second. Phoenix failed to secure the ball and allowed Jamal Crawford to sneak inside for the put back to put the Hawks down 1 point. Trailing 100-99 they then quickly fouled Amare Stoudamire who could only make one of two. The Hawks called time out to draw up the last second play. I thought they were going to go for the tie and would run Josh Smith backdoor off a screen and lob it to the rim. Instead it appeared that the play was for Joe Johnson to catch the ball in the corner but Phoenix quickly denied him. Bibby then in bounded the ball to the safety valve which was Jamal Crawford and this happened:
An improbable victory and one that can carry you for weeks. Crawford finished the game with 21 points and was only 2-7 from deep. However, he made the one that counted. When acquiring Crawford the Hawks not only got a talented scorer, but they got an assassin in late game situations. He simply is not afraid to take and to make the biggest shot of any game that he is playing in. With Orlando now scuffling losing last night in Portland (who were without Brandon Roy among others) and losers of 6 out of 8, the Hawks find themselves in first place in the Southeast Division. This was game of the year so far in my book which is backed up by my running around my living room screaming like a mad man after Crawford hit the shot. Great win by the Hawks.
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