Well it wasn’t pretty but a win always looks better than a loss. This game started much the way the Philadelphia game ended. The Hawks allowing their opponent to get whatever shot they wanted uncontested. During the first quarter the Pacers shot 57% from the field and were 6-9 from three point range. The Hawks repeatedly chased Indiana shooters under screens and blew defensive rotations on their way to spotting the Pacers a 31-26 lead at the end of the quarter.
The second unit came in and provided a spark defensively. Jamal Crawford came in and started hot hitting his first four field goal attempts on his way to 17 points and 6 assists. Jeff Teague came in and had an impact defensively. He had a near strip of fellow rookie A.J. Price and contested a Danny Granger break away dunk. He probably got away with a foul on Granger but the effort was there and I like his never give up attitude.
Al Horford completely dominated the third period on both ends of the floor scoring 12 of his 18 points and helped to widen the lead out to give the Hawks some much needed breathing room. Josh Smith finished the Pacers off in the fourth on his way to a pedestrian 21 point, 13 rebound night. Brett LaGree of Hoopinion writes about Smith’s play:
Smith appeared interested (in basketball, not in complaining about calls referees got right) for about three minutes of the fourth quarter. He loafed through the rest of the game and finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds. He’s ridiculously talented.
I concur. I am not going to single out Smith because the whole team hasn’t came out focused in the last few games but the Hawks will need Smith focused on playing basketball come playoff time.
In the end, the Atlanta Hawks were just better. Jamal Crawford drained threes, Al Horford could not be guarded, and Josh Smith’s best impersonation of a ridiculously athletic version of Zach Randolph was just too much. Horrible rotation defense and close outs not with standing, I am fine with a ten point victory where the longest stint by a starter was 34 minutes. I really am. Without the Philly lose, I might not have even picked up on lack of effort.
The victory was very much a needed one. For one thing it erased temporarily the memory of the loss to Philly. Another thing it sends the Hawks into games against the Lakers and Cavs without the extra baggage of riding a two game losing streak.
So with the victory the Hawks equaled their win total from last season with 47 victories. I must admit that I never felt confident in this game from the outset. Coach Woodson did nothing to calm my fears by emptying the bench and inserting Marion West and Jason Collins with 3:04 remaining in the game and the Hawks barely up double figures. Having Monday and Tuesday off can perhaps get the team’s focus back heading into the game against the Lakers.
The most concerning part about these last two games is the team’s approach to them. There is not a switch for effort that can be flipped on or off daily. The players talk about not being ready often and they know they must come ready. There comes a point though where actions speak louder than words. While the Hawks are firmly supplanted as at least the fourth seed in the East, would be first round match ups Milwaukee or Miami are both playing well and are capable of upsetting the Hawks in the first round if they are not ready to play. You don’t want to head into the playoffs with the switch suddenly stuck in the off position.