This was a game the Hawks should have won handily. There was no Rondo, no Garnett, no Allen, and no Paul Pierce. They should have wiped the floor clean and looked ahead to Sunday’s showdown with New York, but they didn’t– and that’s fine because they won the game, but make no mistake about it, the Hawks did not come to play.
That might be a little too harsh on some accounts, however. The defensive intensity was severely lacking throughout most of the night, but Joe Johnson shouldered the offensive load and carried the Hawks with 23 first half points and 30 for the game. Josh Smith was almost equally in sync as he scored 19 points and pulled down 12 rebounds.
I would be remiss not to mention Avery Bradley’s career high of 28 points, but much of that was scored through defensive lapses– the rest of it was a marvelous array of moves by the young shooting guard who is quickly making a name for himself as a defensive stopper in the league. While his reputation is that of a defensive specialist, he must have reversed roles as Joe Johnson frequently got by, around, and over Bradley.
The Hawks led almost the entire night, usually with a comfortable 7 to 10 point lead, but they allowed Boston back in the game after a late run in the third quarter. Willie Green and Joe Johnson executed down the stretch, both making several difficult shots to preserve the lead and the victory.
Player Grades: Each player is given a grade on an A+ through F scale based upon their game performance.
Joe Johnson: A
He was an offensive mastermind in the first half, pacing the Hawks through the first quarter as he hit two quick threes and orchestrated the offense rather well. While he scored 30 points and was virtually unguardable on Friday night, he facilitated very well too. As he broke into the lane and the defense collapsed around him, he did a fantastic job of finding the cutter or the open man on the wing. That would explain his 6 assists, but he was also active on the glass as he hauled in 5 boards. As I mentioned earlier, Avery Bradley is a defensive specialist. Some experts have already pencilled him in as a first team all defensive player. That is incredibly high praise for someone who has just hit their stride in the last month or so. Johnson didn’t care. He took him on the block, off the dribble, on the break, whenever and wherever he pleased. Bradley was physical, but Johnson’s large frame and deceptive moves were too much for the young stopper to handle.
Josh Smith: B
Smoove made some huge plays in the fourth quarter to help finally put the game away, and he has to be commended for that after a shaky second and third quarter. He scored eight quick points to open the game, but after that, he was a little bit of a mess, throwing balls out of bounds and missing open teammates frequently. He was one of the few active Hawks on the defensive end as he challenged every shot and gave Brandon Bass some difficulty around the hoop. He hit a nice, Dirk-like, off-one-foot fadeaway in the fourth when the offense went stagnant for a bit, and he followed that up a few minutes later with the game clinching play: Pargo threw an errant lob pass which Smith caught but wasn’t able to convert. He gathered his miss through a long, arm-extended rebound and then laid it back in for an and-one that knocked Boston out of the game. Smith was a little bit of everything on Friday night, but he played well and helped stave off an intense Boston rally.
Jason Collins: C+
That’s back-to-back games that Collins has set his season high in points. After scoring seven points against against Detroit in the romping on Wednesday night, Collins scored seven points in the first quarter against Boston and finished the night with eight. Joe found him a few times early, as did Teague who got him on a pick-and-roll. After the first quarter, he lost his ability to catch the ball and every time it came his way he’d bobble it around before losing it or passing it to a teammate in desperation. He was active though, and was always looking for the open man to get the ball to ASAP. He played like it was hot potato and it helped a few times as he found some guys open for corner threes. He was too slow rotating over on help defense, but he was active on the offensive boards, frequently fighting even when it was a lost cause. Jason Collins really isn’t a good player, but we have no choice but to give him a few minutes with our two best bigs out. We should be happy we got this much out of him.
Kirk Hinrich: C+
There isn’t much to say about Hinrich tonight. He played solid defense and stayed in front of his man. He made two open threes and cashed in on another bucket and was a perfect 3-3 on the night. A nice role player performance.
Jeff Teague: C-
Teague got the least playing time of all starters, logging only 20 minutes on the night. He didn’t do anything wrong, really, so take solace in that, Hawks fans. He got into the lane early and often (as usual, he’s been doing an excellent job penetrating as of late), but missed a few floaters and didn’t always convert. He was just 1-6 on the night, but he did have five assists as he was looking for the open man. His skills are undeniable as are his given gifts of speed and quickness, but sometimes he struggles to put all the pieces together.
Tracy McGrady: F
Every game has to have at least one player play terribly. Naturally after T-Mac has his best game of the season, he scores just one point in the next one. He missed both of his field goal attempts, split his free throws, and had five turnovers. Oh well, what are you gonna do with those old knees? My suggestion: ice them for the playoffs.
Vladimir Radmanovic: C
In his 9 minutes he made some nice shots and that’s about it. He didn’t play much, but when he played, he played alright. He hit a three-pointer, a deep, fadeaway two, and split his free throws. In just nine minutes of action, no one is complaining.
Willie Green: B
He came alive when we needed him most. For starters, his defense to end the third quarter was surprisingly tight. He’s known as a defensive liability, but he forced both Marquis Daniels and Avery Bradley into contested jumpers that ended in air balls or bricks. It’s nice to see him make improvements on that side of the ball. However, his real splash came midway through the fourth quarter when Boston cut the Atlanta lead to one point. Willie hit a mid range jumper to expand the lead back to three. When the lead was back down to one on the next possession, he swished a three pointer to give Atlanta a four point lead. When that lead was down to two on the next possession, he hit another three. Eight straight points from Willie Green helped pace the Hawks in the 6-4 minute mark of the fourth quarter.
Jannero Pargo: D
He played 17 minutes, but didn’t really do anything. He did hit one big three pointer early on in the fourth to stymie a Boston run, but aside from that and a few nice passes, we didn’t get much from Pargo.
Do people even give D-’s as grades? Isn’t is usually just an F? Okay, we’ll give him an F. I watched the whole game and barely remember him on the court because he was such a non factor. He hit one jump shot, but other than that, he could have been back at UNC and I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue, because it didn’t feel like he was in Philips Arena.
Ivan Johnson: D+
Ivan seems to struggle against Boston. Maybe it’s Bass, maybe it’s Stiemsma, I’m not sure, I’ll have to go back and re-watch. The bottom line is that Ivan wasn’t in the same zone he was in for the previous three games. He did go a perfect 3-3 from the field, but that’s all he did in 27 minutes of action. Seriously, though, is he an underrated dunker? I can’t be on the only one whose been noticing that he’s been throwing down some vicious slams lately. When Joe hit him with a behind the back pass in transition early it was one of the sweetest plays of the season.
SDS Plays of the Game:
With the Celtics down by one point, Willie Green scored eight straight Hawks points to give Atlanta an 85-80 lead with a little over four minutes to go. Green’s run stunted Boston’s comeback and allowed Atlanta to give Joe Johnson a few more minutes rest before he reentered the game and scored 5 straight points in the final two minutes to secure a Hawks win.
SDS Player of the Game: Joe Johnson
Johnson scored in just about every way possible as he worked in the post, took defenders off the dribble, and hit outside shots. When Joe is stretching the defense like this, he’s worth that 120 million dollars, but nights like this don’t come as often as us Hawks fans would like. Regardless, Joe was scalding hot in the first half, nailing every shot no matter where he was on the floor. He had a chance to add to his first half total when he stole the ball with two seconds left in the half, but only trotted down the floor and missed a lofted a floater instead of taking it in for a layup. It left Philips a little puzzled, but when he scored 5 straight points in the final 2 minutes of the game, no one was questioning him anymore.
As I’ve been saying since last Wednesday night when the Hawks lost to Boston in overtime, home court advantage is close to a must for this team. It really could be the difference in a playoff series. We’re one step closer with tonight’s ugly win as we now lead the Celtics by two games in the loss column.
Of course, when we meet them in the playoffs we won’t be so lucky to worry about Keyon Dooling lighting us up. We’ll have bigger fish to fry and the Hawks will have to give a more concentrated effort on the defensive side of the ball to stop Boston’s four headed attack. I think everyone was hoping for a true playoff preview with each team at full strength, but that wasn’t the case for either side as Atlanta was missing Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford and Boston was missing just about everyone else.
This will be a truly great playoff series, hopefully one that rivals that of 2008′s seven game brawl. I think I speak for everyone when I say that I can’t wait to see these two teams fight like they have so many times before, but only with the stakes amplified. Of course, we still have some work to do and that starts with clinching home court. If the Hawks win their next game and the Celtics lose theirs, everything will be settled for round one.
The Hawks have the Knicks up on Sunday for their second straight nationally televised game. The Knicks lost to the Cavaliers on Friday night with Amar’e Stoudemire back in the lineup.
It’ll take a few more games for Stoudemire to get fully reintegrated , so the Hawks will hopefully take advantage of the situation and secure another win.