The Atlanta Hawks went into a sold out and routinely loud Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City without their de facto MVP, Josh Smith, against two of best players on the planet. And in typical Atlanta Hawk fashion did the unexpected, knocking off the reigning Western Conference champions for their first victory of the season.
That result begs the question: how in the world did the Hawks pull it off?
With Josh and Johan Petro watching the game from Atlanta presumably, Larry Drew started a lineup of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeShawn Stevenson, Anthony Tolliver and Al Horford in an effort to put the best perimeter defender, Stevenson, on the three time scoring champion Kevin Durant. Likewise, Jeff Teague was able to swarm the explosive Russell Westbrook for three quarters before Larry Drew rode Devin Harris for the fourth quarter in a game when Harris finished +14 in +/-.
Durant and Westbrook finished a combined 12-35 or 34%. The tough Atlanta defense also forced 20 turnovers, 9 from Durant and Westbrook almost equalling the Hawks total of 10 by themselves.
A day after losing the rebounding battle 58-36, including 23-7 on the offensive glass, the Hawks regrouped and gave a 38-37 effort, 12-7 offensive, without arguably their best rebounder.
This was lead by Al Horford’s 23 point, 12 rebound effort, whom the Hawks looked to get involved in the offense early and often. His 19 field goal attempts was the most from him since a March 2, 2011 game against Chicago, a game remembered for a 18 point comeback from the good guys, and the third most attempts of his career.
We also learned about the depth of this Hawks roster. A game after receiving DNP-CDs, Ivan Johnson and Anthony Morrow stepped up in a big way. The latter logged a 5 points on 2-2 shooting and 3 steals, two when isolated against Kevin Durant, and the former with 10 points on 5-6 shooting and 4 rebounds.
This is certainly not to say that the Hawks would be better off without Josh. That claim is simply foolish despite some of his mental mistakes. The question is how well J Smoove can integrate himself into Larry Drew’s rebuilt offense that sees a lot of penetration by the quick guards. If that can be accomplished, this Hawks team can achieve status as an upper echelon Eastern Conference team.
Three Game Balls
1. Al Horford – He was the focal point of the offense and defense, providing great energy to lead the team all game long.
2. Jeff Teague – Despite his inexplicable absence in the fourth quarter, he was the aggressor of the offense in the first three quarters, emphasized by this dunk over Kevin Durant.
3. Lou Williams/Anthony Morrow – I gave half of this award to Lou Williams for getting to the foul line 9 times, giving the Hawks a great element to get easy points they never got from Jamal Crawford or Joe Johnson. Anthony Morrow also saw his first action of the season and responded by giving Kevin Durant some fits on the offensive end.