The Atlanta Hawks came into Staples Center with a 2-2 record, but knowing they have had a significant chance to be 4-0, owning leads in the fourth quarter of every game. Against Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers in the first game of a four game West Coast road trip, it certainly would not be easy.
After going 6-19 from the field, 1-5 from the line, and admittedly letting his team down Friday night against the Miami Heat, Josh Smith was determined to be more efficient saying:
I have to be better offensively for this ball club. As a leader I have to be more efficient. I have to be better at the free-throw line. I apologized to all my teammates because that was just a poor effort offensively by me. I mean it is a tough task to give energy on both ends of the court but I have to be more efficient. And I will be more efficient.
After the Clippers went on a 6-0 run to start the game, the first half was a back and forth affair. The second quarter never saw a lead greater than 3 point for either side. At the halftime buzzer, it was a low scoring affair with neither team cracking 40 points.
There were early free throw woes for the Hawks, posting a paltry 1-6 effort from the line in the first half for the 25th ranked team (.732) in free throw percentage coming into Sunday. Combine that with a team that gets to the charity stripe less than all teams except for the Washington Wizards, and a disturbing trend starts to emerge.
The second half was more of the same from the free throw line (7-16 overall) but sadly was no longer a wire-to-wire contest by the middle of the third, when the Clippers took a 56-53 lead behind a Caron Butler long two.
Turnovers eventually disrupted any chance at a comeback. The Hawks gave it away 22 times, including 10 in the fourth quarter which led to a 13-0 run for the Clippers to seal the game in the middle of the last quarter. Los Angeles finished with 6 players in double figures, including former Atlanta Hawk Jamal Crawford. The final score read 89-76.
John Jenkins, the 23rd overall pick from Vanderbilt, had his first opportunity of the season in garbage time. He hit first shot and finished with 6 points. Mike Scott, the second round pick, also made his debut for the Atlanta Hawks.
Josh Smith did a better job of staying in the paint for easy looks, but occasionally roamed outside for 3 ill-advised three pointers, despite hitting one. His poor free throw shooting notwithstanding, he went away from his “Mid-Range Shawty” moniker, as shown by his shot chart. If he can build upon a performance when he was determined to defeat opponents from the paint, the shots will fall and Josh will be a force to stop.
Next on the road trip is a journey up to Portland to face off against LaMarcus Aldridge and the Trailblazers.