Greetings! Atlanta had a very, very impressive week with 3 wins including two over sure-fire Western conference playoff teams. Let’s take a game-by-game look.
Hawks vs. Nuggets — Wednesday, December 5th — Win (108-104)
This was a really solid performance from Atlanta, but there were also some weaknesses. On the positive side, Al Horford was absolutely tremendous as he posted a 25-point, 12-rebound effort to lead the Hawks. The biggest key (referenced in this space previously) was Atlanta’s team ability to hold their own, and, in this case, even win the rebounding battle against a team that is accustomed to dominating in that facet. Atlanta grabbed 47 rebounds (including 25 total from Smith and Horford), while Denver only snatched 40. Speaking of Josh Smith, I didn’t think he played particularly well on Wednesday night, but he managed to be in the right place at the right time and ended up with the game-clinching fast break dunk to go along with 16 points and 13 rebounds. For Denver, Ty Lawson was stunningly good as he broke out of a season-long slump with 32 points on 12-16 shooting and 7 assists. Other than Lawson, however, the only bright spot was Corey Brewer’s 19 points, and the Nuggets got below-average production from Iguodala (2 of 10 shooting, 5 points), Faried (foul trouble), and Gallinari (3 of 10 FG). A really nice win for the Hawks overall.
Hawks vs. Wizards — Friday, December 7th — Win (104-95)
File this win in the “Ho-Hum” column. Washington was absolutely disastrous on offense until the 4th quarter, and Atlanta was only in real danger after the final big push from the Wizards in garbage time. All five starters for Atlanta scored 14 or more points, led by 23 and 15 from Josh Smith, 14 and 14 from Al Horford, and 19 points (despite 8-22 FG) from Jeff Teague. Atlanta was able to create extra possessions (and shot attempts) thanks to a 47-32 rebounding margin, and that was a big key in the win. For Washington, I was impressed with Bradley Beal’s aggressiveness, and the talent of Kevin Seraphin, but overall, this is clearly a team that Atlanta should dispose of at home, and they took care of business here.
Hawks @ Grizzlies — Saturday, December 8th — Win (93-83)
You may remember from approximately a week ago that I exclaimed that Memphis “may be the worst match-up in the league for Atlanta at the moment”. Clearly, the Hawks didn’t seem to care what I thought. With Kyle Korver still out of the lineup and Deshawn Stevenson getting the 2nd night of a back-to-back off for rest, Atlanta went to the “big” lineup featuring Zaza Pachulia at the 5 and Josh Smith at the 3, and it worked. Zaza only scored 1 point, but he grabbed 9 rebounds and provided crucial size against Memphis and their massive front-court, which resulted in allowing a respectable 36 total points to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Josh Smith played the best game of his week with 24 points (on 10-17 shooting) and 8 rebounds while holding Rudy Gay to 7-25 shooting on the other end. There’s no denying Josh’s talent, and he showed that here. In addition, Lou Williams sparked the Hawks attack with 21 points off the bench and Al Horford provided his normal, rock-solid production with 19 points and 14 rebounds. In yet another shocker, Atlanta actually out-rebounded Memphis 44-40, and the effect of that can’t be overstated. This was a total team win, and while Memphis didn’t play particularly well (see Rudy Gay’s line), this was the most impressive win of the year for Atlanta from a circumstance prospective.
Going into the week, 2-1 seemed to be the acceptable win-loss output, and I would’ve been happy with that. The Hawks went above and beyond in capturing all 3, pushing them to 9-1 in the last 10 games, and playing scorching hot basketball. There is significant buzz around the league about this team at this point, and it’s well deserved. There are still certainly some issues, but this edition of the Hawks looks to be squarely in the race for home-court in the weakened East.