December 28, 2012; Cleveland, OH USA: Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) brings the ball up court as Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague (0) defends during the game at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Eric P. Mull-USA TODAY Sports

Hawks vs Cavs: Game Grades

December 28, 2012; Cleveland, OH USA: Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters (3) reaches in as Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Louis Williams (3) brings the ball up court during the game at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Eric P. Mull-USA TODAY Sports

If you were under the impression that the Hawks were incapable of closing out games after their most recent double-overtime debacle against Detroit, Friday night’s victory over the Cavaliers should put those worries to rest.

And while Cleveland’s collective inexperience certainly played a role down the stretch, coach Larry Drew’s deliberate benching of Josh Smith for the back end of the fourth quarter made a resounding statement about his faith, or lack thereof, in Josh.

It will undoubtedly spark debates over whether an erratic, albeit all-star caliber player deserves a max contract for three quarters. Regardless, this article is not about that decision and it will be saved for another time. What it is about, however, is how that decision ultimately provided a comfortable fourth quarter lead and how each Hawk’ player performed leading up to it.

With that, here are my overreactions and immediate thoughts on each Hawks’ performance following the game. (Players will not appear if they did not play at least fifteen minutes)

Jeff Teague: A+ (Player of the game)

Teague went blow for blow with one of the league’s premier point guards in Kyrie Irving, and he looked good doing it. He finished with a career-high 27 points and dropped off 8 dimes. He may not have a Pepsi commercial, but Teague is for real.

Lou Williams: A-

Lou is starting to find his groove in Atlanta and Larry Drew is taking notice. As a starter he tossed in 16 points on 6-12 shooting and shot a sizzling 4-6 from deep. He did have five turnovers, but he did spend some time facilitating the offense with rookies on the floor. So that was obviously a contributing factor in that regard.

Kyle Korver: B+

Obviously this grading scale is relative to each players role, but Korver could very well deserve this grade by any measure. Because although he did so quietly, his 11 points on 4-7 shooting coupled with his three steals and three blocks had a lasting impression on both ends of the floor.

Josh Smith: C+

Five blocks, but 2-12 shooting. Six assists, but five turnovers. Josh Smith is just a giant but, who’s butt was on the bench in the game’s closing minutes. His production is an anomaly, his decision making an enigma.. this game left a lot of food for though. A lot.

Al Horford: A

Once you’ve finished skimming through my ramblings, please take the time to cast a voe for Horford in this year’s All-Star ballot. He deserves it. That said, it was just another classic Al night, as he posted 14 points on 6-11 shooting, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks. His stability has been, and will continue to be, the foundation for the Hawks success this season. Tonight was just further proof of that.

Anthony Tolliver: B+

Okay, so apparently there’s another Anthony on the Hawks roster capable of having outbursts. Tolliver finished with 13 points on 5-7 shooting, hauled in four boards and even managed a block. Don’t worry, I’m just as baffled as you are.

Zaza Pachulia: B-

Obviously you want more than seven rebounds in 25 minutes from Pachulia, but his 5-6 from the line left his entire performance glowing as far as I’m concerned.

It’s is worth noting that both of Atlanta’s rookies put on solid performances in eight minutes a piece. John Jenkins finishing with five points and two rebounds, and Mike Scott who finished with a rebounds and a steal.

The Hawks will now look to take on Indiana Pacers Saturday evening. You can catch the game live on NBA League Pass and Fox Sports South, or listen to it on NBA All-Access radio tomorrow night at 7:00 PM (ET).

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