Greetings! With four games on tap in the past week, the Hawks faced a significant challenge, but after a bunch of entertaining battles, there were more wins than losses, and that’s always a positive thing. Let’s take a look.
Hawks vs. T-Wolves — Monday, January 21st — Win (104-96)
The Jannero Pargo show! Wait… Jannero Pargo!? Yes, the Hawks inked Pargo to a 10-day contract in response to the rash of backcourt injuries, and he was immediately forced into action on MLK day against Minnesota. Fortunately, he showed up in a big way with 16 points (on 6 of 11 shooting) and 4 assists in pushing the Hawks to a huge second half comeback and a comfortable win. As a team, Atlanta shot a blistering 58% from the field and 62.5% (10 for 16) from three-point distance to overcome a whopping 22 turnovers in the win. Ultimately, the 60-38 point differential in the second half was the key to victory, but Al Horford (as usual) provided the steadying influence and his best scoring night of the year with 28 points and 10 rebounds to lead the way. It wasn’t always pretty, but this was a gritty win.
Hawks @ Bobcats — Wednesday, January 23rd — Win (104-92)
Of the four games this week, this was the “easy” match-up and Atlanta took care of business. Josh Smith’s 30 points and 13 rebounds leap off of the stat sheet, but the Hawks offense was very solid overall, assisting on 31 of 43 baskets, and shooting 50% from the field and 48% from three. Kyle Korver shot 8 of 11 including four threes made to notch a 21-point game, and he really looked like he found his groove here (more to come in the next game). This was the second straight game where Pargo and Jenkins were the only backcourt mates for Teague, but both guys produced solid efforts and combined for 16 points and 7 assists in 42 minutes. For Charlotte, Hawks killer Ramon Sessions went off for 27 points on just 16 field goal attempts, but Atlanta managed to put a lid on Kemba Walker, and that was enough to cruise to the win.
Hawks vs. Celtics — Friday, January 25th — Win (123-111 in 2OT)
This was unquestionably the best comeback of the season for the Hawks, and one of the best wins of the year. Atlanta trailed by as many as 27 points in the first half, but Kyle Korver sparked a giant third quarter rally and the Hawks were able to close things out in double overtime. Korver’s eight three point field goals were the story of the game, coming off of screens and firing at will against swarming Boston defense, and it was just another example of the difference it makes to have dead-eye three point options on the roster. With as important as Korver was, however, he wasn’t the only hero on this night, as Al Horford played a staggering 51 minutes, scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, while Jeff Teague had an ultra-efficient 23 points and 7 assists before fouling out. I could write 1,000 words on this game alone, but even in the midst of this win, there is some cause for concern. The Hawks had absolutely no answer for the Rondo/Garnett pick-and-roll and I believe that Atlanta may have lost the game if Garnett didn’t exit in the overtimes after fouling out. He was that dominant at times. With all of that stated, it was a great second-half performance by Atlanta, causing 19 turnovers from Boston (they had just 2 in the opening half), and scoring a ridiculous 85 points in 34 minutes including the two overtimes. What a win.
Hawks @ Knicks — Sunday, January 27th — Loss (106-104)
This one hurt a little. After a 3-0 start to the week, the Hawks took it on the road to the mecca of basketball and Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks for the first time all season. It was unquestionably the tightest game of the week overall, with no team ever pulling away to comfortable distance, and it was a see-saw battle from the jump. The unquestioned story of the night was Carmelo Anthony, who scored 42 points and connected on a crazy nine threes in the game and basically took things over. I lead with that to illustrate that it really does matter when you have an elite player on your team, because Atlanta played really, really well in this game…. and still lost. The Hawks shot 60% from the field (a season-high), out-rebounded New York, and actually converted 80% of their free-throw attempts (a minor miracle). Jeff Teague was electric at times, scoring 27 points, grabbing 5 rebounds, and dishing out 6 assists, and Josh Smith was typically productive and maddening at the same time. It was a perfect illustration of “Good Josh” vs. “Bad Josh” in the late 4th quarter as well. Smith thunder-dunked on New York only to nearly airball the and-1 free throw. He ran a beautiful pick-and-roll with Al Horford that caused a near-frenzy on twitter. He committed an absolutely egregious and inexcusable backcourt violation with under two minutes to play. He got caught flat-footed and allowed Carmelo Anthony to absolutely blow by him on the game-winner (even if it wasn’t a foul). He took six threes in the game, including the potential game-winner that never had a chance. This game had it all. In the end, it’s only one loss, and there is zero shame in losing to a good Knicks team on the road, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a painful one.
In the end, 3-1 looks absolutely wonderful after the slide that Atlanta was on for the previous two weeks, and there are various positives to take out of the week. It was a reminder that Atlanta’s “good” is on par with the best teams in the conference, and while consistency is still a challenge, the depths of the lottery are still out of reach.