Greetings! As we took a look at the week to come, it was clear that a challenge was in store for the Hawks, and that proved to be true. Let’s examine what went down.
Hawks @ Pacers — Tuesday, February 5th — Loss (114-103)
Without question, this was the toughest game on the schedule on paper. Indiana had won 14 consecutive home games, and they came into the action as a top-3 defensive team in the league. With all of that said, raise your hand if you thought Atlanta would score 103 points (on the road!) and lose by 11 to the offensively-challenged Pacers. Eesh. Atlanta allowed the Pacers to shoot 48% from the field and 44% from three (11 for 25) on the night, and the Atlanta offense simply couldn’t keep the pace. Indiana certainly executed throughout the night, as they assisted on 28 of 36 field goals, but it was the occasional defensive lapse coupled with this execution that did Atlanta in. Offensively, the Hawks were limited by a subpar shooting night from Kyle Korver (3-13 FG, 2-9 from three), but Jeff Teague was electric at times, finishing with 24 points and 8 assists, while Al Horford was his typically steady self before fouling out. The injury to Zaza Pachulia was a big factor in the game, as Horford could only play 28 minutes thanks to the big workload of covering the 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert, and Johan Petro is, well, Johan Petro. Overall, it wasn’t an embarrassing performance, but the defensive indicators that emerged from this game would reappear later in the week.
Hawks vs. Grizzlies — Wednesday, February 6th — Win (103-92)
In the weekly preview, I wrote: “Memphis is basically a better version of Indiana, but fortunately, this game is at Philips Arena.” I would fall short of saying that the venue made the entire difference, but it certainly didn’t hurt things. Memphis isn’t the same team away from the FedEx Forum, and it certainly showed here. The undermanned/undersized Hawks managed to win the rebounding battle (46-38), while shooting 52% from the field and 42% from three against one of the elite defenses in the league. It was an impressive performance. Josh Smith and Al Horford both went for double-doubles (19/11 from Smith, 17/11 from Horford), and Jeff Teague had one of his better performances of the season with an ultra-efficient 22 points (on only 10 shots) and 13 assists. The decision by Larry Drew to start Anthony Tolliver (and play him 28 minutes, no less) was a curious/inexplicable one, but it didn’t come back to bite the team on this night. Defensively, Al Horford did a fantastic job on Marc Gasol, holding him to 4-13 shooting by limiting his post touches throughout the night and showing a higher level of athleticism than he normally faces. Easily the best performance of the week, and, non-coincidentally, the only win.
Hawks vs. Hornets — Friday, February 8th — Loss (111-100)
Here is where things went sideways. In the previous two games, the Hawks played to expectations, splitting a home/road series with two upper-echelon teams. Then, Atlanta plummeted to an 11-point loss, at home, to a team with a .340 winning percentage. In short, it was a defensive disaster from the opening whistle, and things got progressively worse as the game went along. Atlanta allowed the Hornets to shoot 52.3% from the field on the night, including a blistering 9-16 (56%) from three point range. New Orleans is certainly an offense-first team, but there is no excuse for allowing this level of production, especially at Philips Arena. Greivis Vasquez abused all comers (mostly Jeff Teague) all night on the offensive end, going for a 21-point, 12-assist, 11-rebound triple-double (the first of his career), and Eric Gordon took advantage of the weaker defensive backcourt mate (Korver, Harris, Jenkins) to the tune of 27 points. The worst part was the lack of help defense, as Josh Smith routinely took a nap defensively (to be kind) and the rotations were noticeably slow for the duration of the night. It was certainly a better-than-average effort from New Orleans (check out some of those heat checks from Ryan Anderson, for example), but an 11-point loss at home to this particular opponent can’t be explained away. It was a subpar effort, and I’m sure the team would agree.
It was stated in this week’s weekly preview that “Friday’s game against New Orleans presents a high likelihood of victory, but with this team’s penchant for no-shows, nothing is off of the table”, and unfortunately, that no-show potential reared its ugly head. There was an extremely positive takeaway from Wednesday’s game, however, and with a suddenly-healthy compliment of players that includes Zaza Pachulia and Devin Harris, the team is at near-full-strength, with the obvious exception of Lou Williams, for the first time in a while. Here’s to hoping that the no-shows will be at a minimum going forward.