Greetings! After a week full of trade rumors and suspense, the roster remained (relatively) unchanged, and as far as Josh Smith is concerned, the biggest focus after Thursday afternoon was his on-court performance against the Kings and Bucks. Let’s take a look at what transpired on the court this week.
Hawks vs. Heat — Wednesday, February 20th — Loss (103-90)
For three quarters, this was a really nice performance from Atlanta. They led Miami by a 73-63 margin after 36 minutes, and things were looking favorable for a rare win over the defending champions. Then, the Heat’s offense absolutely exploded. Miami scored 40 points (to just 17 for Atlanta) in the final frame, stepping on the gas in a way that only they can and putting Atlanta away. Ray Allen and Shane Battier, not exactly the two likeliest sources, combined for 24 of the 40 Miami points in the frame, as they teamed up to knock down five momentum-grabbing threes. Lebron James was Lebron James, finishing with 24 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds, but this was a total team effort from the Heat. On the Atlanta side, it was a masterful performance from Al Horford (12-15 shooting, 27 points, 9 rebounds) but the Jeff Teague/Josh Smith duo combined to shoot 9-25 from the field, and 19 turnovers were too much to overcome. It’s not always as easy as “better team wins”, but on this night, when the real Heat showed up, it was over in the blink of an eye.
Hawks vs. Kings — Friday, February 22nd — Win (122-108)
It wasn’t always pretty, but in the end, the Hawks were able to dispose of the woeful Kings. Sacramento led by 9 after the first quarter, and by 3 at the half, before Atlanta dominated the second half by scoring 61 points and clamping down on defense. It was a highly efficient offensive performance from both Al Horford and Josh Smith, as each player shot at least 66% from the field (8-12 from Smith, 11-14 from Horford) and the two combined for just one turnover on the night. Sacramento entered the game as one of the league’s worst defenses, and that point was proven over and over again. On the bright side for the Kings, Isaiah Thomas finished with 30 points and 9 assists, and he was flanked by a 26-point, 13-rebound performance from DeMarcus Cousins. Unfortunately for Sacramento, the Atlanta defense came alive, and Cousins was held to just four 4th-quarter points. On most nights when the Hawks shot 53% from the field as a team, high-point totals will follow, and this was no different. A ho-hum victory.
Hawks @ Bucks — Saturday, February 23rd — Win (103-102)
Winning on the road in the NBA is hard enough… but winning on the road when you’re badly outrebounded (58-41) and outshot from the field (46% to 43%)??? That is impressive. That’s where the Hawks found themselves on Saturday night, and with a late charge, they snuck out a win in Milwaukee. Atlanta trailed by seven with under 3 minutes to go, but with Devin Harris and Josh Smith (sigh) making huge threes followed by the patented Smith-to-Horford high-low securing a dunk, the Hawks were down just one on the final possession. Then, Al Horford went right at Larry Sanders (the NBA’s blocks leader, no less) and converted the game-winner with 5 seconds to go. The story of the night for the Hawks was incredible three-point shooting, as the team combined to shoot 14-28 and five Hawks made at least two threes on the night led by Devin Harris’s 4-for-5 showing. This performance, along with 27 assists to just 11 turnovers, overcame a woeful shooting night from Josh Smith (6-19) and Kyle Korver (2-10) to grab victory. Some of Atlanta’s overriding problems did show themselves on this night, however, as they allowed a ghastly 17 offensive rebounds, but in the end, this was an incredibly positive result. The “same, old Hawks” would have shut it down in the 4th quarter, but this group battled to the end, executed their stuff (including yet another great call out of a timeout by Larry Drew, who is suddenly awesome at this), and out-willed Milwaukee. Really a nice win.
As we look back at the week that was, a 2-1 result with an understandable loss to the defending champions is certainly within the realm of acceptable outcomes. This team is certainly capable (and frankly, almost certain) of holding on to a playoff seed, and even avoiding the 8th spot (and the match-up with Miami) in order to give themselves a puncher’s chance in round one of the playoffs. That is the “focus” of the season after the deadline, and with this core in tact for at least four more months, it’s time to play.