Greetings! It was a gauntlet of a week that featured four road games for Atlanta, with the final three on the West coast. Let’s take a look at what transpired.
Hawks @ Pistons — Monday, February 25th — Win (114-103)
As of Monday, “The Al Horford Show” was in full swing. Horford finished with 23 points (on 10-for-13 shooting) and a ridiculous 22 rebounds in the win over Detroit, and he was every bit as good as the numbers indicated. Detroit simply had no answer for him, and even with a quality big on the other side (Greg Monroe), there was little resistance for Horford. Outside of Al’s performance, the key to the road win here was the play of Jeff Teague, who used a steady hand to produce 20 points (on just 13 shots) and 12 assists, while holding Jose Calderon to a bad (3-11) shooting night on the other end. Detroit is obviously a weaker opponent, but this was a “take care of business” spot and the Hawks did just that in the Motor City.
Hawks @ Jazz — Wednesday, February 27th — Win (102-91)
This is easily the best result of the week. Remember “The Al Horford Show”? Well, it’s finest hour may have been in Salt Lake City on Wednesday night. Horford had his best performance of the season, scoring 34 points (on 14-22 shooting), grabbing 15 rebounds, and blocking 5 shots in the victory. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone in an Atlanta Hawks uniform play at this type of level, and he was absolutely outstanding throughout the game, abusing Al Jefferson and company on both ends. Josh Smith was no slouch either, as he went for 24 points, 14 boards, and 7 assists in the game, coupling with Horford to win the front-court battle against one of the league’s best collections of talent. Winning on the road when you have a 47-38 rebounding disadvantage is extremely hard, but that’s what Atlanta managed to do here on the backs of Horford/Smith, and a sterling 49% FG percentage. The stat of the night? Atlanta scored a mind-boggling 54 points in the paint in this one. That trend likely won’t continue, but it was beautiful.
Hawks @ Suns — Friday, March 1st — Loss (92-87)
For as well as Atlanta played in Salt Lake, they played as poorly in Phoenix. There is no shame in losing on the road in the NBA, but with Phoenix performing at the level that they’ve established lately, this is a game Atlanta should win. The Hawks committed 20 turnovers and shot just 42.5% from the field in this one, suffering through poor performances from both Jeff Teague (3-11 FG, 4 turnovers, 1 assist) and Josh Smith (2-11 FG, 0-5 3-PT, 5 turnovers) to fall flat offensively. It’s very tough for this roster to win games when 2 of their 3 best players play poorly, and both guys were pretty much wretched throughout. The bright spots came from Al Horford (20 points, 7 boards, 8-16 FG) and Kyle Korver (17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 threes), but it wasn’t enough to overcome the bad. Phoenix’s bench was the difference in the game, as they had four bench guys go for 11+ points, and they got a combined 7-10 shooting from 3-point distance out of Marcus Morris and Wes Johnson. Yikes.
Hawks @ Lakers — Sunday, March 3rd — Loss (99-98)
This was a barn-burner. The Hawks trailed by as many as 16 points in the 3rd quarter, before surging (on the back of 12 consecutive points from Devin Harris) back into the game, and eventually taking the lead at points during the 4th quarter. In the final moments, there were several crucial plays, including a highlight dunk from Kobe Bryant (on Josh Smith!), an egregious no-call on a traveling violation by Bryant that led to two decisive free throws, and a beautiful high-low from Josh Smith to Al Horford for a lay-up. In the end, however, it came down to a final possession as the Hawks trailed by one with 9 seconds remaining, and Jeff Teague’s pass to Josh Smith was a hair late causing Smith to fumble and not be able to get a shot off in time. Al Horford was very good (again) with 24 points, but outside of his performance, the biggest contributions came off of the bench. Devin Harris went crazy in 3rd quarter (mentioned above) and finished with 16 points and 6 assists in 24 minutes, while Kyle Korver played all of crunch time, and went for 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. One crucial stat for Atlanta was terrible free-throw shooting, as the Hawks shot just 8-for-15 as a team, and Josh Smith converted exactly zero of his six free throw attempts. It’s the little things when you’re trying to win high-level road games, and that was a black mark in the biggest way. In the end, it was a solid performance, but it wasn’t quite enough for a road win in that building.
If you told me that this was a 2-2 week, I would have believed (in a vacuum) that Atlanta lost in Salt Lake City and LA, and won in Phoenix and Detroit. Frankly, winning in Salt Lake is probably an overachievement by this roster, and while the Phoenix performance was underwhelming, a 2-2 week with 4 road games is fairly solid. The difference between an outstanding week and an average one was simply a quarter-of-a-second on the Teague-to-Smith pass on Sunday night. Sometimes, it’s just that close.