Greetings! With three homes on the schedule, it looked like an opportunity to gain some ground on the upper echelon in the East, but let’s take a look at the results.
Hawks vs. Mavs — Monday, March 18th — Loss (127-113)
All that you need to know about this one is that the 127 points that the Mavs scored represented a season high. The Atlanta defense struggled mightily on this night, missing rotations consistently, not closing out on shooters, and allowing Dallas to shoot 57% from the field and 59% from three-point land. It was an inexcusable performance on that end of the court, and there’s really no explanation needed other than a lack of effort. Normally, I despise the fact that Larry Drew’s “default” answer for everything is “energy”, but the Hawks had none here and that was the culprit. Offensively? It was a different story, as Atlanta actually performed well, landing 8 players in double-figures, and shooting a collective 56%, led by another another double-double from Al Horford (16 points, 11 rebounds) and a perfect shooting night (4-4 FG, 12 points) from Anthony Tolliver. However, the defensive issues were too vast, and that was the story here.
Hawks vs. Bucks — Wednesday, March 20th — Win (98-90)
It was the Jeff Teague and Al Horford show on Wednesday night in Philips Arena. Teague led all scorers with 27 points, added 11 assists, and helped to hold the Milwaukee backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a combined 10-32 from the field. Up front, Al Horford had another tremendous game, scoring 26 points, grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds, and notching 2 blocks and 2 steals. Frankly, they were the two best players on the court all night, and with both of them wearing Atlanta uniforms, that was the key to the win. The defensive intensity for the Hawks reappeared, and with some help from the aforementioned Milwaukee guards, Atlanta held the Bucks to just 37% shooting on the night. Josh Smith had an interesting game for Atlanta, as he played well defensively (16 rebounds, countless altered shots), but he shot terribly (5-14 FG) and turned the ball over 6 times. Sounds about right. There was a different tempo to the defense from Monday night, and this was a solid win.
Hawks vs. Blazers — Friday, March 22nd — Loss (104-93)
Losing to Portland at home is pretty inexcusable. The Blazers came into game with a 10-25 road record, and, by the numbers, any loss them away from the Rose Garden is bad. Throw in the fact that they were on the 2nd game of a road back-to-back and Atlanta had a day off in between? It’s even worse. Portland rained in 10 of their 18 three-point attempts (56%), and got a combined 9-for-13 output from deep from their starting backcourt of Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews. Matthews led all scorers with 28 points and repeatedly abused Deshawn Stevenson (yikes) and Kyle Korver throughout the night, while Lillard played to a draw with Jeff Teague after a quiet 22-point night. Outside of Teague, no one had a particularly good offensive game for Atlanta, as Al Horford couldn’t get a jump shot to fall, finishing with 7-18 from the field, and Josh Smith’s shot selection limited him to a 9-for-21 output (including 0-4 from three). Horford did grab 17 impressive rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Portland’s advantage on the glass, and the Hawks simply couldn’t get stops when they needed to.
Hawks @ Bucks — Sunday, March 24th — Win (104-99)
After an unimpressive week leading up to Sunday, Atlanta entered Milwaukee needing a win in the worst way, and they used a 12-2 late-game run to snatch one on the road. Al Horford and Josh Smith each shot over 50% on the night, and scored 24 and 23 points respectively to pace the Atlanta offense, while the bench (Petro, Jones, and Tolliver mostly) beat up on their Milwaukee counterparts with the game’s best +/- numbers. For Milwaukee, Brandon Jennings had 13 assists, but he shot just 4-15 and for the second time in the week, Atlanta took advantage of the Milwaukee guards and their inefficiency offensively. In the end, Jeff Teague and Al Horford converted on 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the final minute, and Milwaukee failed to scratch on their final few possessions. Really a quality win for Atlanta, and their best overall performance of the week when you consider venue.
It would be tough to praise the overall performance of this week for Atlanta, as the two home losses to non-playoff teams leave you to scratch your head a bit. It has been a mark (for years) of Atlanta to underperform at the worst possible times, and sadly, that re-emerged this week. With that said, it is a good sign that the Hawks stepped up in a big road spot on Sunday afternoon, and that type of win provides some optimism to close out the week. Stay tuned.