The Hawks lost their 15th straight game in San Antonio against the Spurs with a 99-97 decision Friday night.
Both teams were missing key players for the game. Al Horford and Josh Smith joined Devin Harris on the injured list with knee and hamstring sorenesses respectively. DeShawn Stevenson rested as usual on the second game of a back-to-back. Kyle Korver also didn’t dress, which left the Hawks with 8 available players. Larry Drew stated most of the guys were being kept out due to precautionary measures.
The starting lineup consisted of Jeff Teague, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Tolliver, Ivan Johnson and Johan Petro. All that remained off the bench was John Jenkins, Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack. The Spurs rested Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker possibly in anticipation of the postseason after word of the main Hawks players being out.
The game started at a relatively quick pace for such a forcibly short rotation. Ivan Johnson used his strong body to muscle up shots near the rim early on. However, on defense he was faced with the difficult cover of the monster they call the Manimal. Kawhi Leonard’s athleticism allowed him to finish over any Hawk that tried to slow him down.
John Jenkins made his welcome back to the team with an early bullseye three pointer and later completed a four point play. The team seemed to feed from the energy due to the fact that there was no pressure to win without their two best players. The ball movement flowed and there was a lot of hustle on the defensive end in the first quarter and throughout.
Mike Scott also had opportunities to take his opponent in the low post and was rewarded with trips to the charity stripe. Tim Duncan, however, took over against kids almost half his age. He finished with 31 points and 14 rebounds. The Hawks offense faded down the stretch of the first half similarly, as Shelvin Mack and John Jenkins had a hard time facilitating the Hawks offense devoid of many capable options. Kawhi Leonard drove the length of the court without defensive resistance to complete a 51-40 Spurs halftime lead.
The Hawks burst onto the court after halftime on a fast 8-0 run lead by Jeff Teague’s setting up Ivan Johnson and Johan Petro for easy shots (not a typo). Shelvin Mack caught en fuego heading into the fourth quarter, hitting two tough contested threes to pull the deficit to just four points heading into the final 12 minutes. In an eerily similar fashion to the second quarter, the Hawks looked gassed for most of the fourth before turning it on near the conclusion. The Hawks pulled to within 4 points in the final minutes before a number of Leonard free throws seemingly iced the game.
With 3 seconds to go, Dahntay Jones stole the ball from Tiago Splitter and a proceded to head down the court when he was fouled (?) while taking a halfcourt heave. It set up a situation where Jones had three free throws with the Hawks down by 4 and 1 second on the gameclock. Jones hit the first two but the Hawks were unable to secure the rebound from the intentionally missed third free throw.
Nonetheless, it was valiant effort for essentially the B team. John Jenkins and Mike Scott both set career highs and lead the team in scoring. There is no reason to hang heads after an effort like the one shown Saturday night. Unfortunately, the Hawks fell further into the 6th seed with 6 games left in the season and a first round matchup with the Indiana Pacers looms. Larry Drew and the Hawks will cross that bridge when they get there but for now, this game remains one of the best losses of the season.
1. John Jenkins: I don’t usually do Game Balls after losses but the result of the game was basically a win disregarding the effects on the standings. Jenkins flashed his ability to handle the ball and finish at the rim, which had been a common misperception of game coming out of Vanderbilt. He looked like a player that the Hawks can build around in the upcoming offseason. 23 points on 9 shots and 6 assists tells the entire story.
2. Mike Scott: Scott tried out his range from all over the court and finished with a career high 22 points on 15 shots. He got his first taste of the great Tim Duncan and defended him as well as you could possibly expect a somewhat undersized rookie forward.
3. Ivan Johnson/Johan Petro: Ivan was beastly for the majority of the game. He had 14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and a block in 29 minutes. Petro became a fiend on the boards tonight with 15 rebounds in 31 minutes to lead all players on either side.