Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Well, well, well---the Hawks have gone and started the season the right way---with a Win, Win, Win over the Orlando Magic, 99-85 in Orlando Wednesday Night. Fitting that the home team was celebrating the first ever Magic team from 1989--that team lost 64 games.

The good guys came out strong against the supposed better Magic squad and punished the hosts all night with energy, physicality, and aggressive board play.

What Went Right:

For the first time in a long time, the Hawks looked like the more polished team, more comfortable with each other, and more poised on the court.

In playground terms, they looked more like the 5 guys who have been playing ball together forever and know each others moves and less like the dudes who just happened to get down to the court at the same time to play some ball.

Time after time the Magic would make a run after the Hawks jumped out on the home team early by double digits. Each time the Magic would make that run, the Hawks would calmly make a big shot, keep a ball alive, or simply regroup defensively and stem the momentum.

The bench played a key role in the game, delivering energy and not letting the Hawks early mo-jo die. The best of the bunch was a nice Hawks debut from Flip Murray, who brought a nice kind of instant offense to the game, playing more from the inside, rather than relying on a flurry of threes to incite some offensive flow.

Zaza Pachulia also added some activity inside, but more than one Hawk fan had to groan anytime Zaza "shot" around the basket. Just kick it out, big guy.

What Went Wrong:

Free throw shooting was abysmal, going 18-31 (that's 58 percent!)---fortunately, the Magic weren't much better, shooting 17-27 (63) or it might have been tighter throughout the game.

Player by Player:

Since they didn't get introduced so fancy like the Magic players did, let's break down their Game 1 performance, one by one.

The Starters:

Josh Smith:

Those who wondered if Smith would start dogging it after getting his big money should watch this game again as it featured an attentive and energetic Smith getting dirty on the court. Even without the trademark Hawks flying game, Smith was into the action in a responsible, yet aggressive way.

He was selective with his outside shots, taking only those he was set for, and drove inside on other occasions, even with Dwight Howard at his shot blocking best for the evening.

At one point, during a loose ball that had gotten away from Josh, Smith dove for the loose ball as the Magic player was just about to pull it in. It was indicative of the hustle and energy the Hawks had for the whole night.

line---6-11, 17 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 steals

Yowza---ummm, glad he's back, eh?

Joe Johnson:

Pardon the HHB if we say that this was a typical Joe Johnson game: solid, unassuming, clutch, versatile---Joe quietly twisted the knife on the Magic as he has done so many times, and did so despite once again cementing his status as the best player in the NBA to get zero calls on the floor.

line---11-20, 25 points, 7 boards, 2 assists

Al Horford:

Al picked up where he left off last season, which was a good thing and an alright thing. The good thing was that the energy was still there, as was the near double-double. The alright thing is that, at least initially, the post game and the jump shot looked about as inconsistent as it did at the end of last season. The post moves looked rushed, and this is something the Hawks desperately need to have this season to move forward---a dependable post presence offensively.

line---4-7, 10 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, a block, a steal, and many smiles

Mike Bibby:

Mike didn't have the jumper going tonight, missing all 6 of his three point attempts, but was a solid presence in the backcourt and definitely continued to keep the Magic honest defensively so they couldn't suffocate Johnson, which happened so many times prior to Bibby's arrival last season.

Nice to know that the Hawks can win by double digits with Bibby missing 11 of his 15 shots.

line- 12 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals

Maurice Evans:

Billed as the Childress Replacement, Evans showed a lot of the same energy on the floor as the departed lottery pick. He showed he has a favorite spot on the floor (left corner) and that he can knock down the 3 from there, if needed.

He is not Josh Childress nor does he have the capacity to be, but he does look like a nice fit off the bench with his aggressive play.

line--3-11 (2 of 5 deep), 8 points, 8 boards, and a steal.

The Bench:

Flip Murray:

Flip was great off the bench, sometimes working the point, sometimes working off the ball. He created lanes, broke players down, and was efficient in keeping the Hawks lead at many times in the game. His 14 points off the bench makes the Hawks bench backcourt very interesting when Evans joins him there.

ZaZa Pachulia:

ZZ was his usual floppy self, but he brought the same kind of physical energy up front that the Hawks need badly, especially with Al out of the game.

Acie Law:

The HHB thinks that Law looks more sure of himself on the court. He made 2 of his 5 shots but was fearless in taking them and didn't turn the ball over once in his 16 minutes on the floor.

All of this without Marvin Williams, serving out his playoff suspension (1 game). It's exciting to think that the Hawks could indeed be a good team again this year---the continuity, the inspired play of Josh Smith, the consistency of Joe Johnson, the floor leadership of Mike Bibby, the excitement of Al Horford---it all added up tonight in Orlando to a hard fought, but largely unchallenged game against a team that won 52 games last year--and did it in their building in front of a sell out crowd.

Very exciting, indeed----

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