Thursday, October 29, 2009

Opening Night Victors

We love Opening Night.

We especially love Opening Night at home.

The Atlanta Hawks gave us plenty to love about Opening Night at Philips Arena Wednesday night by kicking off the 2009-2010 season the same way they did it last season, by winning--this time casting aside the Indiana Pacers 120-109.

The Hawks started slow, picked up steam by halftime, and then battled the Pacers into the fourth quarter where, as they have made it a pattern of doing so against lesser comp (especially at home), they put the guests away behind strong interior play and clutch shooting.

The Pacers started the game shooting hot, and it helped them to a 53/56/84 night against the Hawks. They likely would have assumed a win if they had known before the game how they would shoot, as they also had the Hawks playing their tempo and their game, but the great equalizer was a massive (25) turnovers to the Hawks (10), allowing the Hawks to close the early gap and eventually overtake the game.

The Preseason is the Land of Illusions and Game One Reveals All

Game One of the season puts some of the fluff of the off-season aside and begins to paint the mural that will become the regular season. In the beginning of a mural, anything is possible, and as the first game concluded THHB saw plenty for Bird watchers to smile about.

Al Horford answered the bell by being very beastly all around against the slower Roy Hibbert and the less talented Jeff Foster. Horford scored (24) points by playing a very confident, powerful game. He shot without hesitation, he took the ball to the hoop without doubt, and finished with plenty of authority. He corralled (3) offensive rebounds, all of which seemed to lead to putback or tip dunks and owned the glass overall, finishing with a game high (16) rebounds. Defensively, in addition to collecting the boards, he contested shots without drawing fouls, blocking a pair to go with (4) assists on the offensive end, thereby filling out the stat sheet. Saying Al Horford set the tone might be stretching it too much, but in his game we saw the bigger picture of how the Hawks won; a consistent effort which, when the game concluded, showed its full value.

Hawks fans also got to see the tuned-in Josh Smith in Game One. Smith was extremely aggressive on both ends against the Pacers, contesting shots, going after steals, and taking the ball to the hoop with extreme prejudice. Smith is becoming one of the best in the entire league at finishing around the hoop. No, not just on the dunks, of which there were some fantastic throw downs by Smith, but anytime he went to the basket, even when fouled, you felt confident it would go in---and it usually did. Smith took only (1) Ty Corbin Three all night long, and there were times where he was definitely tempted. For his efforts to delay gratification, he was rewarded with a 7-10 shooting night (0-0 on real threes) and drew enough attention with his interior scoring that he was able to distribute (8) assists on the night as well. This is what Smith can be when he is dialed into playing the game the right way---and is faced with a less than average defense.

Joe Johnson took the game high scoring (25), but truth be known he captured the mark by launching a space shuttle shot to beat the shot clock with (6.5) seconds remaining in the game. Johnson definitely mirrored the early game struggles the Hawks had getting things flowing correctly, but once Joe was locked in, he lost the half court discomfort and had the typical ho-hum 25 points, 6 assist, 4 steal game we come to expect and dismiss from him.

Game One also showed some of how Woodson may plan to deploy his bench and not use Mike Bibby so much. In what was not a settled game until the fourth quarter wound down, Bibby still logged just (30) minutes. He used that rest to make three big fourth quarter shots that gave the Hawks the lead and then put it out of reach. Two of the buckets were bombs that were standard issue open Bibby looks, but the 2-pointer sandwiched in between was a runner in the lane in which Bibby seemed to lose the handle on, but was able to sneak it by the taller players inside and get the bucket. That basket gave the Hawks a (4) point lead with 7 1/2 minutes left and the Hawks never trailed again.

To be able to give that kind of rest meant that Woodson was already comfortable letting rookie Jeff Teague get his feet wet in his first official NBA game. Teague looked good in his debut, modeling a new take on the Josh Childress Memorial Jump Shot in going 2-7, but he seemed very comfortable at the point and was able to penetrate, dish, and get into the open floor enough to score (4) assists against (ZERO) turnovers. That his first game ended in a win and his first basket an impressive dunk were pretty tasty cherries on the winning sundae.

Nice Guys Finish With Eleven Minutes

For all the build up regarding Jamal Crawford as a Hawk and what it all means, he ended up playing a meager (11) minutes off the bench and his best shot of the night didn't even count. Crawford had (3) assists and a steal to go with his (3) points in such limited action, but his best action came when he missed a jump shot with about (4) seconds left in the first quarter and then, as the Pacers tried to throw the ball down the court to get a last second shot off, he leaped high to deflect the pass, collected the ball, and then turned against his body from about mid-court to try and beat the buzzer. The shot went in, but it was overturned in replay.

For what it's worth, it looked like there was .2 seconds left when the lights came on, but it could have been un-synced on the telecast.Great shot anyway. Welcome to ATL, Jamal.

Good Thing He Wasn't Healthy

Danny Granger was questionable health-wise before the game, but he was able to suit up and play (22) minutes for Indiana. This was probably helpful to the Hawks because when Granger was in the game he must have been wearing his Cloak of Invisibility, because he found himself wide open a bit too much for someone of his considerable talents. Granger cashed in (5) of (10) three point attempts in his short amount of time on the floor--scoring (31) points in all.If he had been able to go more tonight we might have had a more somber story to relate.

Elsewhere, unlike in March where TJ Ford obliterated the Hawks guards for (29) points, Ford was unable to accomplish anything positive against the Hawks in this new season. Ford was 1-9 from the field and didn't find the job of scoring as easy as he did about (7) months ago. The reason? Quite a few times it was Joe Johnson handling the action on Ford. Case closed.

Speaking of Clock Problems and Things Remaining the Same

It took exactly (3) seconds into the season for the Philips Arena clocks to go haywire. That in itself isn't funny, especially considering the the reputation the official scorers and the electronics have in the arena. What was funny was that, after the Hawks had won the tip and the game underway, the game had to stop--which frustrated the fans, most of whom we're guessing have seen this a time or two. Clearly annoyed, the ATL faithful booed lustily.

Ahhh--good to be back, isn't it?

THHB believes that winning is better than losing. Arguments to the contrary can be laughed at inside the Comments Area.

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