Wednesday night in Philips Arena, the Los Angeles Clippers were oh so close to claiming back-to-back wins in Atlanta's basketball home before giving way late in the fourth quarter to lose 103-97 to the Hawks.
Throughout the game, the Clippers controlled the contest, using their size inside with Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman to control the glass and make shots difficult for the one-on-one Hawks.
The Clippers got the early lead on their hosts, though neither team had much going on offensively. The Clippers held the lead for much of the first half, but emerged from the locker room in a funk, allowing the Hawks to turn them over (4) times in the first couple of minutes of the second half, allowing the Birds to finally take the lead in that stretch.
But, as they did throughout the game, every time the Hawks pulled close to the Clippers wagon, the visitors would hit the gas and extend the lead once more with aggressive play and good outside shooting. The Clippers got the lead out to (13) on back-to-back dunks by Rasual Butler with (2) minutes left in the third quarter.
The Hawks then went on a shooting spree, knocking down consecutive threes from Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford and adding in a layup from Josh Smith. Then, with the Hawks down (5) in the closing seconds of the quarter, Crawford completed his 24th four-point play, tying him with Reggie Miller for the all-time NBA record and bringing the Hawks to within a single point of the Clipper lead.
But just as before when the Hawks caught up to the charging Clippers, Los Angeles pulled away yet again, extending the lead back out to (9) with nine minutes to go.
In games past, the Hawks have been called out for resorting to a Joe-centric offensive game plan, especially when times got rough on the offensive end. The Hawks could hardly be criticized for doing so the last couple of games, as Johnson has been among the hottest scorers in the league, yet the team has sought to diversify during the last few games and avoid the now-infamous Iso-Joe sets that opponents have been sitting on when chasing down the Hawks.
In the fourth, while attempting to once again pull even with the Clippers, the Hawks spread the ball around getting the ball into Al Horford for some inside points and Crawford for some mid-range magic. Meanwhile Johnson continued to scope for scoring opportunities himself, getting to the line for a couple of free throws, getting the Hawks back to within a point.
The Clippers had done a wonderful job of contesting many of the Hawks shots, especially inside. holding the Hawks to below (50) percent on shots at the rim to that point. But, incredibly, the Clippers let their defenses down late in this game as Johnson took his man off the dribble and got to the square for (3) close range baskets, the last of which accounted for his 29th and 30th points and gave the Hawks a (4) point lead.
Then, after Horford knocked down a pair of free throws to maintain the advantage that Johnson had previously provided, the Clippers took a page out of the much maligned Hawks playbook.
The Clippers had built their lead for much of the night by attacking the Hawks defense in its undersized middle, moving the ball from side to side, hitting cutters to the basket, and taking advantage of the Hawks switch-a-roo defense by grabbing (14) offensive rebounds, (10) of which were attributed to Marcus Camby (who had 20 boards for the game).
They had scored (52) points in the paint to this point in the game when Baron Davis, who had a modest game going, took on the Hawks defense one-on-five, an Iso-Baron, if you will. Davis took an ill-advised layup and fade-away in consecutive trips, missing both, allowing the Hawks to build the lead out to (7) before Davis came down and hit a three, completing his triumvirate of self-serving possessions down the stretch. Johnson played out the fouling end game, making four free throws, thereby sealing his game high (34) point performance and the Hawks win, a steal of a win as any home game could be.
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THHB applauds two unique stat lines in the game: Camby's 6 point, 20 rebound, 6 assist game and Mike Bibby's 4 point, 4 board, 3 assist, 4 steal effort. Bravo.
We're going to go ahead and place that wager that says the Hawks will win all games when Johnson and Crawford have more than 1.2 points per possession used---though this game was close to beating those odds--even with Johnson @ 1.29 and Crawford @ 1.28.
Count us among the happy ATL masses that only saw Al Thornton (4-6, 8 points) on the floor for (21) minutes. Maybe we were still dizzy from the (13-22, 31 point, 7 rebound, 6 assist) performance Thornton laid down on the Hawks last season while the Clippers blew Atlanta out in Philips last year. Hey, Mike Dunleavy, were not mad at ya--thank you!
Somewhere in the second half, Horford started going straight up against the Clipper front line, accepting the contact and getting his points from the line. Every bit of his 16/10 night was needed to get the job done, as was the double digit rebounds efforts from his front court mates (Marvin Williams-10, Josh Smith-10).
With the terrific height advantage and success they were having in the paint, we're surprised the Clippers deferred and took as many outside shots as they did. They were 10-37 from further than (16) feet.
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