Returning home from a long break from the circus-infested Philips Arena, the Atlanta Hawks took care of the business of winning, outlasting the Minnesota Timberwolves 98-92 Wednesday night.
Leading the way was the all around excellent play of Josh Smith. Smith led all scorers with a season-high (27) points and then added (10) rebounds, (5) assists, (2) official blocked shots, and a number of Jonny Flynn and company's shots altered in fear of heartbreaking rejection.
"He changed a lot of shots and helped everybody," said a thankful Mike Bibby about Smith's deterrent presence around the net.
Maybe it's because he doesn't always do it as smooth as his nickname suggests, but Smith's production is borderline prodigious. Because he doesn't shoot the ball well (though tonight he seemed as on as his skill will allow) he'll never be the type to snap off a scoring run as grand as Kevin Durant. Still, his omnipresence can lift the team to victory, a characteristic present in the game tonight.
"He was all over the place," beamed Coach Woodson afterwards. "He was blocking shots, scoring for us, made his free throws, rebounded the ball---he was solid from beginning to the end."
"You don't realize all the things he's doing," said Al Horford about his teammate's performance. "He's quiet in putting up those numbers, but he's been doing it for us all year long."
"It feels good," allowed Smith about his effort. "Any time I can help the team win in any way; points, rebounds, steals, blocks, assists--it puts a smile on my face."
In addition to his aberrant effectiveness in jump shots on this single night, Smoove took it to the free throw line for a total of (11) free throws, with (9) made. His efforts on the glass helped limit the top 10 Offensive Rebounding Wolves to a mere (7) for the night, a pre-game objective met by the Hawks.
"Keeping (Kevin) Love and Al Jefferson off the glass--they're beasts on the glass and live for second chance points, boxing them out and limiting those offensive rebounds, that was good," acknowledged Smith.
Horford agreed, "We made a conscience effort to keep them off the glass. We know how dominant Al Jefferson and Kevin Love can be, so we really tried to limit them. It helped to have our guards coming in and helping us with the rebounds." Horford added, laughing, "(Mike) Bibby stole a couple from me--he's been telling me he's trying get his rebounding percentages up."
Horford pitched in with (13) rebounds and (5) assists, helping make his unusually deficient night from the field (a rushed 5-14) less painful.
"I just tried to stay with it. I didn't have the shooting night that I usually have," Horford admitted. "But I made sure that I stayed in it and do the other things like defending and rebounding. Once the game got going I was able to handle it, though." (Horford was 3-6 in the second half)
Joe Johnson was a steady-as-he-goes (21) and (5) assists, getting to the line for (7) throws of his own. He gave the Hawks a solid hand along with Mike Bibby, who emerged from a slump to hit 5/9, 2/4 for (12) points. He added (5) rebounds of his own--says Woodson, "We're going to need Mike to continue to step up, knock down shots and run the ball club like he's done the last two years."
Bibby's effort was needed in what was easily Jamal Crawford's worst game as a Hawk. Crawford was oh-for-seven and had a mere point, leaving him wondering (in jest) about his standing as the frontrunner for Sixth Man.
"It was probably his worst game of the season," said Woodson. "But he's entitled to that. He's been solid all season for us."
The Hawks took a (12) point lead into the final quarter--not even close to comfortable, we know---but quickly gave it back thanks to a less than stellar second half effort from the second unit.
It's too bad because one of the best parts about the first half was the play of the recently slumping bench. The second unit scored (18) first half points, led by Joe Smith and Mo Evans. Zaza Pachulia, who has been a bit salty about his own play and the lack of time on the court to work through it, had (6) rebounds in the opening half. "We were concentrating on limiting their second chance buckets," said Pachulia.
In the second half, however, the bench was able to only add (5) points (all Evans) and Pachulia a single extra rebound.
"I was hoping to go with our second unit the rest of the way," explained Woody when talking about the slow fourth quarter start. "They didn't get it done and I had to go back to our starters."
Included in that first half goodness was the solid play of Jeff Teague, with whom THHB visited with before the game. Teague ran the offense well in the first half, garnering his (4) points, (2) rebounds, and an assist for his work. On one bucket, Teague took a long outlet pass and finished strong at the hoop, taking the play right into the chest of Corey Brewer.
Kevin Love is an offensive rebounding machine. Despite the overall effective effort of the Hawks in keeping MIN off the offensive glass, Love still managed to make his mark, getting (4) of the (7) for the team. Love, who lacks only the three point shot to officially look like every church league superstar, was unable to display his well chronicled passing skills, as he had zero assists.
As rated as Love's skills are at passing, J-Smoove's skills are underrated. Among power forwards who play 25+ minutes per game, Smith is first in assists and weighted assists (which gives bonus for assists leading to a three). He is also 4th among power forwards in assist to turnover ratio, with 1.84, which is by far his best in his career.
Enjoy the highlights: