Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What Do You Say, Al?

The immortal words of Caddyshack's Judge Smails rang throughout the HHB compound Tuesday night, as Al Horford put the Hawks on his back and led the now (can you feel it?) 6 and 0 upstarts into and through the Chicago Bulls, 113-108.

We found out Tuesday what Mike Woodson's plan for replacing Josh Smith in the lineup was. He hath turneth loose the beast.

Horford was simply everywhere during his 41 minutes of play. He pulled down 17 rebounds, scored a staggering 27 points on 18 shots (why, that's three games worth!), and blocked 6 shots. He was omnipresent around the glass at both ends, his energy was contagious and it clearly confounded the Bulls, who couldn't seem to keep up.

They sent Joakim Noah, then Aaron Gray---to no avail. At one point on a break, Ben Gordon dared to attempt to disrupt a Horford slam, only to be assessed a foul and give Al a chance at a 3-pt play. After finishing the dunk, Horford struck his familiar flex pose. This time, it seemed as if he was finally unwrapped to begin to fulfill his purpose in a Hawks uniform.

If it seems like some HHB hyperbole, it's probably because Horford was the endorsed choice of the HHB to be the third selection in the 2007 draft due to in some part some Gator pride, but mostly due to the fact that Horford represented an addition that the Hawks had not had in a long time; a bonafide post player on both ends who can change the game with his production, energy, fundamentals, and winning attitude.

To the HHB, it's no secret that the Hawks have begun to win games they would once lose. Tuesday against Chicago, for one game at least, Woodson turned Horford loose, and the game was won.

Flying High:

Gotta give it up to Mike Bibby and Mo Evans. Their 3-point shooting counteracted a dubious defensive "effort" in the fourth quarter and kept the Hawks two possessions ahead down the stretch. Evans ended shooting 7-9 and 17 points, while Bibby cashed in 22 points and 5 assists.

Joe Johnson---Yes, the man was not hot from the floor (4-16) but made many great passes out of the post, leading to some of his 8 assists. His defense was solid and forced the Bulls into many, many late shots clock shots. Nice to know the team can win by 5 on the road against a supposed playoff contender without Johnson looking good shooting anything (Yes, Joe--even the free throws rattled in tonight).

Zaza Pachulia---The Hawks decided to open the game taking advantage of the Hawks size advantage (seems weird to even type), and used Horford and Pachulia inside, resulting in Zaza's 12 point/8 rebound performance and Tyrus Thomas' banishment to the bench after an ineffective 21 minutes on the floor.

Team effort---It was a night where it seemed like the Bulls threw everything at the Hawks and even brought a lot of energy (Umm--That Derrick Rose is pretty good) and it still wasn't good enough in their own building. The Bulls announcers were almost apoplectic that the Hawks were this good, even compared to last season's playoff version. That the Hawks were able to overcome that, on a night where Johnson was way off with his shot, means some pretty strong things here early in the season.

Dead Birds:

Bench Play---Aside from Evans, the rest of the bench went for 5 Flip Murray points. At one point between the first and second quarters, Woodson had at least 4 bench players out there for about six minutes. The results were ugly in a way that is best left defined by Acie Law's junior varsity-esque (-17) in 8 minutes of play. And remember, the Hawks still won the game!

View from the Nest:

There was some sloppy offensive play from the Hawks at times, but they pulled through and have already managed a split of this 4 game roadie with games against Boston Wednesday night and New Jersey Friday to go. To play a back to back with Boston being the second team is a challenge. Horford will be hard pressed to bounce back even with his young legs. He was clearly gassed as he tossed two late free throws short--no legs at all. The bench will have to play more effectively, else the Celtics will treat the Hawks as unkind as they did during the heralded First Round in the playoffs. And, the C's have an axe to grind against the team that took them to seven in the first place.

Will Zaza still be spunky? Can Al bring it for 40+ minutes again? Can the timely shots continue to fall? The answer better be yes for all three, else Josh Smith's absence and the skill of the champs might equal the end to an undefeated beginning.

The streak will end on some night, but it wasn't Tuesday night. Hawks win.

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