Tuesday, February 23, 2010

ATL-UTAH Game Review: Adam Keefe This

Cross off another "since".

Not since the days of The Namesake, Kevin Willis, and company had the Hawks won in Salt Lake City. (17) years had come and gone since the last time the Hawks walked off the floor in Utah victorious.

So it's fitting that, in a season of sinces, this streak should fall as well in a 105-100 win over a shorthanded Utah Jazz team that fought the Hawks to the very end.

It wasn't perfect, to be sure. The Hawks scored (20) points in the paint in the first quarter, then managed only (16) more the rest of the way. They allowed (19) offensive rebounds, which helped the hosts to a ridiculous amount of second chance baskets. Also, the Jazz took advantage of some spotty transition defense from the Hawks, getting (17) fast points as well as taking it to the Birds in the middle for (58) points in the paint.

In spite of the lack of lane buckets, defensive rebounding, and shoddy transition D, the Hawks can count themselves as winners for two overriding reasons:

1. Their shots, especially Joe Johnson's, went in.

The Hawks shot (54) percent from the field, including 8-16 from three point range. Johnson was responsible for 12-19/2-3 of that shooting, adding (6) rebounds and (6) assists to his game high (28) points.

We don't like when the team goes away from something that they do really well (score inside) and roll the dice on jump shots going in---but we'll take them happily when they do.

2. Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko didn't play.

The energy that Utah's replacement crew played with may have not seemed like the Jazz lost much, but not having those two, and after playing a tough game the night before, had to help the Birds cause.

But it wasn't easy even without those two in the Jazz unis for the night. The Hawks started strong by moving the ball around and getting those points in the paint. Marvin Williams showed a lot of energy by driving to the cup and slamming home some easy baskets on his way to (8) first quarter points, but scored only (3) more total after that opening salvo.

The Hawks came out and played with the intensity and desire that comes after one gets embarassed as they were in losing to Oakland last night, yielding such a large, late lead to a team that had not overcome such a fourth quarter deficit since 1978.

But, as these things do in a (48) minute game, that emotion wears off and teams are left with choosing to come up with energy to build on what was started or being to relinquish that momentum. Alas, the Hawks began to grow weary of moving the ball, getting inside offensively, and moving on the defensive end as well, and their early game momentum waned.

The Hawks gave back their early lead and treaded water for the next two quarters, going a long period of time in the third quarter without points in the paint, second chance or fast break points. The Hawks bench showed that if in the game as a full unit at a time, the results could be disastrous. One need only look at the (-17) number accrued by Jeff Teague in a little more than (3) minutes of floor time to understand that observation.

As the fourth quarter began the Hawks began to show more life and diversity on offense, using Josh Smith as a channel for their offensive attack. Smith, who had aided and abetted the Jazz with some shaky shot selection in those middle quarters, and some loafish defense in transition, as well a couple of poor passes to begin the final quarter, was magnificent the rest of the way. Smith tallied (5) points, (3) assists, and (3) rebounds in the last quarter, as well as winning a critical jump ball that gave the Hawks possession up (4) with (30) seconds to play.

The Jazz are so hard to pin down in their own building that despite all of that, the Hawks still needed a bit of loose ball luck, some close range misses from Utah, and the calls to fall on behalf of the non-red-jerseyed Birds to manage to break the decades long madness. What a relief.

Hey, It's Good to Be Back Home Again

Al Horford must have drawn the short straw in the locker room before the game because the efficient all-star only had (4) shot attempts on the night. Oh, he still managed to score (13) points on those four shots, due in large part to his 7-8 shooting from the free throw line (game high). Horford was also game high with his (+24)---good things happen when Al is on the floor--and there might have been more if Al hadn't tied for sixth in shot attempts on the night.

The bench, as we stated earlier, was a problem, as Zaza Pachulia joined Teague as almost equally leaky (-16), though it took Zaza double the minutes to accomplish that. We're puzzled as to why the Hawks either don't play the reserves beyond Jamal Crawford at all or they play them together as a unit for long periods of time. Seems like those are the only two options instead of notion of mixing in starters with the reserves so that they aren't out there on their own for a long span of time. The lack of firepower and execution on both ends by the second unit was obvious and the Jazz took control during the four minutes or so they were in there together.

The Hawks ended up with a split of the four games on their West Coast swing, though the configuration of those wins and losses didn't quite come together as expected. Atlanta have not played at home since before the AS break, but they return home to play the Timberwolves on Wednesday, a game which gets THHB treatment as we will be making our first trip inside the Arena this season.

Let us know if you'll be there--and in the meantime enjoy the highlights of the Hawks first win in Utah since 1993.

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