The first quarter was a debacle. When not allowing the 76ers to reprise their pre-game layup line, the Hawks watched Philadelphia grab 72.7% of their possible offensive rebounds and 88.2% of their potential defensive rebounds. The first quarter made the Hawks effort last week in Phoenix look spirited in retrospect. The next three quarters demonstrated that the Hawks are too good to be closer to missing the playoffs than earning the valuable sixth seed in the East.
Nothing that happened last night (obligatory Josh Smith statistical excitement further below; celebration of Josh Smith's tactical deployment to follow immediately) with the potential to impact the rest of this season as the second quarter of last night's game which provided an actual, real-life example of what I envision when I imagine this Hawks team playing consistently good basketball. (I'll ignore that once again the Hawks played their best, most sensible basketball only after falling way behind.)
For most of the second quarter, the Hawks fed the ball relentlessly to Josh Smith in the post where he scored around the basket, from the free throw line, and, most importantly, created offense for his teammates. It was what should be a standard lineup: Smith in the post, two shooters (Marvin Williams and Tyronn Lue) spotting up, Josh Childress moving without the ball, and a big man (Zaza Pachulia). (I'm not arguing that's the exact personnel one would want to play the majority of the minutes--against Philadelphia's second unit, though, this doesn't really matter.)
There was no standing around or launching guarded jump shots as the shot clock expired. If someone watched just the second quarter of last night's game (or just the 8:41 before Joe Johnson re-entered the game and things returned more or less to normal) and hadn't seen any other Hawks basketball this year, I'd forgive him or her for assuming that Atlanta has a well-designed, functional offensive game plan. They don't, but last night provided some evidence that it doesn't have to be that way.
I'll try to be patient, remembering how many bursts of effective up-tempo basketball it took to convince whoever needed to be convinced that was the best way for this team to score points.
Six paragraphs deep it's probably about time I acknowledge Smith's 9 blocks. He changed the game at both ends but we're spoiled by his defensive impact. (The good kind of impact, I mean, not the (increasingly infrequent) stretches where he ignores the team defensive concept.) Josh Smith is so amazing that 9 blocks don't really register as they should especially on a night when he's finally given the opportunity to record 9 assists.
Skeets makes the case for Josh Smith as the Hawks best player and putative All-Star this morning so I don't have to. After last night's performance it's with a certain melancholy I close with the jump shot log. Still, 0-3 on jump shots compared to 7-10 around the rim plus 5-7 from the free throw line. He can be even more devastating.
Josh Smith Jump Shot Log
February 4, 2008 vs. Philadelphia