Through three quarters we didn't see anything unusual. However easy it was (at times) for the Hawks to score it was, over the course of the game, consistently easier to score against them. Down 91-74 with 1:10 left in the third quarter, something changed. The Hawks did not transform into a collection of shut down defenders but they played far stronger and sensible defense than we're accustomed to seeing. The fourth quarter and overtime were far from perfect but it was legitimately impressive.
Josh Smith deserves special credit for his man-to-man defense on Chris Bosh in the fourth quarter and overtime. With the exception of a couple of foolish attempts at swatting the entry pass as (or after) it reached Bosh's hands, Smith demonstrated that, should he feel like it, he just might be more than a help defender. Bosh was 2-9 from the field (plus 7-7 from the line, he's good after all) in the fourth quarter and overtime. Of course, Smith almost negated all of that good fourth quarter defensive work by failing to switch onto TJ Ford on the almost game-winner on Toronto's last possession of regulation.
(Speaking of which, Sekou agrees with me that the clock started before Ford touched the ball. Who knows if that would have made a difference. Ford had the ball in his hands for about half a second. See also: TrueHoop, the Daily Dime, and the man who called for vengeance on Al Horford, Doug Smith, correctly pointing out the timing error was courtesy of one of the three officials and not, for once, the scorer's table. Still, a protest is likely.)
Credit where it's due, TJ Ford's contribution to Atlanta's victory can't be overlooked. His "defense" on Bibby's game-tying three-pointer with :00.5 left in regulation consisted of nothing more than looking directly at Bibby rather than raising his arms or even crowding Bibby.
In overtime, Ford took 8 of Toronto's 12 shots and registered not a single assist. Because of the low esteem in which I hold Mike Woodson, I'm skeptical if the positive consequences of the decision to use Josh Childress rather than Bibby on Ford were thought through completely. Childress couldn't stay in front of Ford either, but Bibby's not as likely as Childress to help off of his man when Ford beats the first defender. The Hawks could survive Ford shooting two-pointers (and no free throws) longer than they could survive the rest of the team shooting open threes.
Speaking of three-pointers...
"I'm not a 3-point shooter, but if it comes to me, I'll take it."Consistent success for the Hawks doesn't lie in counting on Josh Smith to make jump shots (though I consider those sideline three-pointers a lesser evil than the twenty-foot two-point attempts from the top of the key). That the Hawks got into overtime was due to a far too rare demonstration in the fourth quarter of Smith's varied talents (2-4 FGA, 5-6 FTA, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block). The weekend games against the 76ers will give us a better idea if last night was a one-off example of heady, clutch play or just a night where everything worked for 16 minutes.
The magic number for a playoff spot is 4. Anyone with dreams of moving out of the eighth playoff spot should take a deep breath and remember that a sweep of the 76ers this weekend will still leave Atlanta a game behind Philadelphia in the race for seventh in the East. The Hawks are almost as far behind teams 5 through 7 as the are ahead of the Pacers and Nets. The possibility of a first-round playoff victory was given away earlier in the season.
- Drew liveblogged (on tape delay) the game last night. 1st Quarter, 2nd Quarter, 3rd Quarter, 4th Quarter and Overtime
- Al Horford has a Rookie of the Year campaign site.
- Braves & Birds has some thoughts on the end of the game, mixed in with those concerning Jair Jurrjens, Xavier Nady, and the first leg of Arsenal and Liverpool's Champions League quarterfinal. Bad officiating exists in every sport.