The Hawks entered Friday night’s game with a lot of issues to address, and the Warriors were more than accommodating. Both teams shot a lot of jumpers, but only the Hawks’ were falling. You can’t take too much from these sorts of games, of course, they happen from time to time in the NBA. Sometimes, a team just fails to show up, play hard or convert even the easiest of offensive chances — it’s a syndrome that the Hawks themselves are not immune to as we’ve all seen this season. But tonight the afflicted team was Golden State, which, in addition to boosting Josh Smith’s shooting confidence (possibly to lethal levels), it made the assimilation of newcomer Kirk Hinrich into the offense a bit easier.
Hinrich didn’t play much, but when he did he looked like a good fit for what the Hawks like to do on offense. After entering the game midway through the first quarter, Hinrich promptly buried a 3-pointer, announcing his presence and sparking a 19-7 run to close out the period. The final line for Hinrich: 17 minutes played, 8 pts., three assists and one turnover. Pretty respectable debut to be sure.
But Atlanta’s other point guard, the one Larry Drew seemingly forgot about for weeks at a time, took advantage of the increased playing time with a solid performance of his own (just don’t look at the shooting totals). Granted, it was against a lifeless Golden State squad, but Teague looked comfortable running the offense, earning six assists and playing a career-high 26 minutes. If he can replicate that assist output going forward, it’s possible his playing time will be less sporadic than it was with Mike Bibby on the team. (Speaking of Bibby, he kicked off his stint with the Wizards as only he can, going 0/4 from the floor in 10 minutes and posting a negative-19 plus/minus rating.)
There will be nights though when the Hawks will need him to shoot better than he did tonight, and that is what’s likely going to keep Hinrich (once he’s acclimated) and Jamal Crawford ahead of him in the rotation. It’s still nice to see our “point guard of the future,” even if only by default, get some extended burn for a change. It only took 118 games is all.
The Josh Smith/Al Horford tandem was really the showpiece tonight, as both players were terrific on both ends of the floor. Horford (22 pts. on 14 shots, 13 rebounds and 7 assists) has such a profound impact on both ends of the floor that it’s a shame he doesn’t get more national love. I won’t go so far as to say he should be an MVP candidate this season, largely because the Hawks’ overall record doesn’t justify such a claim, but he has to be approaching that stratosphere.
Meanwhile, Josh Smith continues to defy the cries of “Nooooo” from Atlanta fans every time he cocks his left elbow behind his ear to unleash that funky jumper. It’s hard to argue with the results on nights like tonight, when he hit 11/18 from the field and 1 of 2 3-pointers attempted, but these are the sort of nights that artificially inflate his confidence and threaten to hurt the team down the road. Sure, it’s nice to see him light it up from outside against a team which checked out mentally sometime between the opening tip and half-time, but come the playoffs, against teams that actually are trying to defend, we’re going to need Smoove attacking the basket, not settling into a comfort zone. As he’s the only Hawk who is legitimately un-guardable when attacking the hoop anymore, it’s imperative that he maintains an aggression on offense rather than being seduced by these easy-coming jumpers which will no longer be there six weeks from now.
Will see what the future holds for the new-look Hawks. Whether Hinrich can hit the ground running, Teague can actually begin his previously stunted development, and whether Horford and Smith can continue to dominate games, the Hawks will certainly never have it easier than they had it tonight. The next eight games are brutal on paper. After finishing up their west coast road trip with trips to Portland (Sunday) and Denver (Monday), the Hawks face the Bulls twice, plus the Lakers, Thunder and the revamped Knicks in the next two weeks. Time to see what we’re made of.