HAWKS SOAR: Atlanta takes down OKC behind Smith

The Hawks welcomed the Thunder and their NBA-best 29-8 record to the Highlight Factory Saturday night and came away with a huge 97-90 victory. Atlanta was playing for the second consecutive night, and it was the Hawks’ third game in four days. With Joe Johnson and Willie Green coming into the game with injuries and Tracy McGrady spraining his left knee in the first half, the Hawks had to play with a depleted roster. Josh Smith provided the offensive spark the Hawks needed, scoring 30 points and collecting 12 rebounds. Smith dominated the fourth quarter especially with 13 points and seven boards in the final period. Zaza Pachulia had a monster double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds, with nine rebounds on offense. Pachulia’s proficiency on the offensive glass allowed the Hawks to score 16 second-chance points. Defensively, the Hawks were able to keep the Thunder under control for most of the night limiting fast-break opportunities and only turning the ball over 14 times.

The game was tight throughout, and with 5:18 left in the game the Hawks led 83-79 when Josh Smith electrified the crowd and the team with a thunderous, posterizing dunk over Serge Ibaka. That dunk capped short 6-0 run by the Hawks and elevated the energy level of the team and the crowd.

“Being able to come down with that flush it definitely got the crowd involved and definitely woke my teammates up,” said Smith. Ibaka dunked on Smith earlier in the game, so the dunk provided some redemption and reconciliation for Smith. “Most definitely it felt great,” he laughed.

Smith played great at both ends of the floor and even from the charity stripe where he knocked down 9-13 including two with 24 seconds to play to clinch the game. Smith has risen to the occasion all year with Horford going down early, but has stepped up even more with Johnson out. The last two games without Johnson, Smith has 54 points and 31 rebounds, in a pair of wins.

Beating the Thunder truly took a team effort, since the Hawks were without their all-star guard and some key pieces on the bench. The Hawks relied on nine players to play all but the two minutes played by McGrady before his injury. “It was a great team effort, every player that stepped on the floor definitely contributed,” remarked Marvin Williams.

The Hawks had four players, all starters, in double figures: Smith (30), Jeff Teague (16), Pachulia (10) and Kirk Hinrich (10). Ivan Johnson and Jannero Pargo had eight points each, while Vladimir Radmanovic had six points. Jerry Stackhouse was the lone Hawk held scoreless, but he played solid defense and had a team-high five assists.

The Hawks knew coming into the game that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were going to get theirs, but they wanted to force them to be jump-shooters and not allow easy baskets. While Durant had 35 and Westbrook had 25, Atlanta kept them from getting the rest of the team involved. The Thunder as a team only had 11 assists, which exemplifies how the Hawks kept Oklahoma City out of a normal offensive rhythm. The overall team performance came down to one thing for Coach Larry Drew: energy.

“I thought from the very beginning we played with energy and a lot of confidence early, and I think we sustained it for four quarters,” said the Hawks head coach. The sustainability of that energy was key, as Drew pointed out. “We’ve had a tendency to play well in stretches…relax in quarters, come out slow in the third quarter, but tonight we sustained for four quarters.”

With this win the Hawks have improved to 22-15 overall as they prepare for their six game road-trip that starts in Indiana on Tuesday, Mar.6.

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