ATL 102 PHX 107: The Hawks put forth a decent effort Tuesday night on the road against Phoenix, only to fall short again for their fourth loss in a row. In what is becoming suddenly routine, the Hawks fell behind by a double digit deficit in the first quarter forcing them to expend mass amounts of energy to work themselves back into the game. Sekou Smith pointed out that Joe Johnson may be gassed given his 4-21 performance. I couldn’t agree more. Johnson’s energy was noticeably down early in the game and at times the shooting guard looked to settle for shots, seemingly content to take fadeaway 18 footers.
Folks, that’s what happens when you play 40 plus minutes on a regular basis. You wear down. Unfortunately, its happening alarmingly early for Joe Johnson, who clearly hit the wall last season right after the All-Star break. The acquisition of Mike Bibby helped take some of the load off Johnson late last season, but its clear an aggregation of the past three seasons has taken a tolling effect this season.
While I admittedly harp on the ineffective coaching of Mike Woodson, I think it bears mentioning again here. Woodson has said recently that he needs to get his rotation “set” and utilize more bench players in order to stretch the rotation to nine or ten deep. At this point, it may be too late. Woodson has benched Acie Law for the majority of the season, and despite relative effectiveness from Solomon Jones, the lanky power forward has rarely seen the court after the return of Josh Smith. Woodson needs to realize that these back-ups do bring something to the table, and if anything, will serve to boost the effectiveness of Joe Johnson late in games even if their +/-‘s are lower. Barring a trade, now is the time to stretch the rotation and go ten deep. The Hawks are right in the thick of the season, 37 games in. The starters need to be fresh for the stretch run and they simply won’t be if Woodson continues to run them into the ground.
GROW THE CHEST HAIR: Say what you want about Zaza – he’s a bull in a China shop, he’s a bickering head case, he needs to stop shooting the foul line jumper – but he has straight up performed the last few games. In one specific instance in Tuesday’s game, Pachulia literally moved Leandro Barbosa three feet away with one hand to grab the rebound and dished off for the assist. Pachulia was everywhere, crashing the boards on both offense and defense. Moreover, the Georgian proved useful on offense sets, finding his niche for easy lay-ins. 10 points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes is typically what we see from Horford. To get those numbers from a back-up is huge for the Hawks on the road.
CHOKE JOB: While Marvin Williams has been very solid this season, his two missed free throws late in the game proved the difference in the loss to the Suns (much as Bibby’s blown layup was last Wednesday vs. Orlando). Williams has definitely had his clutch moments this season – the three pointers to win it vs. Washington and take the lead vs. Boston on the road come to mind. However, Williams’ two misses proved that this is still a young Hawks team not sure how to react in crunch time situations. Although I get the sense this team is more ready to face playoff caliber teams on the road, they aren’t all the way there yet.
POOR SHOT SELECTION: Josh Smith had an awful first quarter only to rebound through the second, third and most of the fourth. But Smith’s shot selection in the game’s waning moments was downright awful. As I have stated time in and time out, Smith has been maddeningly inconsistent and Tuesday proved no different. After missing from outside early in the first, Smith clearly made it his mission to get to the hoop. But not when it mattered. With 52 seconds remaining and the Hawks down three, Smith found himself 16 feet out with his defender purposefully backing away. Smith took the bait, launched the jumper, and the rest, as they say, is history. Clank.