Atlanta Hawks – Al Horford Too Much for Thunder

Even without Josh Smith, fourth quarter comebacks for a looked down upon version of the Atlanta Hawks are possible against one of the best teams in the NBA. Al Horford was the rock to rely on, Louis Williams was the surprising guy that got hot at exactly the right moment.

It’s easy to say the Thunder fell asleep in the second half, but you have to praise the Hawks for upping their defensive levels and intensity, as Larry Drew kept tinkering until he found the right lineup that worked for him against a better team, still trying to find itself after one of it’s most important players was traded away.

Al Horford needed to have a big game with Josh Smith out with an injured right ankle, and he delivered. He finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds, including six offensive board, simply making life very hard for the Thunder’s bigs, while Larry Drew did something a lot of NBA coaches don’t. He pulled away from the known and the conventional, and simply went with the hot hand instead of bringing back the starters (Teague and Korver) like most head coaches would do.

Lou got into a rhythm. He got into a rhythm and we were going to ride it. I had to make a decision whether to bring Jeff and Kyle back, but the group that was in there, they had a good rhythm going and I did not want to do anything to disrupt that. So, we decided to ride Lou’s hot hand and he made some really big baskets.

Williams scored 19 points and was simply slicing and dicing through the Thunder’s defense, playing his second game for the Hawks after seven seasons in Philadelphia. He scored 16 of his points in the fourth quarter, getting to the line five times and making one huge three that gave the Hawks a more-than-one-basket cushion they kept for the rest of the game, eventually winning 104-95.

There’s nothing really organized about the Hawks’ offense as of yet. Just fast guys like Devin Harris, Jeff Teague and Lou Williams running wild & fast. It can end in disaster on some nights when the shots don’t fall or when facing a more intelligent defense, but with the right kind of restraints, there is a lot of potential for some fast and exciting basketball from this bunch.

The big player was obviously the big man, Al Horford, who reaped the fruit of keeping the Hawks in the game for three quarters before Williams took over. An undersized center, Horford keeps doing a great job against bigger and taller guys than him, hoping that this season will be a satisfying comeback after missing almost all of last year. Horford was on his way to become one of the best big men in the NBA, forming quite a formidable duo alongside Josh Smith.

Now that he’s healthy again, expect him to be a double double machine and be almost like the big free agent signing the Hawks never had this summer, making them a bit better than the predictions had them going into the 2012-2013 NBA Season.

Images: LAtimes & ESPN