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For an entire half of their game against the Charlotte Bobcats yesterday, the Atlanta Hawks dominated. The Bobcats were clanking shots off the rim and turning the ball over at an alarming rate while Josh Smith was raining in jumpers and Mike Bibby was getting tip-ins over Stephen Jackson.
It took the Bobcats until the 2:30 mark in the second quarter to make their first field goal of the period and just before that basket was made, with three minutes left in the half, the Hawks announcers were so convinced their team would win that Dominique Wilkins proclaimed the Hawks were going to “run (Charlotte) out of the gym,” and that there was “no chance of them coming back.”
At the time, the statement seemed fairly accurate, but by the time the final buzzer sounded, the Hawks had found a way to prove Wilkins wrong.
More on the Hawks’ collapse and if they should make a deal after the break…
A combination of a cold streak for the Hawks and some inspired play from Paul Silas’ Bobcats, mainly Shaun Livingston, got Charlotte back into the game. Silas had his players believing that 5-0 runs were important and they were able to pull off enough mini-runs to get themselves the lead in the fourth quarter. The Hawks would end up tying the game thanks to a bucket from Al Horford but they didn’t take the lead in the final minute as the usually productive Joe Johnson isolation ended up in a missed 20-footer on this occasion.
Armed with a chance to win, the Bobcats posted Stephen Jackson up 20 feet from the basket on the left wing with six seconds to go and what seemed like an ineffective set turned into a game-winning one as Jackson rose up over Maurice Evans and knocked down the jumper to give the Bobcats the 88-86 victory.
Jackson finished with 32 points on 12-of-24 shooting while Livingston, who has been playing excellent basketball of late, added 22 points (eight-of-13 shooting), six rebounds and five assists for Charlotte in the win. The always active and athletic Gerald Wallace added 16 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists on what was an off night for him, at least when it came to shooting the ball. Nobody else scored in double digits for Charlotte but those little hustle plays by Nazr Mohammed (nine rebounds, three blocks) and Gerald Henderson that define the Bobcats’ style helped Charlotte pull off an incredible victory, coming back from a deficit that was as large as 22 in the first half.
The Hawks finished the game shooting the ball at a 40% clip, partly because of the Bobcats’ second half defense and partly because they can be so inefficient at times with their shot selection. Josh Smith (28 points on 11-of-17 shooting with two three’s) was the only Hawk to play a good game overall. Al Horford was unusually bad, requiring 15 shots to score 16 points while Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson combined to shoot eight-of-24 from the floor. To make matters worse, Marvin Williams and Jamal Crawford combined to shoot two-of-16 off the bench.
In their last game, the Hawks surrendered 117 points to the Philadelphia 76ers in a 34-point loss. Their two games before that loss were extremely close victories over the Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers (at home) and barely beating those two squads is essentially a loss. And who can forget their 41-point loss to the New Orleans Hornets in January.
The Hawks are in no danger of losing a spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture – they are 12 games over .500 in a conference that has two below .500 teams filling playoff spots – but they are desperate need of a change in order to compete in their first round series (as of right now, they’d match up against the Orlando Magic in the first round). Jamal Crawford could help a contender off the bench but his contract and age would likely keep the list of suitors for him short, Joe Johnson is untradeable because of the contract he got this summer, and the Hawks cannot think to deal Al Horford, one of the game’s most underrated talents.
Maybe it’s Josh Smith that needs to go, even though he’s been playing like an all-star this season. He’s the player that seems most prone to break the offense by taking too many outside jumpers and while his fastbreak jams may be the most electrifying in the league, it just seems as if he’s the Hawks’ only trade chip (Would Atlanta be a better team with Horford and, say, Andrew Bynum?) . You can argue that being the fourth seed in the East is good enough for the regular season and that Atlanta can reach another gear in the post-season but Atlanta has been the same team in the regular season and the post-season over the past two years and their success in the playoffs has been extremely limited.
If Atlanta wants to continue to be a pretty good regular season team only to flop out in the playoffs, then staying put would be a good battle plan but if they want to make a serious playoff push, a trade has to be made. And if anyone is to go, Smith will bring back the most value.