They played the first half a bit listlessly, had their share of sloppy plays and received no points from one of their starters. Yet, the Hawks won going away Saturday night at Philips Arena.
The scoring-challenged Indiana Pacers provided an opportunity to extend their run of improving play, and the Hawks eventually accepted. Stern defense and a convincing demonstration of coach Larry Drew's motion offense contributed to a 108-93 win. In their first game at home after a four-game road trip, the Hawks won their 10th in a row at Philips, fourth in a row overall and sixth of their past seven. The Hawks are 25-14, a half-game behind Chicago for fourth in the Eastern Conference.
"We did a great job of passing the basketball," Drew said. "Everybody was moving the ball around."
The first-year coach has been encouraged recently that his players are beginning to grasp his offense. Saturday was not an exception.
Effective passing enabled the Hawks to score on a night when they shot 42.9 percent from the field, well below their season average. They scored 27 of their 36 baskets off assists. They were particularly sharp in the second half, whipping the ball around the perimeter, kicking the ball out from the lane to hit spot-up shooters and finding cutters to the basket.
After a first half in which they never trailed but led by just five at halftime, the Hawks jumped on Indiana with an 18-5 run that moved the score from 64-57 to 82-62 in about a five-minute span. In the span of four possessions, guard Mike Bibby took advantage of quick ball movement to make a 3-pointer, get fouled on a second 3-point try and make all three foul shots and then drain another 3-pointer.
In the quarter, the Hawks outscored Indiana 29-18 despite shooting 36.0 percent from the floor. Eight of their nine baskets were assisted. Forward Josh Smith scored 14 points in the quarter, part of a 27-point, 10-rebound, six-assist night. The Hawks repeatedly went to him when he was defended by Tyler Hansbrough.
Said Drew of Smith, "I thought he had a phenomenal game."
Smith was one of three Hawks with 20 or more points. Guard Joe Johnson, who made his first five shots, scored 24, and guard Jamal Crawford scored 20 off the bench. It compensated for off shooting nights by center Al Horford and guard Mo Evans, who started in place of Marvin Williams (back). They were a combined 6-for-18, and Evans was held scoreless.
The Hawks kept Indiana, which lost a three-point game to San Antonio on Friday night after scoring one basket in the fourth quarter, on a slide. The Pacers have lost three in a row and six of their past seven. They have also lost nine in a row to the Hawks and eight consecutive at Philips.
"They're a terrifically talented basketball team, and they're just a little too much for us to handle right now," Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution