Well, where to begin?
There was so much going on during and after the Hawks’ 104-96 victory over the Rockets Tuesday night at Philips Arena. There was an 18-point comeback fueled by a 32-9 run to end the game and more “love” between Hawks fans and Josh Smith to name a few.
And following the game, the NBA announced the Hawks clinched a playoff berth with the help of Elias Sports Bureau and some detailed work on games still to be played and tiebreaker scenarios. The result was a foregone conclusion really. The Hawks, with the best record in the NBA at 48-12, will play in the postseason for the eighth straight year.
Here are my five observations from the game (which rivaled last month’s game against the Warriors for atmosphere):
1. Let’s start with Smith. He spoke highly of the Hawks’ success before the game. He didn’t take kindly to a smattering of boos during the game. He incited the home crowd after rattling home a fourth-quarter 3-pointer. With one hand in raised a finger to his mouth to hush the crowd. With the other hand he waved for them to get louder. They did – unfortunately for Smith. Following the incident, Smith missed his next three shots, two 3-pointers, and had two turnovers. The boos got louder and louder with each miscue. Smith watched the rest of the Hawks’ comeback from the bench.
Following the game, Smith joined the Thunders’ Kevin Durant in saying fans have jumped on the Hawks’ bandwagon. Smith said to ESPN: “I mean, those fans are fickle, very fickle and bandwagoners.”
One former Smith teammate appreciated the Hawks fans response.
“I knew he was going to do something like that,” Jeff Teague said. “They were booing him all night. He is a good player. I’m glad they responded the way they did (after hushing incidents). It was fun. He did a lot of great things for this franchise but he’s gone now. They wanted to let him know he’s not welcome here anymore.”
2. I have written several times this season about the Hawks coaching staff using video to drive home points with the Hawks – a nod to coach Mike Budenholzer’s background. Players point to a fiery film session earlier this season, after the Hawks’ 5-5 start, for the dramatic turnaround. Budenholzer held another session Tuesday – at halfime.
“(Budenholzer) told us he wasn’t going to yell at us,” Kyle Korver said. “He just showed clips of us not playing at a high enough level energy wise. He told us we have to care a little more. There were a bunch of plays where we weren’t getting back on defense and we were letting them get the loose balls. Sometimes you can challenge people with words and get mad at them. Sometimes you just show them the film. We are all professionals and we know we can play better.”
3. Budenholzer is using the Jeff Teague-Dennis Schroder tandem more and more of late. The guard duo presents all kinds of matchup problems for the opposition. Both were able to use their speed to slow down the Rockets. Teague said he likes the pairing, which allows him to guard a bigger player.
“I like to play with Jeff at the same time,” Schroder said. “We are pushing the pace on offense. We are way faster than everybody else. I think when we are both on the court we can push the pace every time. It’s been great.”
4. There was plenty of trash talking during the game – in addition to Smith. Jason Terry and Corey Brewer were singled out by Hawks players. Schroder even said Terry started the previous night. The two ran into each other at the Chris Brown concert at Philips Arena Monday. Schroder said Terry told him he was coming for him. None of the talk got out of hand but it certainly added to the playoff atmosphere.
5. There were several other notable facts that need to be mentioned. The Hawks are 36 games over .500 for the first time in franchise history. … They have the best home record in the NBA. … The Hawks outscored the Rockets 32-15 and limited them to 5 of 21 shooting in the fourth quarter. … With 22 regular-season games remaining, the Hawks lead the Southeast Division by 14-1/2 games and the Eastern Conference by 10 games.