No Al Horford, no problem for the Atlanta Hawks as they defeated the Washington Wizards 99-92 at the Verizon Center on Saturday night, their 12th in a row over D.C.’s pro basketball franchise. The All-Star big man Horford sat out the contest with a bruised tailbone after a scary spill versus L.A. Clippers on Friday, but the Hawks still pounded the Wizards on the glass with a 45-33 advantage in rebounding, 10-7 on the offensive boards. Aside for a few minutes in the third quarter, the Hawks led throughout. The Wizards managed to keep the game within striking distance but were never able to get over the hump.
Josh Smith was dominant, finishing with 29 points on 11-19 from the field along with 16 boards, Marvin Williams went for a solid 15 and 12, and Joe Johnson contributed a very quiet, yet smooth 21 points on 7-12 shooting. Nick Young led the Wizards with 21 points, but got to that tally by taking 17 shots, and John Wall tallied 18 points with six rebounds, six assists and two turnovers.
The consecutive daggers came with three minutes remaining. The Hawks were up five when Smith abused Andray Blatche on an spin post move with the And-1 harm. Blatche did score three straight buckets for the Wizards from the five minute to the three minute mark of the fourth to keep the Wizards down just 88-83, so perhaps his defense suffered after his burst of points. After an empty trip by the Wizards on the offensive end after Smith put Atlanta up 91-83, Damien Wilkins, (yes, Damien Wilkins!) scored on a strong baseline move to push the Hawks to a 10 point lead with 2:10 left. That was essentially the ball game.
Another deciding factor in Hawks’ victory, other than a 13-2 edge in second chance points, was their work at the charity stripe. Atlanta nailed 26 of their 35 free-throw attempts, 13-13 in fourth quarter alone. The Wizards ended up a putrid 8-18 from the line, going just 1-6 in the final period. Washington actually shot better from the field (51-percent) then they did from free throw line (44-percent). Ouch.
In his post game interview, Flip Saunders stressed how his team stood around too much on offense and played the game like they were on their Playstation. (PS3, XBox or Wii are probably more updated game systems, but hey, better than breaking out Nintendo or Sega.) Once a player got the ball, the other four often just assumed he would shoot it, so they halted their movement. Saunders emphasized that these individual acts are usually the difference in a two or three possession game. He referenced the Hawks moving the ball around four times to create a successful late-game jumper for Williams as an example of superb ball movement by a more veteran team.
With the loss, the Wizards wrapped up a laborious stretch of five straight back-to-back sets over the past two weeks in which they won just one game, the second night of the first back-to-back against the Boston Celtics at home on January 22.
Overall, the Wizards have lost eight games in a row. They could use a few days off before hosting the hard-nosed Milwaukee Bucks in Washington on Wednesday night, and then a couple more days off before the NBA’s best San Antonio Spurs come to visit next Saturday.
Fans of this 13 win team could use a break too.