by Lang Whitaker

Welcome to the Highlight Factory! That’s right, we’re in The A, a.k.a. The ATL, a.k.a. A-Town, for tonight’s monumental match-up between the Spurs and Hawks. It’s East meets West, pretenders meets contenders. Hawks Fever — Catch it!

I’m already caught. You kids know I love the Hawks, for better or worse. Let’s get to it.

• Pregame, I stood on the court and watched the Spurs warm up, specifically, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, who were on the floor two hours before tip-off. Duncan gave me the Hang 10 sign. Tony P. noted, “Timmy is obsessed with video games.”

• Bumped into my main man Sekou Smith from the AJC, who I hadn’t told I was coming to town because I’m only here for about 24 hours. He was so surprised to see me that he lost 10 pounds on the spot. It was kind of hard to tell, though.

• Tyronn Lue shaved his head. He looks like he’s 6 years old.

• Hawks analyst Steve Smith wanted to bet me he couldn’t make a one-handed underhand shot while standing out of bounds near halfcourt. He took a warm-up shot and nearly banked it in. Before I could put any cash down, Smitty fired it up…and missed.

• Hawks guard Mario West welcomed the crowd and wished everyone a happy Thanksgiving. I hope they play a snippet of “Wake up Mr, West!” every time he does something.

• Was just informed that Tyronn Lue will not dress tonight. So you’re telling me we have a chance! And with Acie Law also injured, this means large doses of Anthony Johnson. So let’s not focus on aesthetics tonight.

• Joey Crawford and Tim Duncan in the house tonight! John Hollinger asks me if this is their their first rematch since the ejection. I think it is. Hollinger whips out his calculator to figure it out.

• Crawford suppresses the urge to toss the opening tip into Timmy’s face.

• Hawks and Spurs are equal early, 4-4. Zaza Pachulia is attempting to shatter Dikembe Mutombo’s career pump fake record. He’s well on his way.

• 10-8, San Antonio leads with 8:52 to go in the first. Philips Arena is about 60 percent full at tip but eventually fills up.

• Marvin Williams with a dunk to tie it at 10. Marv’s had a great season, averaging 17, 6 and 3 thus far, while shooting 52 percent from the floor.

• Spurs score 7 straight, including a wide-open tip-in from Oberto and a wide-open 3 from Finley. Then Oberto scores again. The Hawks look like the Cavs out there.

• Oberto catches under the rim, pump-fakes Josh Smith into the stratosphere and then goes up for a layup while Josh is on the way down. Josh lands, jumps again and still wipes Oberto.

• On the other end Josh spins past Oberto for a lefty layup. Spurs still lead 21-14, but Pop calls a time-out in anger at Oberto’s defensive lapse.

• On the scoreboard, various Hawks players wish the fans Happy Thanksgiving. Not joking here: Acie Law talks about how he likes “chitlins” and Solomon Jones says he’s “going to come over to your house and eat your sweet potato pie.” Hey Jones, stay out of my house.

• Out of the TO the Spurs go to Duncan in the post. Duncan feeds everyone some Ambien and draws a touch foul on Horford…called by Joey Crawford.

• Did Josh Smith ever play tennis? Because he’s prolific at unforced errors.

• There’s a collision under the rim between Duncan and Josh Smith, who does have his arms raised but is in the air when they meet. Crawford makes a big production of calling a charge on Duncan, who silently drops the ball and jogs back up court.

• Next play and the Hawks double Duncan in the post, and he’s called for walking. Not by Crawford but by Rodney Mott. 25-17, Spurs.

• GINOBILI! He drives down the lane and pokes one over Horford. Somebody in the crowd blows one of those soccer horns. Might have been SLAM’s Ben Osborne.

• First quarter ends, Hawks down 29-20. Duncan has 7, 5 and 3. During the timeout, I look in vain around Philips Arena for the running Hawks team that used to exist earlier in the season. They ain’t here tonight.

• Matt Bonner grabs a rebound over Childress, Shelden Williams and Marvin Williams. Bonner!!!

• Ginobili hits consecutive jumpers, including a three, to put the Spurs up 14. I’m thinking about leaving.

• Francisco Elson gets off the bench and scores straightaway. the only running the Hawks are doing is backwards on defense as the Spurs players blow by them over and over. Spurs are shooting 64 percent, Hawks are shooting 40.

• Josh Smith gets the ball and leads a break, which is always a terrifying prospect. This time he charges into and nearly decapitates Jacque Vaughn, who promptly writes a poem about the incident before Tony Parker returns to replace him.

• The A-Town Dancers are…well, “graphic” is probably a good way to describe them.

• Kevin Willis is in the house, as is Dominique Wilkins. I wish someone would give those two guys uniforms. 39-25, Spurs. Also, Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann are in the house. Sam wishes the Mets had two fine young players like them. Heck, give them Hawks uniforms, too.

• Joe Johnson drives, dishes to an open Anthony Johnson, who dishes to an open Josh Smith, who drives and shoots a hook shot off the side of the backboard. The Spurs throw it out and Tony Parker gets a lay-up. 43-25.

• Timeout. They choose a fan who selects a Hawks player, and if that Hawks player sinks a 3-pointer in the next 2 minutes, the fan wins something from Delta Airlines, presumably a t-shirt or a bankruptcy primer. The fan selects Joe Johnson. Wise move.

• Seconds later, JJ nails a three! But Joey Crawford wipes it away, calling an offensive foul away from the ball on Josh Smith (who is 2-for-8, with 2 rebounds and 2 turnovers). An Al Horford fastbreak dunk makes it 45-33, with 4:28 to go.

• Bruce Bowen has played 17 minutes and I haven’t mentioned him once. He still looks like Droopy Dog.

• The Spurs are a machine, and this makes me sad. They rarely play with flair or demonstration, but they don’t need to. They come out, run their plays, and no matter what you do you can’t stop them. They’re up 54-37 right now. I want to go cry. Tony Parker has been unstoppable the last five minutes, scoring at will.

• Horford tries to dunk on Duncan, who wipes him and gets called for a foul by Ron Olesiak and Rodney Mott. Joey Crawford stays away.

• Marvin is single-handedly keeping the Hawks in this. That is, if you consider a jumper to make it a 16-point deficit “in this.”

• Can we buy Zaza some of those jumpsoles, or maybe a quad machine, or something? I don’t understand how someone so big can’t dunk a basketball when he’s standing right under the rim. He’s a life lesson in the laws of gravity.

• 61-44 at the half. Spurs ahead. Tony Parker has 21 points and 5 assists.

• At halftime I walk out to the Hawks team store, in the market for a leftover JR Rider jersey, but I can’t find one. I did find an Al Harrington jersey on the sale rack. While I’m walking around the store, an employee comes up to me and we have this exchange…
HIM: Sir, welcome to Philips Arena. Is there anything I can help you with?
ME: No thanks, I’m just kinda looking around.
HIM: OK, well let me know if you need anything.
ME: Will do. Thanks.
HIM: Well, are you enjoying the game?
ME: No.

• Tim Duncan spends the halftime warmup period chatting with former teammate Kevin Willis. Maybe K-Will can slip him a mickey or something. Then Manu and Tony Parker go over and get all up on Kevin. I’m hoping Kevin decks all three of them.

• The halftime stats are incredible. The Spurs are shooting 60 percent, are 6-9 on threes, have 24 rebounds and 15 assists (to ATL’s 16 boards and 8 dishes).

• The Hawks begin the second half with a long three point brick from Josh Smith, but they get the offensive rebound and reset. J-Smooth drives to the rim, making a great pass to Zaza Pachulia under the rim, who can’t jump and consequently has his lay-up swatted. Then Tony Parker runs down and draws a quick foul.

• The Spurs go zone, and how do the Hawks attack it? Zaza Pachulia(!) dribbles around a few defenders and into the lane, where he tosses up a miss.

• The Spurs run the same play three times in a row: A pick up top for Tony Parker, who then charges into the paint. Once he hits Finley for a three, then he hits a wide-open Oberto for two. The Hawks take a timeout, as boos start to be heard. 68-48, Spurs.

• Not sure what happened in that huddle, but when it breaks Zaza is wearing a warmup top.

• Joe Johnson is cooler than a polar bear’s toenail tonight.

• Tony Parker gets a breakaway layup and Anthony Johnson hits him hard. Next time down Tony gets up in the air, spins around backwards and hits Manu in stride for a layup.

• Tony Parker shakes Anthony Johnson and says “Dans votre coeur!”

• Then Tim Duncan makes a brilliant touch pass to Fabricio Oberto for two.

• Then Tony Parker drives left and flips in a right-handed layup. 78-56, Spurs, with 4:32 left in the third. At least we get the A-Town Dancers.

• I’m now taking a break until the quarter ends. Maybe this is all my fault.

• OK, had to come back early. Super reserve Mario West makes two steals and gets lay-ups both times to cut it to 20, 83-63. Pop takes a timeout, though even he doesn’t really seem perturbed. Meanwhile, Mr. West jumps into the air and delivers a fist-pump. Down 20! Here we come!

• Biggest cheer of the second half comes when Bobby Valentino is shown on the scoreboard.

• Out of the timeout, Mr. West looks East, guards the wrong guy and has to scramble over to Ginobili. He does get the board on the play, though.

• Hawks go inside to Horford, who scores to make it an 18 point lead.

• West nearly gets a block to end the third, and the Hawks go into the third down 18, 83-65.

• In between the third and fourth quarter, they do something called “The Philips Race Game.” I can’t comment on it because we took sensitivity training.

• Childress gets a two to start the fourth. The Hawks have finally made the tempo their own.

• Mario West picks up his fifth foul. This seems unlikely because he hasn’t been out there a lot. I look it up and he’s only played 7 minutes. As I’m looking it up, he picks up his sixth! Goodbye Mr. West (Mr. West…Mr. West…Mr. West)!

• The good times are about to end — Tony Parker just checked back in.

• Maybe not. Joe Johnson takes Matt Bonner to the hole and scores. 12 point game with 8:51 to go.

• Hawks force a turnover…and Marvin Williams shoots an airball. Then Anthony Johnson misses a wild dunk attempt that flies out of bounds on the sideline, and the roof almost comes off The Highlight Factory. Timeout, Spurs!

• During the timeout, the Hawks show the same video a lot of teams show featuring a bunch of celebrities kind of vaguely exhorting the fans while never mentioning a particular team. It has everyone from Ashton Kutcher to Sam Jackson, but it also has Jamie Foxx with a huge afro, which immediately dates the thing as being about 7 years old.

• Out of the timeout, The Spurs run Tony Parker off a series of picks, but Anthony Johnson stays with him. The Spurs then run a pick and roll with Duncan and Parker, but the Hawks switch it perfectly. As the clock runs out, Tony leans in around Horford and banks in about a 19-footer.

• Joe Johnson scores back-to-back baskets. 85-75, 6:26 to go. Josh Smith enters from an epic stint on the bench, and Michael Finley immediately nails a two and then Tony Parker drives to the rim for a layup. Time out, Hawks. 89-75.

• The Hawks end the Kiss Cam segment by showing Robert Horry and Ime Udoka on the end of the Spurs bench. Horry grabs him passionately and Udoka jumps a foot in the air. No kissing takes place.

• Joe Johnson hits a tough jumper, then Horford gets a two. Then Josh Smith grabs a rebound and takes off up court full speed. I involuntarily blurt out “Pass the ball!” Josh does not, instead pushing the ball up court, and he ends up throwing a perfect no-look bounce pass to Greg Popovich.

• Time out with 3:26 to go, Spurs up 10. I can say this about Philips Arena: There’s more spirit in this building than any game I’ve been in at Madison Square Garden the last two years.

• The Spurs come out and toy with the Hawks, running a pick and roll with Duncan and Parker. Timmy ends up with the ball, uncovered, and eventually gets fouled. Good. Good. 93-81.

• The Hawks miss a shot.

• Spurs come down and find Ginobili for an open 15-footer. Good. 95-81.

• The Hawks miss a shot.

• Duncan misses a three from the corner. Really. Hawks get the board and there’s a foul given so the Spurs can empty the bench.

• The Hawks score once more, but that’s it. Your final is 95-83. Spurs win. The Hawks have lost three straight.

Sigh.