Game Notes: Hawks at Kings
Jamal’s found his niche.
by Sean Ceglinsky
Southern California, there’s no place like it. But once in a while, it’s nice to get away.
That said, earlier this week, I jumped at the chance to take a road trip up North. My goal was to sneak out of town and take care of some basketball related business elsewhere. But before departing, it was necessary to offer a fond farewell to downtown Los Angeles and Staples Center, home of the Lakers.
Goodbye concrete jungle. Goodbye congested traffic. Arrivederci Kobe & Co.
And hello Sacramento. Hello ARCO Arena, home of the Kings, a facility located in the heart of the Golden State, surrounded by tons of lush landscape for as far as the eye can see. Equally important for a city slicker like myself was the fact that I was greeted by a wide-open freeway system. What a revelation.
Sure, the change of scenery was nice, but not nearly as nice as being able to free up some time during my travels to check out a little NBA action. It just so happened that Atlanta was out here on the West Coast, in Sacramento on Wednesday night, and luckily, I was able to catch the Hawks play some spirited ball down the stretch en route to a 113-105 victory over the Kings.
*** Josh Smith has hops, some serious hops. Dude can jump out of the gym. Now I understand why he won the Slam Dunk title back in 2005. For the record, when Smith rocked the Dominique Wilkins’ throwback during the contest, that was a nice touch.
*** Warming up, Jamal Crawford is burying jumper after jumper and making it seem so effortless. Suppose some guys simply have the gift. The Hawks scored when they picked him up for next-to-nothing, I mean, for Acie Law and Speedy Claxton.
*** Kevin Martin appears extremely comfortable during the pre-game shoot-around. And he should. Last time out on his home court, Monday to be exact, Martin went off, tying a career-high with 48 points in a victory over Memphis.
*** Knowing that he’s returning to the starting lineup, Spencer Hawes has an added bounce in his step. If the Kings are going to be successful tonight, and beyond, Hawes and Jason Thompson need to be on the court at the same time.
*** Martin picks up right where he left off against the Grizzlies, nailing his first shot, a three-pointer from way downtown. Not surprisingly, a basket from the baseline follows. Another long distance bomb connects and ties the score at 13-13 midway through. When all is said and done, he scores 14 points in the opening 12 minutes.
*** Smith is making plays all over the court. First, he rejects a Tyreke Evans floater in the lane, sending the ball towards midcourt. Then, he gets out in transition, with only Thompson standing between him in the basket. It’s no contest. Smith blows bye his defender and throws down a thunderous left-handed dunk.
*** Crawford comes off the bench at the 5:22 mark and provides instant offense. He scores 9 points over the final 3:00 to give the Hawks a 26-24 lead at the end of one. Not too shabby, if you ask me. If he keeps this up, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him running away with the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award.
*** With Martin on the bench, it will be interesting to see who emerges as the go-to-guy for the Kings. Turns out, it’s Evans. Despite missing his first four shots, the rookie remains aggressive. He scores on a pair of layups in traffic and hits three jumpers to give Sacramento a 49-46 lead with 3:21 remaining.
*** In between, Thompson attempts to establish himself as legitimate presence against Al Horford, who’s pretty good in his own right. And he does. Thompson finishes the first half with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.
*** The Hawks hold for the last shot. The ball is in Joe Johnson’s hands despite the fact he’s been relatively quiet from the get-go. With the clock winding down, Evans does a good job of harassing Johnson, who forces things and misses from the wing just before intermission. The Kings lead 55-54 at the break.
*** Smith is good, we know that. But sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. For example, early in the second half, he throws up a prayer, and it’s answered. He banks in a fadeaway jumper from the free-throw line, straightaway, no less, to make it a 62-62 game. Questions remain about whether he called bank on that one…
*** There’s no doubt about Smith’s intentions later. He takes the ball strong to the hole, is hacked, but manages to score the bucket despite the harm. He hits the free-throw, converting the 3-point play. All of a sudden, Atlanta has some momentum and a four-point advantage with 4:22 left.
*** Sacramento, Beno Udrih, in particular, responds. The back-up point guard, a starter before Evans arrived, nails a 17-footer and proceeds to knock down a pair of three-pointers to give the Kings their largest lead of the game, 87-79.
*** Crawford answers, of course, scoring the final 7 points for the Hawks to cut the deficit down to 87-83 at the end of three. He finishes the game with 26 points on 10-15 shooting from the field with three three-pointers.
*** Martin was hot in the first half, had 25 points heading in to crunch-time, but manages a mere 4 points the rest of the way. Once he goes cold, so do the rest of the Kings, who score 18 points over the course of the final 12 minutes.
*** Up four at the 9:38 mark, Andres Nocioni misses a pair of free-throws for Sacramento, and unfortunately, that signals the beginning of the end.
*** On the next trip down the floor, Smith scores, is fouled, but misses the subsequent free-throw. Crawford alertly grabs the rebound, kicks the ball out to Mike Bibby, who buries a three-pointer to give the Hawks a 93-92 lead with 9:19 left.
*** Minutes later, Johnson coverts a layup and hits a jumper from out on the perimeter. Shortly thereafter, he connects on a 17-footer to extend the advantage to 105-98 with just more than three minutes remaining. The Kings never recover. Atlanta wins, 113-105, and Johnson ends up with 26 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.
*** Johnson showed the utmost respect toward one of his teammates: “Jamal Crawford is a proven player in this league. He is a guy that averaged 20-plus points a game. There really isn’t a difference, he’s just coming off the bench, doing it now, and that’s good for our team. It’s hard to stop a guy that can score like that.’’ Ask the Kings, they know it’s hard to stop Crawford.
*** Atlanta coach Mike Woodson is happy, to say the least, with Smith and his progress thus far: “It’s amazing. He is an athletic and gifted young player. He has the ability to make plays in the air, offensively and defensively… He’s growing each and every year. I can’t help but think that he is going to continue and get better as the years go by.’’
*** Fantasy basketball junkies will love Thompson’s final numbers against the Hawks. He did, after all, finish with 22 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. And for those counting, he added a block, for good measure. Thompson, however, was far from pleased: “If you know me as a player, I am more about the wins than… putting up the stats.’’
*** Evans showed glimpses of his immense potential. Then again, there were times when he played like this was his first year in the League. He logged 38-plus minutes and was 7-of-21 from the field for 15 points to go along with 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals. Afterward he said: “I’m a rookie. I’m playing through things right now. It’s tough out there.’’