The Atlanta Hawks, now (6-3), got off to one of the hottest starts in the NBA this year by shooting lights out from beyond the arc playing opportunistic defense and having good play from the bench in crunch time. However, a few key injuries have sent the Hawks on a three game losing skid.
During their six games win streak the Atlanta a surprising strength has been their three point shooting. Marvin Williams and Maurice Evans who are shooting 64.7% and 48.3%, respectively, lead the Hawks in 3pt FG%. Last year the Hawks shot a reasonable 35.6%, but this year are shooting an astounding 43.%. Many of these open looks can be credited to the grind it out style defensive they have been playing.
The Hawks started off the season with impressive defensive performances against Orlando, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City, holding them well below their scoring average. Atlanta used tough, hard-nosed defense to comeback from a huge deficit against the 76ers. They forced 18 turnovers, to go along with 11 steals and 18 blocks.
The Hawks seem to have matured after last seasons playoff duel with the might Boston Celtics. They have shown more intensity and focus on the defensive side of the ball night end and night out. Also, some timely play by the once believed to be weak bench has been huge for the early season success.
Mo' Flip is what the fans of Atlanta are calling it, speaking of the newly acquired veterans Maurice Evans and Ronald "Flip" Murray. Flip Murray scored nine of his 14 points during the fourth quarter in a come from behind win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Evans has provided not only stellar three point shooting, but he also has played strong on ball defense.
The fearless Zaza Pachulia was the bruiser the Hawks need him to be averaging 5.1 rebounds in only 16.4 minutes of play. The bench must have used all the bad publicity the experts gave them as bulletin board material for the season because they have exceeded expectations.
The injuries to Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia have devastated Atlanta. Since, Josh went down with a sprained ankle the Hawks have been -30 in rebounding margin. But they have probably missed his help side defense the most.
Atlanta does not have the quickest perimeter defenders but before this was offset by Josh Smith superb shot blocking ability. Atlanta was giving up just 86.0 points per game with Smith suited up, but since his absence they have been giving up an atrocious 106.0 points per game.
His absence was missed most in the home and home against New Jersey, where the Hawks gave up 115 and 119 on consecutive nights. And lets not forget Devin Harris, who had two of his career three 30-point games against the Hawks.
Josh Smith injury hurt the most, but Zaza's nagging shoulder injury has crippled the frontcourt depth. His injury in the Celtic's game forced Marvin to play out of position at the four, and it forced Woodson to use the raw Solomon Jones a bit more than he would have liked.
Zaza's absence was clear in the game at New Jersey, where Brook Lopez went for a career high 25 points. With Pachulia out the Hawks lack a rugged, big-bodied defender who can go toe to toe with opposing teams big men. People hate to use injuries an excuse, but it is clear they have been a factor in halting Atlanta's hot start.