Welcome to the third edition of The Hoops Saga!

I tuned in yesterday to do a play-by-play (Twitter) of what was a highly anticipated game for not only Atlanta Hawks fans, but for most importantly, the eight-time all-star and three-time defensive player of the year, Dwight Howard.

It was the very first day free-agency rang in, and Dwight wasted no time to return home to Atlanta, a place where he grew up to play the game he fell in love with. But it wasn’t just that. Howard wanted (and preferably needed) a fresh start in his career. These last few years haven’t exactly been a “walk in the park” for the big-man. After eight seasons with the Magic, he wanted out of Orlando, and into the spotlights of Los Angeles, then Houston. But we all how it went: Dwight and superstar Shooting Guards weren’t a just fit for him. Those blood-sucking memes are just a Google click away.

But I have a feeling that this next stay for Dwight will not only be his last, but his BEST. He signed a three-year, $70 million contract to join the Hawks, and after last night, he just made it known that he’s officially #TrueToAtlanta.

The Hawks gave John Wall and the visiting Washington Wizards an extremely rough time tonight, especially in the second half. They ultimately came away with a 114-99 victory, to rectify D-12’s homecoming.

As always, the Hawks had a pretty awesome promo, so that did something:

The first quarter began. And just like every opening game in the NBA, the spirits in Atlanta were high and the nervousness was definitely in the building. There’s just something so good about starting over with a 0-0 record. We saw some very sloppy ball-movement from both teams to begin the game, when Atlanta already had five early giveaways in the first, but none other player was truly ready to start this game than Dwight, himself.

Howard lunched up EIGHT first quarter rebounds, and his first points back home was off of a well-timed putback jam. As soon as the Hawks’ second unit came in, things really took another step forward.

Before the game, my take was going to be “Wall vs. Schroeder” to determine the outcome, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Wall was terrible from the field, as he sat down with 0-for-5 missed field goals with three assists before Scott Brooks subbed him out. But of course, when you catch a Hawks game, it’s more than just one major match-up. It’s more than just individual performances.

Paul Millsap (9) and Markieff Morris (6) led their respective teams in scoring after the first. Kent Bazemore nor Kyle Korver couldn’t really get it going in the period, but that was only to be short-lived. The Hawks finished the first quarter with a thin 29-27 lead, after leading by nine earlier.

Just shortly after the second quarter began, Washington took a 30-29 lead. Atlanta had made some key contributions in the first-half from Thabo Sefoloshia/ Tim Hardaway Jr in the second quarter. Both totally different players, but can contribute in major ways off the bench.

 

But even though Wall struggled in the first half (0-9 from the field), he was still doing “John Wall” things: Finding his teammates and playing great defense. His all-around skills kept the Wizards in it. With less than 3 minutes left at the half, Atlanta was up 48-46. The assist totals were very lopsided, as The Wizards had a 15-8 edge over the Hawks. And it only makes me think about one individual: Al Horford.

Will Horford’s unselfishness and quick-thinking for a big be missed?

If there’s anything I noticed about Atlanta’s flaws, is that they settled mostly on Millsap/Schroeder isolation-plays. There wasn’t really any player movement in particular, rather than Dwight and Millsap attacking off of missed shots. It’s ironic because the Hawks want to get Dwight Howard involved offensively than he’s been the last two seasons, but he, of course attempted one jumper in this game, which went off the backboard. We really didn’t see too much of Howard in the post either, and that’s pretty concerning.

What Dwight looked like in this game, was a defensive tower, and not involved too much offensively. If a ball-movement team like the Hawks can still get him the touches he needs down low, and that he can make the right decisions with them, the Hawks will be deadly.

As it was still a neck-and-neck sparring, the Hawks withstood a one-point advantage (57-56) heading into halftime, and Wall’s only made field goal was an and-one layup just before the end of the quarter. He did have three steals, a block, and was 4-5 from the free-throw line. Millsap was able to hit a late-quarter three to add to his 14, while Howard collected 9 and 15. Morris gave Washington a steady 13 points before the break.

However, the Hawks shot just 38% (19-49) while Washington had 47% (24-51).

The third quarter opened up with a Dennis Schroeder lay-in. But as things went along Atlanta had some trouble falling for ‘Kieff’s pump fakes, and he went on to torch them with 22 points.

Wall was once again making bad decisions on both ends. And it ultimately led to this scuffle:

Now I’m the last person to back-up John in this. I believe he had the speed to just go for an easy layup, rather than attempting a one-handed flush in such a close game. That’s just me. But it happened, and the game started getting chippy afterwards. Kent later apologized for the “move” on Wall, and quoted that “It’s not a fun feeling. My apologies bro.”

But even still, I’m always going to have Wall labeled as a headcase. I feel that his decision making in tight games could be much better than what it stands right now. Because those struggles tend to take him out of games, and keep him out. He’s not a consistent jump-shooter, so he always has to attack and play aggressively, but it’s just what separates him from being an all-star, from a superstar Point Guard.

Things started to slowly swing towards Atlanta’s way throughout the third. Marcus Thornton, who’s made a career of sharpshooting, air-balled terribly on two open shots, and just didn’t give Washington as much of a scoring spark. Marcin Gortat caught himself in trouble with four fouls (after an illegal screen), which opened up the door for Dwight.

 

Howard continued his dominance on the glass, as he finished with 19 rebounds and 3 blocks in this game to go along with 11 points. That was the most rebounds in a Hawks debut since the 1985-86 season. And yes, Nique’ was on the team (LOL). But it may have been Howard’s homecoming, but he definitely wasn’t the “homecoming king.”

Nearing the end of the third, the Hawks’ bench continued to thrive. Thabo, THJ, and Moose came to give the Hawks a huge boost. Sefolosha had himself an amazing line.

The only thing I could even whiff at the moment was a Hawks resurgence, and no not the Flaming Hot Cheetos I had before the game. There was literally nothing Washington could do once ATL picked up their defense and started running in transition. With 10:11 left in the fourth, the Hawks led Washington 86-82.

 

Tim Hardaway Jr. gave the Hawks a much-needed 21 points on 8-13 (61%) shooting. He hit 3-5 threes, in what has been a long journey throughout his career. As for Sefolosha, he finished with 13 points, 6-8 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and just one turnover.

He even made George Gervin shed a tear:

 

Dennis was also able to find his game in the second-half, as he finished with 14 points, but had 4 turnovers. I can definitely say he handled Wall very well, as he held him to 3-15 from the field. As Atlanta continued to pull away to victory, Scott Brooks questionably threw in the towel a little earlier than expected, and that’s what had me very confused.

I understood it’s game one of the season, and that there’s many more to be played, but the Hawks didn’t have the biggest lead once he subbed in his reserves. I’m not sure if it was a “strategy” of his to bring them in, if were just so happened to play better than the starters (which was kinda the case for the Hawks), but it didn’t do much, as Atlanta pulled away with a 114-99 victory. And it took me until the very end to find out that Paul Millsap had a mean line of 28 points, 11-20 shooting, 3-6 from long distance, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.

FINAL TAKEAWAYS:

  • Even after a horrible night shooting the ball, John Wall still finished with a double-double of 12 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals.
  • Bradley Beal, who just signed a 4-year $128 million deal in the summer, could’ve been much more involved offensively. It speaks so much of how Kyle Korver has improved as a defender. Beal did have 13 on 5-10, but was a team-low plus/minus of -13.
  • Otto Porter with 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals.
  • Hardaway Jr. led Atlanta with a +/- of 23. Millsap followed with 22, and Sefolosha added 19.

 

With a 1-0 start, and a great kick to the Dwight-Era, Atlanta will go on to play the Philadelphia 76ers tomorrow just shortly after noon. It’s going to be really fun watching Howard take on “The Process” Joel Embiid.

Welcome home, Dwight!

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2 Responses

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