Hawks Insider: Hawks still rolling

BY foxsports • January 19, 2012

Rarely does a devastating injury to an All-Star player bring a group together this way.

All-Star center Al Horford goes down with season-ending surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle and his team rallies in his absence to win its first four games, the latest an impressive 92-89 home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

"We have some guys that are really gutting it out," said Hawks coach Larry Drew. "Joe (Johnson) is playing at a very high level, I think Josh (Smith) is playing at a high level. He's taking defensive challenges like I hadn't seen before. He's guarding big guys, he's guarding small guys, we're switching him against smaller guys. We have guys that are really stepping their games up."

That includes every single player that has suited up since Horford went down. The Hawks might not have realized just how deep a group they have if Horford hadn't been injured. But he was and they did. And Drew has discovered a toughness in this group that might have otherwise gone untouched all season.

"I think when Al went out, it just brought us tighter," Jeff Teague said. "Guys just want to win, and we're going out there and getting it done."

That doesn't mean it's always going to look good. The Hawks traded runs with the Trail Blazers in the second half, with each team mounting a comeback the other had to top to stay in the game.

But in the end, these scrappy Hawks continue to find a way to win.

"That's all we're trying to do," Smith said. "Just keep winning as long as we can."

Atlanta will try to keep the good times rolling on Friday at Philadelphia.


NOTES, QUOTES

The Hawks ruined Jamal Crawford's chance at playing the hero with his new team in his first trip back to the Highlight Factory since leaving via free agency last month.

Crawford knocked down big shots during the Blazers' late-game run and finished with 22 points off the bench on 8-for-22 shooting from the floor, but it wasn't enough to put the visiting team over the hump.

"Right now it seems like we're playing harder when we get down instead of playing that way from the beginning of the game," Crawford said of his new team. "That makes it tougher on us to come back and pull out games. I tried not to think about coming back to Atlanta, and just tried to focus on getting a win. The Hawks are playing great, even without Al (Horford) in the lineup."

The Hawks might very well end up with two All-Stars again this season, even with Horford out.

Josh Smith seems to finally be receiving the recognition for his play that he deserves, both internally and beyond.

"He's playing at an All-Star level, without a doubt on both ends. He's been doing a really good job on the offensive end, mixing it up," Drew said, lobbying for his star. "His mid-range game has gotten better, he's posting the ball, he's on the sharp post driving the ball to the basket. I'd like to see him make a few more free throws, but he's getting to the free throw line, which tells me he's being aggressive on the attack. On the defensive end, he's playing with very high energy against guys that are much bigger and much stronger, after he lost all that weight."


QUOTE TO NOTE

"Everybody knows the head of the snake for us is, obviously, putting the ball in Joe's hands and making plays. He's done a good job of mixing it up, and looking to get the ball to guys that are open." -- Hawks coach Larry Drew on Joe Johnson stepping his game up.


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