Hawks, Timberwolves, and Rubio

Fans started leaving the Phillips Arena in the third quarter. I feel bad for them. This past Saturday, the Atlanta Hawks made a fascinating 18 point comeback against the Minnesota Timberwolves. What seemed an impossible deficit turned into a two point victory as the Hawks won the game 93-91.

At halftime, the Hawks found themselves in a bind. They only made 37% of their shots, were losing by 11, and being dominated in the paint by Kevin Love. The beginning of the second half entailed much of the same. Then, head coach Larry Drew called a timeout with 3:36 left in the third. I don’t know what he told them, but it sure worked.

The comeback began with Jason Collins making a mid-range jumper from the side. Jeff Teague followed by making two free throws and a jump shot. Then, Ivan “The Terrible” Johnson earned his way to the free throw line twice. His four points ended the third with the Hawks only down by nine.

The Hawks “made it rain” in the fourth. They hit three pointer after three pointer. Willie Green made two, including one 26 ft shot that deservedly earned several “Jimmer” calls. Joe Johnson drained two as well. Vladimir Radmanovic and Teague each hit one.

It looked like the Hawks were in the clear, but Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio made a wide-open three pointer that tied the game at 91. The Hawks went down the court and Josh Smith attempted to make the game winning shot. He unsurprisingly missed, but Mr. Terrible showed up. Ivan Johnson grabbed the offensive rebound and got fouled. He sank both free throws and clinched the game.

The Hawks’ record moved to 9-4 and the Timberwolves’ fell to 4-8. Joe Johnson’s late game surge gave  him 25 points. Ivan Johnson and Teague both earned double-doubles. For Minnesota, Kevin Love and Rubio both had double-doubles. Love ended with 30 points and 13 rebounds. Rubio had 18 points and 12 assists.

This was a big win for the Hawks. They recently lost Al Horford, their starting center, to a shoulder injury for 3-4 months. This game was a test of how well they could play against an elite big man like Love without Horford. I wouldn’t say it was a success, but towards the end of the game they figured it out.

In fact, Ivan “The Terrible” Johnson was one of the reasons they figured it out. He is one of the heroes for the Hawks this year. The team was soft the past few years, but Johnson has brought toughness and physicality to the team. The guy looks like he could suit up for the  Falcons. He started by just coming out for spot duty. Then, he had a break out game earlier in the month against the Miami Heat. His role has been increasing ever since.

Johnson is only 27, but can be considered a journeyman. He played for four different schools in college. From there, he played in the NBA D-League and in leagues in South Korea and Puerto Rico. This is his first year with the Hawks and first NBA action. To say the least, he has impressed. Now that Horford is out, expect to see him get plenty of minutes.

Johnson is not the only breakout player for the Hawks this year. Teague showed glimpses of excellent point guard play in the playoffs last year. This year he has the starting job and is putting up great numbers. He averages 12.3 points and 5.8 assists per game. He has the ability to penetrate and score inside to go along with a decent jump shot. He adds a spark to what can be a dull offense. Teague is still learning, but can develop into a very good player in the NBA.

The Hawks returned many of the same pieces this year due to long and expensive contracts. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith are putting up their typical numbers. However, Drew has put together an interesting bench and created a more balanced offense. The three main signings this year were Radmanovic, Green, and Tracy McGrady. None of them average high amounts of anything, but they all have stepped up in different games. They all can produce and fit together nicely on the court and in the rotation.

The balanced offense stems from the new players, but also smarter shot selection. Joe Johnson may be getting paid like a superstar, but that doesn’t mean he has to take the most shots. Drew knows that all of his players are relatively good shooters and has designed an offense that lets the hottest shooter get the ball. If a guy is open or playing well, the ball seems to find him. Then in clutch situations, he knows he can turn to Joe Johnson.

The Timberwolves have not fared as well. Their loses have all been close, but they are still looking at another disappointing season. They are young, talented, and have a deep bench. Nobody really knows why it hasn’t come together. Some attributed it to their youth. Others look to the shortened off-season. The talent is there though.

The team begins and ends with Kevin Love. Draft experts weren’t crazy about Love, but knew he had potential. He has since become a double-double machine. He rebounds like nobody else is playing and can score from any place on the court. He will be demanding a big contract soon, and plenty of teams will line up to sign him. They also have Michael Beasley. He was the second pick overall in the 2008 NBA draft. His potential is also very high. He has the skills of a Kevin Love, but a way better athlete. He has failed to put it all together yet though.

However, the piece of the puzzle with all the buzz right now is Ricky Rubio. He was drafted fifth overall in the 2009 NBA draft, but has not played one minute until this season. He chose to stay in Spain for a few more years and develop his game. He finally arrived, and has not disappointed. From his very first game, he has made crazy passes and shown his shooting ability. He sees the floor like very few players do, and makes the Timberwolves’ offense much better when on the court. He surpassed the hype, but I wanted to see it for myself.

After watching him live, I have one thing to say. Go get a ticket and see him. This kid is phenomenal. He creates excitement through the passing game like I haven’t seen in a while. He tosses to wide open players that people in the upper levels didn’t know about. It was incredible. Also,  he recently became the starter and plays more minutes every night. Most teams don’t charge crazy ticket prices to see the Timberwolves, so a fan can easily get the bang for his buck to go see him. If you don’t believe me, watch this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTTnaW0sLgs

Yea, just amazing.

So, the fact of the matter for both teams is that it is still early in the season. The Hawks need to maintain their pace to secure a high seed in the playoffs and hopefully Horford can return. The rest of the team needs to stay healthy as well. The Timberwolves have plenty of time to turn it around, and I believe they will. There is just too much talent there.

In the end, I left Phillips arena with two clear thoughts in my head. First, be scared of Ivan Johnson because he can hurt you. Second, there will be a remake of the lost boy’s scene from the movie Hook, and they will all chant, “Rubio, Rubio, Rubiooooooo!”

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