No Al Horford, no problem. Well, at least for one night anyways. After the Atlanta Hawks (8-4) announced on Thursday that starting center Al Horford will miss 3-4 months with a torn left pectoral muscle, they took to their home court against the Charlotte Bobcats (2-9) and put together a nice 30-point win. The Hawks thoroughly outplayed the Bobcats and used big scoring nights from Josh Smith and Joe Johnson to outscore the visitors in every quarter, as they cruised to a comfortable 111-81 win. The Bobcats were out-rebounded 55-30, dominated in fast break points 24-10 and never led at any point in the game.
Joe Johson provided 13 first quarter points and 2 assists on his way to season highs in points, rebounds and assists on the night -- 23 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds in 35 minutes. In the early going Charlotte coach Paul Silas attempted to matchup Tyrus Thomas on Johnson, but Thomas routinely got lost trying to fight through off-ball screens and allowed Johnson to get too many clean looks at the basket to help fuel his big opening quarter.
The best individual performance of the night came from Josh Smith. He amassed a dominant double-double featuring 30 points on 14-22 shooting and a game-high 13 rebounds. Smith did a little bit of everything on offense: he ran out for easy baskets in transition, floated outside for open 18-foot jump shots and slashed to the rim for athletic finishes. Smith now has two games this season where he has scored 20+ points and has grabbed 10+ rebounds, and both of those games have been against the Bobcats. Zaza Pachulia, who filled in a center for the injured Horford, managed a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double of his own in his first start of the season. After the 111-81 win, Hawks head coach Larry Drew spoke about just how much his team impressed him on Thursday night:
"That was a gutsy performance by the entire team. Today has been somewhat of a slumber day . . . with our walk-through prior to the game, you could kind of see it in the guys' body language. I told them this is going to be a time for us to come together. Our season is not over. We have to step up to the challenge thrown before us, and I thought our guys tonight played with an enormous amount of energy."
One area where Horford's absence showed immediately was in defending opposing big men. Byron Mullens made the first start of his NBA career at center against the Hawks, and proceeded to score a career-high 21 points on 8-16 shooting. Just as a point of reference, Mullens scored a total of 14 points in his 2009-10 rookie season with the Oklahoma City Thunder and a total of 25 points in the '10-11 season. The former lottery pick mixed smooth mid-range jumpshots with several timely dunks and putbacks to pace the lowly Bobcats in scoring, while swingman Gerald Henderson added 16 points in the loss. The Bobcats have now lost their fifth straight game, while the Hawks opened their four-game home stand with a win and improve to 8-4 on the season. Here is how SB Nation's Bobcats blog, Rufus On Fire, summed up the blowout loss from Charlotte's perspective:
It was ugly. It had bad lineups. It had poorly-executed offense. It had abominable rebounding (OREBs Hawks - 20, Bobcats - 4) -- without Al Horford. The Hawks outperformed the Bobcats in every category, except for blocks. Atlanta had 12 more field goal attempts than the Bobcats, and hit a higher percentage. The only Bobcats' three-pointer came from Kemba Walker with 9 minutes left.
"We've given up. I don't know what to say," Paul Silas would say after the game.
For more on the Hawks, be sure to check out Peachtree Hoops. Charlotte Bobcats fans can visit Rufus On Fire for all the latest news and analysis. For more NBA news and analysis head on over to SB Nation's NBA hub.