Tuesday, March 9, 2010

THHB Moves to Peachtree Hoops

So, my dear, it's been a blast
You were not my first
You won't be my last
Ciao, I got to mambo

-Billy Crystal as Fernando, 1985

As the sign says over the door at Peachtree Hoops, we are indeed moving our staff and intrepid band of researchers, statisticians, wizards, and accountants over to the fine offices of the Sports Blog Network.

We are doing this to join forces with the incomparable Drew over there, to split the administrative load it takes to produce this kind of operation, and to bring to life some of the ideas that have been languishing on the desktops, iPads, and post-its of the entire THHB crew.

It's a privilege to be included as a co-manager, to gain access to an incredible network of people who have similar goals as ours, and to bring more and more Hawks opinion, data, and entertainment to everyone in concert with someone as fun and dedicated as Drew.

The Human Highlight Blog will live on over there, as we will continue to use this title in our posts, and this site will stay warm, with Twitter updates and other site post updates appearing in case folks have grown accustomed to seeing it. No new posts, just frozen in time. As we explained to CoCo, it's like putting a sheet over the hot rod and putting it in the garage for now.

Now we going to ride in the limo as long as they'll have us--and we thank everyone over there for that.

And of course, we invite you to come join us for the ride.

Hope the spell check works good over there.

ATL-NYC Game Recap: Misdirection Plays

In the aftermath of the Hawks 99-98 loss on the road to the New York Knicks, there will be plenty of talk about Wilson Chandler's block of Josh Smith dunk attempt with seconds left on the clock, Al Horford's split second too late bank shot, and the Knicks' 10-15 three point shooting after an 0-18 effort the previous game against New Jersey.

Those were definitely factors in the game, but none were bigger than the offensive decisions in the (16) minutes in the beginning of the second half and four possessions inside the last 2 1/2 minutes of the game. With wiser strategy in that vast amount of time---there may never have been a need for such drama.

The Hawks entered the game against the Knicks, as they have every game this season with New York, with a decided advantage inside. In the first game of the year, THHB declared that Al Horford had stolen David Lee's lunch money. But since that first matchup against the Knicks, the Hawks have shown that they are not aware or do not buy into that advantage.

The Hawks played the first half and took (28) shots inside of 16-feet to (14) shots outside that mark. In the third quarter alone the Hawks took (12) shots outside of 16-feet to (11) inside--not an indication that a team buys into an inside = success correlation.

By the time the fourth quarter clock reached 8:16, the Hawks trailed by (11)--the biggest Knicks lead of the night--and had taken more second half jump shots (16) than inside shots (12).

Then, when it seemed the Hawks might just send up the white flag and continue to try and shoot their way out of trouble--a method that has spelled doom to their recent fourth quarter chances--the Hawks began to get the ball inside to Josh Smith and play strong defense on the other end.

Slowly, the Hawks paralyzed the Knicks scoring while chipping away at the lead on the other end going through Smith in the post. Whereas the Hawks took (7) free throws in the first (16) minutes of the second half, they shot (9) in the next six minutes of the game. And when Joe Johnson made the last of those nine attempts, the Hawks had cut the lead to a single point, a 20-10 run.

But just as quickly as you could say, "Lesson Learned. Hooray!", the Hawks abandoned the boat that had taken them off their sinking ship. After continued success going inside and narrowing the margin, Johnson couldn't help himself when he found himself open coming off a screen, 23 feet from the hoop. He missed.

Then it was Smoove's turn to defy what had been working when he too launched a jump shot with daylight in front of him to the hoop--a path that had played a large part in his (9) fourth quarter points. That was no time to see if the clunker could still start up--it was time to stay in the Ferrari that had got you there.

Still the Hawks defense had clamped down on the Knicks and Atlanta, for the third time, had a chance to take the lead. This time Smith ran the middle of the lane and short-armed a runner that the Knicks rebounded and turned into an Al Harrington two-pointer.

Now with the Hawks down three with (50) seconds left, they took another three pointer. Jamal Crawford aimed and missed his 11th shot of the game on (16) attempts. Fortunately, the Hawks got the rebound--but wasted it when Josh took another 20-footer, which also missed. Smith rallied to put in a layup and the Hawks trailed by one with 27.5 seconds left.

The Hawks continued their strong defense, forcing a turnover from Toney Douglas with a little less than (8) seconds left. Jamal Crawford weaved his way down the court, into the lane, gave up a 7-10 footer to hit a baseline running Smoove. Josh caught the ball went up for the slam, but didn't get up high enough to beat Wilson Chandler's second block around the rim of the game. The ball came off into Al Horford's hands with .6 seconds left, but he took too long to get the shot back on the glass so, despite the fact the ball went in, the Hawks would lose when the officials determined it had been shot too late.

The Hawks played (6) minutes of the second half going inside and nearly won. Now imagine if they had played with their heads the other (18) minutes of the game. One day they'll learn the lesson of understanding where your advantages lie---and that it's not always in your predetermined "big guns".

Other Red Herrings

On a night where the Hawks played a small Knicks team that is tied for the fourth worst blocked shot rate and gives up the fourth most makes at the rim per game and the 7th worst opponent field goal percentage at the rim, and had David Lee in foul trouble late in the game (33 minutes), the Hawks top frontcourt players (Smith, Horford) shot (36) times (18-36, 50 percent) whereas Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson shot (33) times (13-33, 39 percent).

When David Lee left the game with his 5th foul and 10:03 to play, the Hawks celebrated the matchup of Al Harrington on Al Horford by running no plays for Horford in the 3 1/2 minutes Lee was off the court. Horford scored on a fine look by Smith on an unscripted play, and Horford himself blew it by turning it over once away from the post and getting called for an illegal screen, but one has to wonder why the Hawks didn't immediately try to exploit the matchup versus taking two jump shots and not running Horford to the post.

The Hawks defense was roundly exploited throughout the other three quarters for laying off the shooters, allowing easy buckets on ball movement, etc. Exhibit A was Danilo Gallinari, who saw plenty of daylight on his 9-14, 27 point night. The Knicks, who average 45 percent shooting per night, shot 51 percent against the Hawks.

There's Matches in the Bathroom, Just Beneath the Stairs

Mo Evans seemed well suited as a zone buster, running the baseline quite well and cashing in on 3 of his 6 shots.

Woodson does seem to be learning his lesson in another area, bringing Marvin Williams back into the game for Mike Bibby for the final 4:26 to improve the team defense.

Jeff Teague made a nice driving layup during his 5+ minutes, but THHB couldn't help but notice that he got caught turning his head twice on cuts to the hoop by the Knicks, costing buckets on both gaffes.

The Hawks shot free throws (21-27, 78 percent) above their seasonal average (76.4 percent), but when the team loses by a point, it's hard not to think about those free points rimming away. Smith missed (4) of his (7), Crawford missed a technical free throw early in the fourth quarter, and Joe Johnson missed one in a pair that would have tied the game at 97.

The Hawks have now slipped below .500 on the road (15-16) and are wobbling a bit versus getting stronger headed down the stretch. They desperately need to recalibrate and understand what is working for them and when. The fact that they switched to the post for almost (6) minutes in the fourth quarter against a team that struggles defending the post is a glimmer of hope, but we'll have to ignore what happened in those four late possessions to take too much heart in it.

Check us for accuracy by watching the Highlights:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

ATL-MIA Game Review: Scoring Malfunction

It amazes and confounds watching this club sometimes.

How is it that a team can work for countless hours in practice and shootarounds, and then 3-4 hours on gamenight preparing to win---and then do the things that lose ballgames for them every time at the most inopportune times?

Below is the ESPN shot chart for the fourth quarter in the Hawks 100-94 loss in Miami Saturday night:

That's a whole lot of standing around shooting from the outside for the Hawks, who again forgot that the most effective way of attacking a zone defense is dribble penetration and ball movement. Whoops. Guess that lesson will have to be re-run again--in the form of the second half defense of the Miami Heat.

The Hawks scored (38) whole points in the second half, and if you examine the other quarters of the shot chart, you'll see that the migration of shots to the outside over the course of four quarters resembles a weather front heading from inside to outside. That has never been a good weather pattern (4-7 in games where they shoot 22 or more threes) for the Hawks this season and the results bore it out again in Miami.

The stagnation of the offense eventually toppled the Hawks calling card on the season, turnover margin. The #1 team in Turnover Margin this season (averaging 2.39 fewer turnovers per game than their opponents) lost that battle 13-6 to the Heat, including a brutal (7) in the fourth quarter.

It was comical to hear Larry Drew talk after the first quarter about how much they want to play their offense inside-out. It may be the plan, but against the Heat it must have been written in disappearing ink. The Hawks scored a low (26) points in the paint, in large part due to the zone the Heat deployed in the third quarter. Teams normally don't stay in zones in the pros due to the excellent penetration skills teams have and subsequent ball movement that leaves teams getting good shots and leaving the zone as a quick defensive gimmick. The Heat were able to stay in zone for the majority of the final (18) minutes of the game as the Hawks effort to dribble around it or pass/shoot over it left the offense in park and the Heat with the game.

Moving On

Jamal Crawford hit yet another (4) point play which when you consider that was 11 percent of the Hawks offense in the second half should dampen the joy such a play usually brings.

We're not going to continue to harp on Joe Johnson, but his idea of dribble penetration is usually Part 23 of his (20) second Isolation Plan. It makes him much less effective against zones which is why Joe should not be triggering any offense against zone. He should be a zone killer spotting up after the dribble penetration has been engaged by a different Hawks player.

(Sidenote: When Joe Johnson backs down a player in the "post" while Josh Smith is on the floor, it makes Smith a shooter. Not a good plan.)

As if battling the zone wasn't hard enough mentally and physically on the team, they continued to wander down on offense and try to set things up the with (11) seconds left on the shot clock. Where's the urgency?

Joe Smith should be noted for his great play off the bench in the first half. But at the end of that shift, he got hit in the nose and pulled an Unsolved Mysteries for the rest of the game (Robert Stack voice: He was never seen nor heard from again).

We just don't understand how the staff/players continue to fall into the same traps. Maybe it's the way it is in the NBA, or with teams that just don't have what it takes to be deep players in the playoffs. But we see this team as talented enough to do just that---but the problem with seeing the same mistakes/trends with a team is that those errors/choices become grooved into habits--and habits are hard to break.

See, we didn't ever move on. Force of habit.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

GS-ATL Game Review: Core Discipline

The Golden State Warriors had played (2) games prior to Friday night's 127-122 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Philips Arena in which they had made over (50) percent of their field goals, (40) percent of their 3-pointers, and (80) percent of their free throws, all while turning the ball over (11) times or less.

In the first of these games, in Milwaukee, the Warriors lost due to being outrebounded on the offensive glass 15-2 by the Bucks and 46-31 overall. The additional (9) shots plus Brandon Jennings seasonal epic (55) point game cost them an early season road win.

The next instance, a home game in February against the Kings, Golden State blew Sacramento's doors off, 130-98, behind (89) points between the three guards (Stephen Curry, CJ Watson, and Anthony Morrow).

Against the Hawks on the road, the Warriors arguably played a better game than they did when they came back from (18) against ATL in their own house and won. They had more three pointers made (11-3), fewer turnovers (11-13), and more offensive rebounds (14-9).

What was different for the Warriors tonight is that the Hawks, despite the Warriors great success at making shots and getting freaky rebounds on the offensive end, stuck with what worked all night long--going inside--and got the win.

For the most part, the Hawks worked from the inside-out, as no Warrior was able to match up successfully with Josh Smith or Al Horford. Between the two big men, the Hawks shot 20-30, 16-23, for (56) points and (24) rebounds, (9) of which were offensive. Adding to the frontcourt dominance was Marvin Williams, who matched his frontcourt brethren with (9) offensive rebounds of his own.

For the Hawks, it was a must not to ignore the size advantage the team had over their visitors. It showed good, selfless team play on the part of the volume shooting guards to use this considerable leverage to win the game, especially in light of the outside shooting of their counterparts. The Hawks outscored the Warriors 52-38 in the paint, and few of the Warriors paint points were out of the half court set, scoring many on their (31) fast break points.

When the Hawks needed big buckets late in the game, when the Warriors simply wouldn't stop making jump shots, they went into Horford, who delivered with a quick move to the basket for one score and two clutch free throws. Smith added two more later to seal the deal.

The success of the inside game was augmented by the outside shooting of Mike Bibby, who was a happy recipient of wide open shots with Oakland sagging in to protect what they could of the paint. Bibby had a season high (7) made three pointers and (23) points, besting his previous season high against PHL in November. Such accuracy helped make up for the lack of hoop luck for Joe Johnson, who needed (14) shots to get to double digits in scoring (3-14).

Also not-hot was Jamal Crawford, who had (2) points through three quarters, but finished strong with (12) fourth quarter points, 5-13 shooting overall. But while being cold from the floor, Crawford and Johnson combined for (13) assists in what was a good ball movement game all around for the home team (27 assists).

Some for you and some for you

As good as the Warriors were, the Hawks were better due to using their strength. In a similar look at the Hawks prowess when hitting the 50/50/75/less than 10 turnover objectives they produced against Golden State, the Hawks have won both times they accomplished the same this season. This first was the home win against Toronto and the other was the recent win at Utah.

We're confused how Stephen Curry "only" averages 15.6 points per game overall in the league as he went over thirty points (31) against against the Hawks for the second game in a row. Curry put (32) in against the Hawks in Oakland and did it both times while shooting over (50) percent (13-18/11-19). Curry dished out (11) assists while committing (7) of the Warriors (11) turnovers on the night, all while doing what THHB calls "pitching a complete game"--playing all (48) minutes. No Hawk has done that since the '07-'08 season when, surprise, Joe Johnson played every minute against the Bulls in a 103-94 loss in Chicago. It was Curry's 4th complete game of the year.

Enjoy the highlights:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

THHB Special Commentary: Context

The AJC's excellent Michael Cunningham pleads with the Hawks fans and its bloggers in his piece this afternoon.

Money Quote:

I’d expect there to be more joy and optimism even among my blog people, who aren’t the casual fans glancing at the standings and saying “Hey, the Hawks are ballin!” but instead wring their hands over all the things they see wrong with their squad. Love ya for that, and I understand this is a place for you to dog your no-good family among family while bitterly defending them against outsiders (that’s not just my family, is it?). But your team is in the East mix so please try to have some fun.

Now, I don't know exactly who he is referring to, but it's safe to say that all in the Hawks Blogging Nation have focused on the endgame/destination versus the ride getting there at quite a few points in the season.

So let me say that Michael, to that end, I assure you that, as the one who is documenting a horrible decade in Hawks basketball and was on-site witness to most of those disasters, it is definitely a joy to be debating, analyzing, and recapping the ins and outs of a playoff bound team.

Even as I was on The Bill Shanks Show today, it was important to note that we are talking about a team who is in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference, have been assured a playoff spot since the first week of the season, and only recently lamented the exclusion of a THIRD Hawk on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

Still, as we also mentioned on Shanks' show, married with our excitement of the relevance and success of our favored team, there is the understanding of where this team can go and the associated frustration with the shortcomings that threaten to prevent the team from achieving that destination.

This is where we find the blogs, fans, and even national pundits---we've clarified where the Hawks are and how they got here, now what's the next step and what's keeping them from getting there. Players aren't satisfied with stopping at a certain level of success---unless that stop includes a championship ring on your finger. And it's no different for the people that watch and support the team as well.

Utah Jazz fans should do somersaults about the run they have had with Jerry Sloan since the 80's---but should that prevent them, the beats that cover them, or the Jazz themselves for wanting, working towards, and discussing what can get them to the ultimate prize?

We have context, but that won't stop us from looking beyond that spot for the next one. We celebrate the achievements of this team, even on a night to night basis--but we also understand there is more there and what a shame it would be if they never got to the ultimate place that their talent says they can go.

So the fans are going to come out to the games and yelp when Josh Smith does something amazing, when Joe Johnson applies his late game killer sauce to his opponent, while wanting the team to continue to improve and calling them out when they repeat the same mistakes.

Hoopinion will continue to document Josh Smith's inability to make jump shots as he is celebrating the reduction of those same shots that have resulted in Smith's rise to greatness this season.

Hawkstr8talk will tinker with lineups, trying to get the most out of the Hawks for (48) minutes as his goal is always the championship.

Peachtree Hoops will bounce off the walls in both excitement and frustration from minute to minutes with his team.

CoCo will continue to dish out the hard love, and be there for a hug as well.

Soaring Down South will continue to analyze and communicate his view of this Hawks team and, like the rest of us, try to understand how they can get to the next level---while enjoying this one on the way.

After all, this is probably a (50) win Hawks team who is going to enjoy first round home court advantage in the playoffs for the second straight year. They have crossed off a number of "sinces" from the beginning of the season forward in their path to this success.

In contrast, (10) years ago Isaiah Rider was giving a farewell press conference in the bowels of Philips Arena with a fishing cap on his head.

Times are most definitely better.