While others may be making their final summations of the Atlanta Hawks 2008-2009 season, we still feel like making the argument.
When looking for where to improve the team, examples have been abundant in this "series" with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who wrapped up the Hawks' bouquet of second round futility by tossing them aside 84-74 to sweep in (4) games, none of which even creased single digits in margin of defeat.
We ask you, the people of the NBA court, to look at the facts that surround the Game Four loss and hear our argument one more time, points that have been made all season long, in this space and in others (better, even) like it.
As if needing another fish-in-the-face reminder, the Hawks offense was again woeful, scoring (74) points on a night when they were way above average from the free throw line (26-30). Brick after brick, contested and uncontested, the Hawks literally shot themselves dead Monday night. Mike Bibby (1-6), Flip Murray (4-15), Marvin Williams (1-7), and Joe Johnson (7-18) contributed to the miserable (31) percent shooting night.
As the Hawks launched their defensive effort to limit the visitors, they found that there were no amount of stops that could overcome their pitiful offense. During the two main stretches of the second half, when the Cavs were unable to get things going offensively, the Hawks failed to gain any ground.
When CLE made (2) shots in the first four minutes of the third quarter, the Hawks countered by hitting none. And then when CLE scored a measly (11) points in the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter, including the gift of five turnovers (w/THREE shot clock violations), the Hawks could only muster a push of the same: (11) points.
As we continue to build the case against the offense for the season, Game Four once again showed that a team can not live by jump shots and one-on-one moves. Inside presence is needed, in the post, on the drive/penetration, and then back out. Breaking down your opponents on the majority of possession works when you face lesser competition---but playing that way in the playoffs makes you the inferior team.
We will hear about the injuries, but as we have shown, even when healthy this pattern has held true, resonating in both the road record and the record against the top teams in the league.
Losing Al Horford hurts on the defensive glass, but that argument doesn't hold even a drop of water on the offensive end, where the Hawks routinely chose to avoid Horford in favor of the isolation game--and as such have relegated the former #3 pick in the draft to towel boy status on that end in most games. There wasn't even a consistent effort this season to zip the ball up the court to the often sprinting Horford when healthy, so we're not optimistic the spinner would have landed on The Godfather's number at all even if he had been (100) percent for Game Four.
With so many errant shots by the Birds, it's no wonder that the Cavs smushed the Hawks against the glass again, outrebounding the gracious hosts 48-33. CLE had no game in this run against ATL in which they didn't outpace the Hawks by at least (8) boards.
It was fitting that, as the Hawks were trying desperately with (2) minutes left to make a final stand and cut the then-five point lead down, they got beat to the defensive rebound three straight times and then got buried underneath a Mo Williams three. That one possession ate up half the remaining time on the season, all hope of obtaining even a single win, and showed how far the Hawks have to go to understand the fundamental value of positioning oneself to protect the defensive glass.
Finally, the HHB honors the work that Mike Bibby has done in a season and a half with the Hawks. To a franchise that has been saddled with less-than-stellar (feeling generous!) players logging major minutes at the game's pivotal position, having Bibby's offensive and playmaking acumen has been a big reason why the Hawks realized a (10) game improvement this season.
The major flaw in Bibby's game has been his man defense---and CLE (as most bonafide teams will do) exploited it to the hilt. Bibby's "team high" (-16) in only (30) minutes of floor time is a good indicator of what we all have observed and commented on for the same season and a half Mike has been here. It's not a matter of desire with Bibby--at this point, it's ability. Such a strain on a defense will expose it if the team isn't particularly adroit at rotation, which the Hawks are not.
We can appreciate that a team like Cleveland is very good and they have made many teams look as feeble as the Hawks did over the last (4) games. However, to bow to excellence does not vindicate or validate a flawed approach to the fundamental tenets of good team basketball. The Hawks have borderline flaunted these almost to a man (that's coaches, too) in the organ-i-zation throughout the season and should see that in order to really "improve", a change in approach is needed in these key areas.
If we are to believe, and by the sheer volume of time it was referenced--they really want us to, that the team learned many great things from their (7) game loss in last year's Boston series, then we must hope that lessons will be taken from this experience as well. To continue to stick the franchise's collective head in the sand will only bring these issues out again next year, as we're not particularly good at ignoring the obvious and no matter how much older this young core will get, the results, if unchecked, will remain the same.