Saturday, October 31, 2009

Grinding in the Hightlight Factory

For those of you hoping to see some "in action" looks or screen caps of folks dancing to the Sprite Jam Cam at Philips Arena or some Kiss Cam "After Dark"  footage---we do apologize for our misleading title.

For those who watched the Hawks 100-89 win over the visiting Washington Wizards, you know exactly what we're talking about.

There are games when everything clicks, folks are on the same page, and every choice that's made is the right one. This was not one of those games for the Birds.

Sure, the Wizards never truly challenged after the Hawks spotted their guests a 15-5 lead, but with Antawn Jamison out, Caron Butler getting hurt and not playing the second half, Gilbert Arenas turning the ball over (7) times, and Flip Saunders deciding to play Nick Young and bury JaVale McGee until too late, the game was there for the Hawks to salt away long before all doubt was erased. It was reckless play by the home team that allowed the game to be even the margin that it was.

After the Hawks climbed out of that temporary hole behind Jamal Crawford's excellent (15) point first half off the bench, the team dropped their sharp play for something more out-of-sync. The result was a number of missed opportunities on the break, poor shot selection by just about everyone on the floor, and a precipitous drop in offensive shooting percentage due to a high percentage of standing around in the third quarter.

Joe Johnson couldn't get things to drop early, or middle, or late. And because the rest of the team was floundering as well (41 percent for the game after shooting around 47 percent for the first half), Joe began to force things and, as a result, sent the team further down the rathole in that third quarter, scoring only (17) points for the entirety. Even defensively the wheels began to come off as the Hawks' big men stopped moving their feet and began to slap at passing Wizards. Heck, Joe Smith even got whistled for fouling McGee---when he was shooting backwards.

The saving grace for the Birds was at the foul line, where the Wizards couldn't make 'em and the Hawks couldn't miss. Atlanta shot a whopping (91) percent from the foul line (31-34) while Washington shot managed on (64) percent (14-22). The Hawks even made a dead ball free throw (gasp!).

It wasn't as if they didn't want to or weren't trying, they struggled to get things in gear. In the fourth quarter, the guys would put together 30-40 seconds of good basketball every so often, just enough to keep the Wizards at arm's length. The grinding noise of the Hawks offense could be heard even with the Official HDTV of THHB muted.

The best of these moments came just under five minutes to play when Josh Smith drove the basketball and dished to Al Horford who slammed it home then (16) seconds later, after Josh's 900th career blocked shot (an Arenas 3-attempt and his first block of the game), Mike Bibby lobbed a ball towards the basket, a pass so high that only Josh could corral it and complete the flush, which he did.


More Josh Smith---More:

Regarding Smith's 900th block--in doing so he became the fastest to reach that milestone, breaking Shaq's old record. Take that, Cleve-land!

We've said it before, when Smith drives to the hoop we expect the ball to fall in--he has become one of the best in the league at finishing. Even with the Wizards tall, strong frontcourt and all the shot blockers, Smith found a way to finish. It's like a celestial compromise the basketball gods are making with the young man---just stop shooting jumpers and go to the hoop---and we promise we'll do all we can to guide it in---it's the score and one more!

Maybe it was just us (likely), but when Josh picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, he looked foul heading to the bench, but not in the sulking, brooding way we may have seen in years past, but in a "aw, heyazz no" way that we noted Smith seemed irritated and that the Wizards may have done something to wake him up. That Smith had (9) points, (2) boards, and his only two blocked shots in the final quarter may not qualify as dominant, but he definitely made his presence felt in a way he hadn't during the other (3) quarters of the game.


Tight Rims

While The Backcourt struggled to shoot straight (8-25), they kept things going in the other stat columns (10 boards, 13 assists, 3 turnovers)--but it's a reminder that the Hawks can't rely on the jump shot to win games. The Hawks pulled away when they went to the rim and made things happen that way--- a big reason why they went to the line as much as they did.

Al Horford drew back a little offensively tonight---as he tends to do against much larger defenders. He rushed a few shots around the basket and finished with a 4-11 night from the field. The one time he did take it strong in the first half was right at the end, when he got the ball in the block, turned toward the lane and put a hook in the hoop, sending the Hawks to a (14) point halftime lead.

BTW, we've got inside information that Zaza Pachulia even looks for contact on the pre-game layup line. Oh, there were opportunities for Zaza to make a bucket (he was 0-1 with 4 made free throws), but he didn't have the slightest interest in all that nonsense---it's all about the whistle with Zaza, baby.

Not Quite Yet, But Who Knows?

We previewed the game tonight by noting the abundance of prognosticators that see the Wizards at least as the Hawks equal .We also stated that, while this game was a good litmus test for both teams, it's shouldn't be a "told you so" game either way.

Afterwards we have to say it was a let down in that regard. With Jamison out, Butler getting hurt, and Flip Saunders obviously still getting to know his personnel, the Hawks could see a much different team the next time they host Washington on January 13th, rendering this game just another notch on the win or loss column, and little else.

We don't know why, but if JaVale McGee was healthy enough to play (10) minutes, he should have played more. THHB is not a fan of the token starter (cough--Royal Ivey--cough), so we have to question why Fabricio Oberto not only started, but played more minutes than McGee--who seems to always be a thorn in the flesh of the Hawks. Between McGee and Andray Blatche, they were menaces to the Hawks society.

And while we're at it, congrats to the Wizards to holding Mike Miller to (5) shots, in (32) minutes no less, while Nick Young saw fit to launch (8) in (12) minutes, which all missed.

THHB sees glory in a 2-0 start, and looks forward to the upcoming 3am recaps during their upcoming West Coast swing. All caffeinated beverages should be routed quickly through the concierge in the Comments Area.

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