Thursday, November 19, 2009

Making A List, Checking it Ten Times (So Far)

Going into Wednesday night's divisional tilt against last year's first round nemesis, the Miami Heat, the Hawks showed the East's best record at 9-2. To post such a mark the Birds have been following a winning formula, one they wished to continue to use to add yet another win to the ledger.

How did the Hawks do? Let's check the recipe.

I Was Told There Would Be No Math

(Color Key: Green means Good, Red means Bad)

1. Take care of the defensive glass.

Both Josh Smith and Al Horford hit the glass for double digit rebounds to win the battle of the boards for the Hawks---and while the Heat ended the game with (9) offensive rebounds, two of those came late after the game was no longer in doubt.

Smith has (47) rebounds in his last three games, the most in any (3) game stretch in his career. Yummy.

2. Josh Smith stays true to his new found form (active, aggressive, under control).

In addition to Smith's (14) rebounds, Smith had (7) assists, (2) blocks, and a pair of steals. Oh, he scored (16) points as well and despite getting attacked inside every time he got in the paint, he maintained good control and was still able to finish showing patience inside.

Defensively Smith was active and aggressive going after many shots. We have to believe now that last year's dip in blocked shot percentage was significantly impacted by his early season injury. In the game tonight, Smith made a great athletic play as he stuffed a Jermaine O'Neal layup attempt, took the ball down the court and when he found little resistance, he finished the break with his right hand on a layup. Splendid.

He did teeter at times however, getting a technical foul over a call he felt he didn't get and attempting a couple of insane passes. But in total it was a Josh Smith performance that one might hope (pray) be called typical at some point this season.

3. Use Joe Johnson to lock down the other team's best perimeter player.

The difference between Johnson and other team's best players is that Joe is often used in exactly this capacity. Dwyane Wade entered Philips Arena with a 23-game streak of scoring (20) or more points. Wade left sporting a 6 for 18 night and a broken streak, mainly due to a steady diet of "uh-uh" from Joe and constant attention from Joe's teammates.

Wade was never a positive factor in the game and though he leads the league in free throws attempted per game (12.5), he shot a mere (2) for the whole game. This was due in part to Joe's ability to stay in front of Wade and the Hawks' strategy of getting the ball out of his hands quickly by sending solicitors to Wade's dribbling door. Out of sync and unable to get inside, Wade stayed around the perimeter and therefore also off the free throw line.

4. Use Joe Johnson as a lethal offensive weapon.

Johnson became the 6th player in (11) games to score over (30) points against Miami, using an 11-21/5-11 game to do it. Whereas Johnson covered Wade like a blanket, Joe found himself way more open than a shooter of his caliber should be, assisting his efficient shooting night.

5. Get a lot of points in the paint.

The Hawks scored a strong amount of points inside, despite the Heat collapsing inside on many occasions to keep Smith and Horford from easy hoops. The Hawks ended with (44) points in the paint and while that below their raw number average (54), it was enough to be able to play inside-out basketball very well to which the team's 8-20 three point shooting can attest.

Horford, Smith, and Marvin Williams all collected 3+ offensive rebounds, helping improve the PIP number. Williams sported another negative +/- night, but showed signs of life by being active inside--finishing with a season high (14) points.

6. Take care of the ball.

The Hawks came into the game 3rd in raw turnovers per game and also 3rd in turnover %. Eight turnovers later the Hawks showed themselves again what can be accomplished by not wasting possessions.

Tell Us We're Not Dreaming

With all the boxes checked, and in spite of a (21) point game for Michael Beasley and a 9-21 game in 3-pointers for Miami, the Hawks fairly easily dispatched the Heat 105-90.

With their current approach, the team is rolling right now, earning a lot of respect and adulation in the tiny NBA world---all without a "superstar" to spotlight.

10-2, atop the NBA, and near the top of every meaningful NBA category, the Hawks have relevance in a way they haven't enjoyed since the 11-0 start of 97-98 season, which happens to be the last time the Hawks won (50) games in a season.

But while they are enjoying similar statistical glory as their 90's brethren, this team is doing it in a much more exciting manner. Where the Lenny Wilkens coached teams won, their style was rather bland and garnered little enthusiasm (in context---we realize it's better than losing. Really. We know.). This team, especially when the wheels are rolling, is exciting to watch on both ends, due to the athleticism of Horford and Smith and the precision and timely shooting of The Backcourt.

If they keep on keeping on and remember the things that they are doing that is allowing this terrific run, and keep their heads on straight when teams adjust or throw odd things at them to slow them down, they will be following their checklist right on into the postseason.

THHB marvels at how strong the team looks. Pinching and other forms of dream-checking are allowed--but only in the Comments Area.


CoCo said...

Gotta love this! Will you be making it to any games this season?

Jason Walker said...

Absolutely. Right now the travel schedule is taking me away from the ATL, but rest assured, there will be some in-house reports from THHB (if I can still get in the door over there).