Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Margin of Error

The road win.

It's one of the more cherished pieces of the NBA season---a statistical mirror into a team's growth and their standing in the league.

You can see the curve: A bad team can hardly hold their own home court, much less get away from that comfort zone to pluck victory from another team's home. A better team will begin to hold it's own and then measure themselves as to their own advancement by seeing how many times they can invade enemy territory and come away with the "W". Growing teams start by hitting the road and beating lesser teams and go from there. A win against an established upper level team on their own home court is a badge of progression; a trophy of their own development as a team and franchise.

To acquire one of these treasures, teams have to play more mistake free than ever, and must be mentally sound to avoid even the slightest of lapses in team concentration, lest their efforts previously in the game be rendered moot.

As the Atlanta Hawks hit such a road journey last Sunday, they faced the toughest of foes, the defending champs, and put their progression as a team to the test. All it took was a span of 4 1/2 minutes in the 3rd quarter of that game to undo the other 40+ minutes of basketball. In that time, the Hawks had (9) possessions and turned it over (5) times, yielding (7) layups or dunks on the other end.

In the chase for that road win, especially against quality competition, the type the Hawks struggled against last season, such a stretch of basketball will always equate to a loss. A lapse that is so extended and so fruitful for the opposition is to hard to overcome.

Tuesday night, in Portland, such recent history threatened to repeat itself.

The Hawks came out and allowed the Blazers to move freely and get open looks while doing none of that on the offensive end themselves. Such play led to an early Portland double digit lead and us to wonder if the Birds had it in them to tighten things up and get back in front of the game.

For the remainder of the half, the Hawks fought back through the power of the bench, using the energy of Jamal Crawford and Zaza Pachulia to weave in with the starters to begin to build momentum and chip away at the Blazer lead, leaving the Hawks down a single point at the half.

Throughout the second half, the score went back and forth, but it was seldom that the Hawks lost their focus, the type of lapse that had cost them the Laker game two days prior. The Hawks attacked more as the game wore on, using their speed to get out in front of the Blazer frontcourt (Greg Oden, Joel, Przybilla) and get a couple of easy baskets along the way. The defensive rebounding effort was sound and helped lead to those running opportunities as Al Horford overcame an uneven offensive night by leading the Hawks effort on the glass (11 defensive rebounds, 13 total).

Ardent Bird Watchers as we are, THHB wasn't sure whether the Hawks could pull off the win until deep into the fourth quarter. But, with every Crawford play (6 points, 4 assists in the final Q), Horford finish (6 fourth Q points) and with Joe Johnson applying the killer sauce to the closing recipe (2 critical answer shots in the last two minutes), we were made to believe---as were the Blazers.

The tasty result? The sweet pastry known as the road win--coveted, appreciated, and in the case of the Hawks 97-91 win in Portland---well deserved.

(Check back here for player breakdowns and more THHB commentary later including our take on the Crawford's impact on the game and what it might mean moving forward.)

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