Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dispensing With Formalities

THHB loves roller coasters.

They go up, down, upside down, and really fast.

So, it seems we love and follow the right team.

This season the Hawks spin themselves to deliriously delicious heights with terrific execution on both ends, but then our stomach drops when the team falls back into some destructive habits and so on until we arrive back at the station with either a win or loss. This season, there have been many smiles after the train has pulled up.

The 96-83 win at home Friday night over the Utah Jazz gave the home fans maybe the most dominant defensive stretch we've seen in the Mike Woodson era certainly, and maybe we've ever seen.

From the tip, the Hawks appeared to anticipate every pass the Jazz were about to make, stealing pass after pass, deflecting balls, and generally making the back cutting Utah team irrelevant for the entirety of the starters time on the floor. In doing so, it kept the Jazz as a jump shooting team who was stuck isolating to create shots and in turn had a miserable night. This from a team that is Top 10 in offensive efficiency and Effective FG% and Top 3 in assists per game (despite rocking a top 10 slowest pace rate).

Consider that a fully healthy Deron Williams joined the Frustrated Hawks Opponent Stars Club (too wordy?) founded this season by Chris Bosh, by shooting a brutal 1-8 with (4) assists and (4) turnovers. Carlos Boozer was swallowed up by the Hawks All-Star caliber front court, doubling Williams' field goals (2) but also contributing (4) turnovers with his (6) points.

We didn't check, but we're pretty sure the Jazz lose all games where Deron and Booze combine for less than (10) points total. Ok, make that very sure.

The suffocation was a total team effort, but led by the team's signature player---Josh Smith. Smith covered the Jazz passing lanes like Deion Sanders, and then soared down the court for a couple of easy 3-pt plays as the Hawks were firmly establishing that there would be no Jazz festival at Philips Arena.

Smith nearly pulled off a rare 5 X 5 with his (16) point, (8) rebounds, (5) assist, (5) steal, and (2) block night. Might have happened too, but the Hawks blitzed the Jazz starters so completely that, for the second time in a row a coach pulled his starters in the third quarter, never to return again, leaving all Hawks starters below (30) minutes.

Another brief game meant that while Joe Johnson got more rest than he has ever likely had while healthy, it cost him a shot at a luxury statistical item as well, the triple-double. Johnson rang up (9) rebounds and (7) assists with his (12) points against a single turnover.

The Hawks hardly took advantage early on as, after jumping out to a quick double digit lead, they fell into the jump shooting trap and allowed the Jazz to gather momentum as the bench underproduced relative to their usual stellar efforts. However after the full starters returned, so did the energy and the momentum. After the Hawks returned from a halftime break that saw them up by (10), they took it upon themselves to make sure the game was no longer in doubt by the time the third quarter was over.

In that third quarter, the Hawks scored (17) fast break points alone and overwhelmed the visitors by a 37-17 margin. It was a clinic in how not to play against Atlanta--settling for jump shots and not getting back to stop the tidal wave of ATLiens rushing towards the hoop. It was a stunning display that served to whet all Bird Watchers appetites of what could be when this team revs up the defensive machine.

We've long stated it: All scoring runs start and are sustained through defensive effort. It triggers long rebounds, turnovers, and in turn--easy basket opportunities. The Hawks delivered even when being locked into a half court game with some terrific ball movement which led to such a number of open shots that Jerry Sloan had to be wondering what he was watching from his team. Their team was so discombobulated that Deron Williams played through Sloan's attempt to call a time out. He missed a shot, went down to the other end and got a rebound and this time yielded to his coach's desire for a stoppage of play. He and the rest of the starters would not return.

So When Do We Give The Bench a Break?

We could nit pick and describe how the remainder of the (17) minutes were spent watching the Hawks bench play so poorly that the Jazz got the game back down to the final margin, but just because the other Hawks played like they wanted to join the starters on the sidelines for the company Christmas party doesn't mean we'll spend time analyzing that. They have been terrific all season and, hey, maybe they're overworked.

If you haven't seen Jeff Teague's block of Wesley Matthews' layup, you should check it out in the NBA recap embedded below. Good times.

Off to Chicago to hopefully continue to take advantage of the dysfunction junction that the Bulls have been thus far this season--and a team the Hawks leveled by (35) the last time the teams hooked up.

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