A single game ago the Hawks played a team (Toronto) not known for good defense and they exploited them to perfection, gaining 30+ assists, moving the ball, attacking the rim, and playing enough defense to win the game easily.
To begin on Friday night, Atlanta appeared to be in the frame of mind to do it again, hopping out to an 11-0 start against the hated Knicks.
And then---they did the opposite.
Defense ceased to exist, allowing Chris Duhon and Al Harrington to put up grotesque productive numbers in the first half against a team that allegedly cares about defense. The Hawks found themselves watching the ball fall through their defensive basket over and over again with little sense of urgency to affect change on the matter.
As often happens in those scenarios, the Hawks followed those baskets by walking the ball up the court, dribbling with a defender sleeping comfortably in front of them and then taking ridiculous jump shots and forced shots. The shot clock would often wind down before someone would lob a well defended (hold your chuckles, Knicks fans--it happened) attempt at the hoop. Forget that nobody on the Knicks even poses as a shot blocker, the Hawks did the opposite of what you would expect a team to do in such a situation.
Then, explicably, Josh Smith began to be enamored with his second favorite basketball vice, the complaint. After making a tough shot with a slight bit of contact, he blew up at Bob Delaney, earning him a technical foul. The Hawks were so de-focused as a team that they allowed Smith to continue to unleash venom at Delaney to the point where his services were rendered disqualified for the rest of the night. So on a night where the Knicks were ramming the ball down the Hawks' throat offensively, Atlanta's strongest lane deterrent chose obscenities over participation. The other Hawks seemed amused by this, but THHB was not. Not by Smith's actions, nor his teammates inaction.
In the second half, the Hawks flipped the script and did the opposite from the first half, turning up the defensive pressure and holding the Knicks down significantly enough to erase a double digit halftime deficit. With the good defense came easier shots on offense as the ball moved freely and the Hawks attacked the lane, often making the shots or at least getting to the line.
Much of this was due to Al Horford, who played outstanding defense on Harrington in the second half, moving his feet exquisitely to defend and confound the Knicks' scorer.
So Bird Watchers everywhere should assume that the Hawks, now with their beaks on straight on how to conquer this game, would begin to pull away.
But once again, they did the opposite.
There was less defense, more isolation, more forced shots, certainly less made baskets.
With Josh Smith safely showered and out of the game for the Hawks due to his petulance, and Horford having to stay outside on Harrington, the Knicks picked and rolled their way down the lane, often scoring without so much as a cursory check from the other Hawks to see the Knicks' lane pass. It's a shock to see the Hawks have (2) blocked shots when they average 6+ per game and the Knicks were shooting inside so much (60 points in the paint).
So even though the Hawks outscored the Knicks in the paint, had fewer turnovers (12-6), and outrebounded the visitors (42-38, 18-7 on the offensive glass), the Hawks still lost by (7) at home because they allowed an amazingly hospitable (58!) percent shooting and took (23) 3-pt attempts themselves.
Why the Hawks felt like shooting more threes than their average (23 vs 19) against a team that doesn't block shots or even defend well is puzzling.
Well, unless you consider that they learned what it took to put away a lesser team that doesn't play defense against Toronto---and then did the opposite.
There, it all makes sense.
THHB wishes to return the birthday gift of this loss at home to the hated, hated Knicks and their ATL fans. You can come in, but there is nothing left but blown out candles in the Comments Area.
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