Thursday, December 17, 2009

Grizzlies Surrender to Hawks

Folks might say that nobody would have any business taking issue with anything in a 110-97 win at home over the Memphis Grizzlies. After all, Memphis was coming into the game winning some road games, including a destruction in Miami, and they also played quite well against Boston though eventually bowing. OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay, and noted Hawk Hater Zach Randolph had turned the Grizzlies into a mild surprise in the season thus far.

Our issue is simple (and facetious): The Hawks are making it look too easy.

Not that THHB is complaining, as we have seen quite often over time that the home team can make things way more interesting than it needed to be. Recently, however, the Hawks have been handling these types of games (Toronto, New Jersey) and giving the starters a lot of rest late in the games. That's a good thing.

Against the Grizzlies, the Hawks took it to another level. They made Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins feel so defeated that he conceded the game when the lead reached (20) for the first time. This bit of generosity is common during the holiday season, but not often in an NBA game, where runs are common and quitting when there is 8 1/2 minutes left in a game seems a little premature.

Hollins threw in the towel too early, especially considering THHB didn't feel as if the Grizzlies weren't giving the effort needed to win--in fact we felt the Hawks coasted quite a bit throughout this game and it was Memphis that was outworking the Birds in general.

The only Hawk really playing somewhat above par was Joe Johnson, who was definitely on Wednesday night, scoring (26) in (28) minutes and pitched in (8) rebounds, (3) assists, and a pair of steals as well.

But overall the first teams were fairly evenly matched---the Hawks really struggled keeping Mike Conley in front of them and Randolph logged a quick double-double. Toss in that the Grizz energy combined with the Hawks lacking the desire to get out of third gear and the Hawks racked up some quick turnovers. It was the difference in the second teams that gave the Hawks an edge--as it has often this season.

Gay and Conley left the game with 2:25 left in the third quarter and the lead was (12). Randolph left the game soon after and the lead was (15). For these guys not to even sniff the fourth quarter was surprising, even with lead breaching (20) with 10:19 to play.

This is the NBA, after all, and as Rick Mahorn once snorted to us, twenty points is only ten possessions, at most--and with the quick pace and runs teams go on in the NBA, it's not insurmountable even with that much time left. The Grizzlies would have (23) more possessions after the Grizzlies starters left for good.

We've shared it before, but noted statistician Bill James authored a cute way to determine if a lead is safe in college basketball. Putting this lead into his formula with the amount of time and possession, the lead the Hawks had was only (74) percent safe.

Mike Woodson was clearly eager to acknowledge Hollins' white flag of surrender, because he quickly dispatched Randolph Morris and Othello Hunter to seal the deal.

With both teams emptying the benches, the Grizzlies got the lead down to (14) with 4:39 left. But whatever lesson Lionel was teaching, he ensured that the class would continue and the Hawks were on their way to another light minute game for the starters.

It was strange to watch as there was a general, "Hey, did somebody call this game and we missed it?" feel to the middle of the fourth quarter. We watched thinking maybe someone will wake up and realize there is a lot of basketball left to be played, but apparently both sides were satisfied with the terms of the game and it's inevitable result.

Nobody on our side is complaining (not really), but we can imagine more than a few Memphis fans (and players) are wondering what's up.

When a Blowout Doesn't Feel Like a Blowout

As we stated, nothing about this game felt like the Hawks were dominating. Yes, the Hawks did appear the more polished offensive engine as they got great shots but missed some open looks and layups early on, but the early turnovers showed that the Hawks were not in full throttle action in this game.

The times that they did appear on top of their game were when they ran--and run they did. The Hawks had (31) fast break points and they ran the 3-man break like the teams from the 80's did. Quick outlets, good passes, and easy buckets were a tasty roundball smoothie--the best of which was a Zaza Pachulia led break in which he served up a perfect oop to Al Horford. Yum!

Mentioning the bench, it was their efforts that broke the game up in some runs (12-0 in the second quarter, 20-10 to end the third) after the starting units had drawn near even early on. The execution on both ends when the Hawks have their second unit on is playoff caliber. Same plays, same effort---this is what wears other teams out--as long as the Hawks keep their collective pedals down, other teams will struggle with the depth of athleticism to match.

It didn't mean the starters stunk (Smith with (4) blocks--Horford with his own double-double) just that there was an absence of outstanding save for Johnson--and that's odd considering the blowout treatment the fourth quarter received.

The Hawks were patient, maybe even too laid back at times, but ran when Memphis handed them the ball (20 turnovers) leading to (33) points. Between this and Joe Johnson's strong night the Hawks made their case to Memphis that they should just quit trying to win.

And so they did.

THHB doesn't advocate forfeiture--unless you're the one doing the forfeiting, then we're onboard. All the wins you can hand us can be stuffed into the night slot in the Comments Area.


BA said...

That oop from Pachulia to Horford was unbelievable. And Josh Smith was a one-man wrecking crew defensively- 4 blocks, who knows how many tips...

Jason Walker said...

You're right BA--Should have mentioned a little more strongly that Josh Smith seemed like he was standing particularly taller than the Grizzlies.

The play where he pestered Zach Randolph on the outside near midcourt, nearly got a steal, then let him go toward the hoop as Smith snuck around the backdoor to block his shot was fun to watch in a way that it's funny as long as it's not your shot he's bird-dogging like that.