The Atlanta Hawks wiped out the Denver Nuggets earlier in the season in Atlanta---and Wednesday night the Nuggets returned the favor.
When the teams played last, JR Smith and Kenyon Martin did not, with Smith serving a suspension. In their 124-104 blitz of the Hawks in Denver, JR Smith was making up for lost time.
Smith became the epitome of the player who is "on fire"--making a back breaking (10) three pointers in a Kama Sutra like variety of poses and left the Hawks, who worked hard at trying to overcome an early lapse, panting and eventually waving the white flag of defeat.
To win on the road against a club that is actually winning, you must protect your possessions offensively and make teams miss defensively. Early on, it was clear the Hawks were not on the right tracks.
The Hawks came out and found an energetic Nugget defense who was more than willing to dare the Hawks to take jump shots, of which the Hawks made some early and then tailed off considerably. Meanwhile, Denver was busy getting to the rim and softening up the Hawks defensive underbelly. In a coincidentally bad merging of events, the Hawks seemed gun shy defensively after being in severe foul trouble the night before in Minnesota, allowing any size Nugget a free shot inside the paint. In fact, it was reported before the game by James Verrett that Woodson told his guys not to "pick up fouls" as a result of the issues in the previous game.
So as the Hawks missed jump shots the Nuggets, who allowed the Hawks only (6) offensive rebounds for the game, got into transition and blistered the Hawks to establish an early lead. In fact, despite the long range bombing and general jump shooting prowess of the Nuggets on the night, the home team outscored the #2 team in the league of total points in the paint 50-40 inside.
The Hawks continued to work, but never were able to galvanize their defense long enough to make a significant run. The Nuggets simply outdid the Hawks in almost every category---they shot better, rebounded more, had more assists, and easily won the turnover battle (15-8). That's a recipe for protecting home court--well, that and a Dennis Scott like eruption from Smith--and it's not the formula for road success against playoff teams.
The defensive malaise, fraidy-cat, and laissez-faire approach Al Horford and Josh Smith took to the defensive end stung the Hawks. Smith still ended up with (5) fouls and Horford had (2)---glad they didn't foul out---whew!
Maurice Evans, who has played very well so far this season, made his first shot of the night---and then proceeded to put up a string of very bad shots, one so bad it hit the side of the backboard. Soon after that Evans hurt his head and then picked up a technical. As Woodson mercifully pulled Mo from the game, it was clear Evans, while sitting on the bench now, asked Woodson "Why did you take me out of the game?" Woodson turned and gave an unknown response to which the coach turned and shook his head incredulously. Not a good game for Mo.
Joe Johnson was eliminated from this game by the Nuggets double-team strategy. THHB thought the team had graduated to the point where the Hawks made teams pay for such strategy, but again the Hawks were lured into making them pay with outside shots from Marvin Williams, Evans, and Mike Bibby, who were not nearly as hot as Mr. JR Smith (2-10 combined vs 10-17 for Smith). The Hawks weren't completely addicted to the three, but were cold enough from the outside for the Nuggets to make them pay every time they missed.
In conjunction with that, we would like to see Marvin take advantage of his length and strength and take it inside more when the ball swings around to him. Too often Marvin seems to have 10 yards of daylight in front of him but goes ahead and takes the lower percentage shot. We know he can get to the line--just ask Larry Brown last season--but Marvin seems to have it in his head that he is a spot shooter---and that just doesn't do his talent the most justice. His new range should be used to lure defenses out so he can whip by them and get better shots, not the other way around.
Meaningless stat or Harbinger of Doom?
The Hawks are now 2-5 in games where they attempt (21) 3-pointers or more which, if our University of Florida education still holds up, means that they are 18-3 in games where they shoot under (21) threes a game. (Hey, the math works--we still got it!)
Here Comes Santa Claus Right Down the Middle of the Lane
Offensively, Al Horford played a great game (18 points to go with 11 rebounds) and the Hawks should have taken their time and run the offense through Al more tonight. (We know--don't stop us even if you've heard that before.) Horford was 7-9 and had good matchups--Al is only less effective (read: rushes shots and moves) against taller guys--Nene and Chris Andersen were neither tall enough (Nene) or strong enough (Andersen) to stop Horford, and while the Hawks weren't ignoring that channel as much as in years past, they weren't dedicated to that approach either. Going to that early on instead of taking the jump shot bait (fool's good as The Namesake calls it.) might have changed the tenor of the game.
The Hawks didn't play too badly---just not efficient enough on either end to beat a hot shooting winning team in their house. Better luck next time, eh?
THHB wishes everyone a marvelous Christmas Vacation and we'll see you all after the Indiana game on Saturday. Merry Christmas!