Sunday, January 31, 2010

ATL-MCO Game Review: The Curse of the Red Jerseys

Call it crazy--but the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night in Orlando dropped their fifth game in seven with their alternate red ATL jerseys in play.

Oh sure, you can tell us that if the Hawks had the regular away jerseys on that Dwight Howard would still have scored 31 points and 19 rebounds and the Magic would still have pulled away from a Hawks team that was scratching and clawing to stay in the game in the first half anyway---but we'd still think otherwise. Definitely the jerseys

The Hawks came in after their season sweep of the Celtics and added another piece to a potential sweep involving Orlando--just not in the best way for the good guys. Unlike other games against Orlando, the Hawks actually got out of the gate good early; challenging the Magic inside offensively and making the Magic miss inside defensively before fading as the second half wore on behind an avalanche of offensive stagnation.

The Hawks led 16-6 and all Hawks had scratched in the first half of the first quarter of the game, including Mike Bibby, who got on track with a couple of buckets in that run. But after the Magic took a timeout at that score and 5 1/2 minutes left, the Magic immediately did what they hadn't done much previous to that timeout: Get Dwight Howard the ball. After that timeout, the Magic finished out the quarter with a 15-2 run.

After that run, the Hawks lost whatever crispness they may have entered the game with. Ball movement became nil, allowing the Magic to build a wall around the rim, with Howard as foreman, and the Hawks faced tough, contested shots from any range. The Hawks did not make the Magic work for anything defensively, rather, they dribbled and tried to shoot over the wall instead of making the passes to make the Magic move defensively.

We heard the lament of the lack of free throws but, honestly, the Hawks did nothing to get the Magic to move out of defensive position, which would put them in a more likely position to foul. Instead, they were able to set their feet in plenty of time before the shot, and made the Hawks shoot over or around them. For this effort, the Hawks shot a miserable 15-35 (42 percent) within 10 feet of the basket.

"We wanted to come out and try to be aggressive," said Joe Johnson. "We didn't shoot really any free throws tonight. We never put any pressure on their defense and pretty much let them do anything they wanted to do. That's what I'm talking about being mentally tough--and we didn't have that tonight."

On the other end, the Magic did what the Hawks couldn't and moved the ball enough to get better/easier looks around the hoop for a 24-39 night (62 percent) within 10 feet.

Bad as it seemed throughout the first half, the Hawks were working hard enough to stay within a couple of possessions of thier hosts. In fact, the Hawks had worked the lead down to (2) on a Jamal Crawford leaner with less than (5) seconds left. After the Magic inbounded, Josh Smith set out to foul Jameer Nelson, given that the Hawks had a foul to give. Smith fouled Nelson, who instinctively went up for a shot, hoping for a shooting foul call--which he then received.

"I fouled him early, so I was thinking they were going to call before then," explained Smith. "Then I hit him again and that's when they called it. It was definitely a 3-pt play (when they called it), but I thought they were going to blow the whistle before he did it."

As the teams headed into the locker room, Woodson had some parting comments for the officials, comments which earned the Magic an additional free throw when play resumed in the second half.

Despite all of that--it felt like if the Hawks could just put (6) good minutes of basketball together at any point in the second half, that they could pull it out. Alas, it was the Magic that put that kind of run together, mostly behind their continued excellence on the defensive end, and the Hawks inability to do anything to pry them out of it.

"They do a good job packing it in," said Crawford of the Magic's defensive game plan and execution, especially in that third quarter. "Even when you get in there and penetrate, it's tough with all those bodies in there."

"I thought we were fatigued," said Coach Woodson regarding the third quarter offensive freeze. "I'm not blaming them on back-to-back games because everybody has them. If you watched the game from last night, I thought we played good defense, but tonight it was switched and they (Orlando) was the better defensive team tonight. I thought that was the difference in the game tonight."

"I thought we got a little worn down," agreed Al Horford, who had a mere (4) points and (4) rebounds against Howard. "The game before (against BOS Friday night) was really emotional. That's really no excuse--everyone goes through those kind of games. We have to get better at these kind of back-to-backs if we want to be a great team."

Cleanup on Aisle Former Division Leaders

The loss makes it more difficult for Woodson to lead the Eastern Conference All-Stars. Now, the Magic have to lose to Detroit and the C's lose to LA (via @hawksPRman on twitter). Woody didn't give any indication if this is important him, but it does for those who us who wish to speculate if Woody would sit any All-Star worrying about foul trouble.

J-Smoove blocked (4) shots in Orlando to bring him to (999) for his career. He will likely become the youngest to the mark while in Oklahoma City on the Hawks next game February 2nd.

THHB tried to remember when the Hawks have ever had a versatile player as tall as Ryan Anderson is. Peachtree Hoops nominates him (unofficially) as a Hawk Hater, which might be a position that's open on the Magic since the current holder of that distinction, Vince Carter, played only (22) minutes and struggled to get his (6) points. He was roundly booed early in the game and graduated to being tolerated as the Magic pulled away later. Welcome to Orlando, Vince! Anderson, meanwhile, unleashed his usual outside-inside game, scoring (16) points in (17) minutes including (2) three pointers and 5-6 at the rim.

The love that Magic fans have for JJ Redick is a little unnerving and rivals the man-love the fan base used to feel for "gritty, gutty" Scott Skiles. It's unknown, however, if the love will escalate to the levels of Scotty-love at its height. It was then that Skiles was voted Team MVP in an infamous Orlando Sentinel poll over Shaquille O'Neal. Redick did end up with (8) points and (7) assists, though by the reaction to his performance, you may have thought he messed around and had a triple-double.

Redick didn't, but Joe Johnson was closing in one of them there fancy statistical oddities. Despite joining the team in struggling in the lane (4-9 inside of ten feet), Johnson shot 8-16 and had (6) rebounds and (7) assists to go with his (19) points (tied for team high w/Jamal).

We'll have another piece coming on Monday which will be a few short tidbits from our pre-game conversations with Coach Woodson regarding game pace, Al Horford regarding playing taller players, and Jamal Crawford on appreciation. It's a guaranteed 60-90 seconds of information you'll not want to miss.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

BOS-ATL Game Review: It Never Gets Old

They may be right.

This may not be a rivalry.

With the Atlanta Hawks 100-91 home win over the Boston Celtics, the Hawks have swept the C's for the first time in a four game series since 1995-1996, yet another one of the many "sinces" the Hawks have picked off this season.

The Hawks did this on a Friday night where they started each half slow and failed to the move the ball in the fourth quarter--well, unless you count dribbling.

Still, for the fourth time this season, the Hawks came out victorious over Boston. They didn't need miracles (though Jamal Crawford's half court shot may apply---though we were thinking "money" when he launched---admit it, you were too.) or some kind of officiatorial gift (they were handing those out to both teams all night). No, the Hawks did as they have done in all four games this season; taken advantage of the Celtics voluminous turnovers and turned them into points while using their length and athleticism to frustrate Boston on offense.

In the second quarter, it was the energy of Jamal Crawford that took the Hawks' stagnant offense and stuck a streak shooting roman candle in its rear end. Crawford had (18) first half points, including that humdinger of a half court shot after getting the ball with a little over three seconds left. In a similar situation, running the same play against San Antonio, Josh Smith didn't get the ball to Crawford, electing instead to try and whip the ball further down the court to Marvin Williams, which didn't work. Jamal gently gestured to Smith as if to say "no, no, get me the ball." Friday, against the Celtics, the Hawks did, and Jamal delivered to help give the Hawks a (12) point lead at the half.

In the fourth quarter, the Hawks found themselves clinging to their lead, having given all but a single point back to Boston with a seriously malodorous third quarter shooting effort, multiple technical fouls, turnovers, and (20) Celtic free throws (of which 19 were made).

And though we don't approve, the fourth quarter was turned over to the "Joe on Five" offensive playbook. Fortunately for the Hawks, it was a night that Joe Johnson was "on". For sure.

Johnson shot 7-9 in the fourth quarter as he famously dribbled, dribbled, crossed over, pulled back, and then dropped jumpers in Celtic faces. The only shot Johnson was way off on in the fourth was one that THHB swears they saw every Celtic swarming Joe while he shot back across his body. But other than that? String music, daddy-o.

This wasn't a night where Joe and Jamal would try to one-up each other on hero duty. This was Joe's night and Jamal wasn't intruding on his all-star teammate, though he was effective and important on his end as well.

Jamal attempted a mere (3) shots in the quarter and made two of them. One was a running 20-footer that he banked of the glass while drawing contact from Rajon Rondo. The other was a gut punch to Celtic fans who were watching their team attempt a final run. Boston had just retained possession after an offensive rebound when Rondo committed his fourth turnover. Crawford slapped away Rajon's pass and headed to the other end for the easy dunk. After a Joe three answered a Pierce triple, the game and this series, was over.

Sweeping Away the C's Like Confetti

Sure we know it doesn't mean as much as a playoff series, but we would like to know how the Celtics care to spin how much more athletic and effective the Hawks are against them. Sure the playoffs take it up another notch but these games have sure seemed playoff-y to us. Chippiness, physical play, and lots of minutes played by the key players. We're guessing that Boston has seen enough of Atlanta and would wish not to have to face the Hawks in any round of the playoffs this year.

We are not going to forget the (8) point second quarter of Zaza Pachulia--the big fella was fantastic. In games like this, and especially this opponent, Pachulia wakes up like Dickie V when the camera lights go on. In one sequence in his quarter, Zaza set a screen, then graciously accepted a Jamal pass and hit the jumper. Then, just as quick as he was backpedalling down the floor, he reversed direction to steal the inbounds pass at midcourt. Then, with no Celtic offering resistance, Pachulia casually laid the ball in the basket. Simply marvelous.

Mike Bibby had another rough night, this time largely due to the abuse the Celtics were giving him on the defensive end, where he picked up quick fouls and never could get into a flow of the game. Bibby logged only (9) minutes and was the only Hawk in the minus column of +/- with a gruesome (-11).

As good as Pachulia's play and a later pass/dunk from Al Horford to Josh Smith was, the play of the night was a trail block by Jeff Teague who after the block, got the ball back, went the length of the floor, and hit Jamal Crawford for a three point basket, the first of Crawford's game high (28) points. That basket officially erased the early lead Boston got out to and the Hawks would soon take control of the game.

It wasn't how we'd like to see the Hawks attack the game, especially late, but as Coach Woodson likes to say, it's sweet when the shots are falling, and Friday night, in the fourth quarter, off the hands of Joe Johnson, they certainly were.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

THHB Special Commentary: Josh Smith and the All-Star Game

(Hi. I'm Jason Walker, founder and editor of The Human Highlight Blog. The following is a personal commentary and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the dozens that bring THHB to you daily.)

Now, I realize I may be jumping the gun here, but Yahoo! Sports is the proud news-breaker of the NBA All-Star Reserves.

On this precious list are the names of two Hawks:

Johnson, Joe

Horford, Al

That is all.

Left off the list is the player who may be most responsible for the step forward the team has taken this season---Josh Smith.

It was been well documented that Smith took his own step forward this season by showing the maturity in dropping his ill-conceived three point attempts and moving those forward to shots near the rim. ESPN's own Hoopinion has been tracking this all season long.

There may be no bigger barometer for this division leading team than Smith, and everyone who has witnessed this team this year knows Smith's ability to positively (and negatively) impact the team. Many who dared to forecast the list of reserves included Smith's name due to this impact and overall productivity.

So why then did Smith get left off the All-Star team?

One reason has to do with the puzzling roster requirements, which says that you have to name a "second team" along with two wild cards, which would eliminate a "who are the best seven players that aren't in the starting lineup here" decision making process.

Another is the fans voting in of Allen Iverson and Kevin Garnett, one being a legacy pick (AI) and the other worthy on inclusion but had missed a decent part of the season to date (KG). Remove one or both of these guys and perhaps Smoove moves on in---certainly there are blogs for every team lamenting this for their most important "snub".

With the two reserve forward spots going to the uber-worthy Chris Bosh and long time vet Paul Pierce, it very may well have come down to Smith and another player of his ilk, Charlotte's Gerald Wallace.

Looking at the numbers between the two and you can see why they are compared to each other. Why then Wallace then over Smith, hypothetically?

One reason could be that Wallace's raw stats are better, more points per game, more rebounds per game, etc--a product of his (9) MPG advantage over Smith. Basketball has come some way in appreciating the finer aspects of the game rather than just looking at PPG, but not all the way, and if coaches were looking at Wallace's stats over Smith's, a difference of (3) PPG and (3) RPG might have tipped the scales for the Bobcats' first All-Star.

But that line of reasoning doesn't compute when you look at the selection of Horford over David Lee. Lee's advanced stats and raw stats are higher than Horford's, but so is his overall Usage Rate. Still, if raw numbers were what led to the selection of Wallace over Smith, why wouldn't Lee have been selected over Horford?

No, what I believe what ultimately led to Smith's exclusion this season, in addition to the smaller things already listed, was Smith's perpetual demeanor on the court and to his head coach.

On the court, Smith has a tendency to complain, complain, complain, and has already logged technical fouls at a rate that would compare him to Rasheed Wallace. Opposing coaches note this when their teams are up against the Hawks and they are the ones that cast the fateful ballots.

Also, Smith has engaged in some infamous battles with Coach Woodson and, despite whether things are good now, or overblown to begin with, those perceptions also linger. When you consider all other things equal, do you not vote for who you like better?

Smith has been petulant at times on the court---such behavior hasn't gotten him any favors on the court--and may have cost him some off the court as well.

ATL-SA Game Review: Forgetting the Alamo

Who can tell?

Who can tell why, throughout the course of an (82) game season, some teams can't play at a high level every night?

That's probably why all championship teams don't win (70) games every year--why the greatest of all time are--the--greatest--of--all--time.

It takes special mental toughness, great talent, and a whole lot of luck.

In the matter of the Atlanta Hawks 105-90 loss in San Antonio Wednesday night, the Hawks had the talent, but not much else.

The Spurs came out with reckless abandon, using Tony Parker and company to attack the Hawks in the heart of the defense. The Hawks seemed shocked at the affront their hosts portrayed---how dare they treat their guests so rudely? Alas, the home team shot and scored quite often from the "painted area", scoring a majority of their (36) first quarter points, the quarter that would serve as the buffer zone from which they would play from for the remainder of the game, from there.

The apex of such perpetration was, with just a few seconds left to go in the quarter, when the Hawks witnessed Parker go coast to coast to score a bucket with .8 seconds left to go. Oh, and he got fouled, too.

Usually we use this opportunity to cascade blame across the Hawks offensive approach and deride their misuse of Al Horford. But not this time.

The Hawks actually seemed interested in going into the post, at least early on, but couldn't generate any positive effects. Horford was particularly bad, as he fell into his habit of wilting against longer opponents, something he needs to resolve before facing Kendrick Perkins and Dwight Howard over the next couple of games.

The whole offense and defense seemed off, as if they had raised the curtains on the troupe and they were still getting dressed. Nobody moved on offense, the Spurs consistently beat them on the glass at both ends---the whole beginning of the game was a disaster.

Still, the Hawks kept plugging as Joe Johnson (31 points), Josh Smith (14/16/7), and Jamal Crawford (25 points) had their boogie shoes ready to go. The Hawks wasted productive, in control, volume shooting nights from both Johnson and Crawford (both shot greater than 50 percent), which kept them in the game even until the fourth quarter.

The Spurs led by as many as (28), but the Hawks had the lead down to (9) with around nine minutes left, but Crawford missed a three, Zaza turned the ball over, and the Hawks botched a fast break op and the Spurs pulled away again.

Wait Til Next Year

Guess the Hawks can't rid themselves of all of their road demons in one season---selfish of us to want them to, come to think of it---so the SA streak, which has lasted all of Tim Duncan's lengthy career, rolls on---until, as the subtitle suggests, next year.

If the AS game doesn't come knocking, Al Horford can't blame anyone but himself---well, and the coaching staff and teammates for not using him more this season. We already mentioned Horford's weakness when it comes to taller men, and it's something that bears repeating. Horford didn't want anything to do with getting close to the basket, attempting only (2) of his (10) shots around the rim. Horford was a miserable 1-8 from outside that comfort zone and was way too quick to settle for the outside jumper. He did have a nice block on a Duncan finger-roll, however---just sayin'.

Mike Bibby, in (27) minutes, posted one of the most empty lines he has authored as a member of the Hawks. Bibby missed all (7) of his shots and had a single assist and rebound. With the post hanging an "Out of Order" sign on it, the Hawks needed every bit of firepower to overcome their first quarter defensive malaise---and Bibby couldn't muster it.

Tim Duncan, especially after Parker turned his ankle in the third quarter and couldn't return, got all nostalgic on the Hawks and posted a career high in rebounds with an eye-popping (27) rebounds. We missed when the Finals began on Wednesday night because Duncan was locked in like it was Game 7, dishing out (6) assists as well and hitting all (11) of his free throws. True, the Hawks held him to a wacky 5-20 from the field, but his (10) offensive rebounds and those assists definitely helped teammates like Antonio McDyess (8-9, 17 points) have good nights from the field in his stead.

DeJuan Blair was 2-4 with (4) points and had (9) rebounds in a mere (16) minutes. In those minutes, the Spurs were +9. The lesson---we don't like the Spurs or their fancy luck.

Oh, by the way, Jamal Crawford did the 4-Ball again, giving him (23) for his career, one shy of the all time mark held by noted Hawk Hater, Reggie Miller. It's payback time, Reggie. Payback time.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

THHB's Top 10 Hawks of the Decade: Number Eight

As always, we invite you to check out our other End of the Hawks Decade articles:

A Decade of Hawks Aughts (and Aught-Nots),

Top Hawks by Statistical Category

THHB's Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade, #10, #9

Today we look at a player that will be in the center of what-if discussions for the next decade to come. His mere presence on the roster, his role on the team, and what his ceiling may/may not be are topics that are almost impossible to gain consensus among even the most fervent of Bird Watchers.

Our Number Eight Hawk of the Decade is:

Marvin Williams

Any discussion on Marvin Williams and his presence in the Atlanta Hawks has to begin (to the chagrin of many Hawks fans) with the 2005 NBA Draft.

Setting the scene:

The Hawks were coming off a miserable (13) win season and had drafted two young guard/forward types in the 2004 draft (Josh Childress, Josh Smith), thereby beginning to bring the Billy Knight vision to the court.

The Hawks ended up with the #2 pick in the draft and was likely looking at any of what was considered by many to be the Top 4 players in the draft: Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams.

The draft was widely considered to be one of the best for point guard position in some time, a position long needed for the Hawks, a search that we dwelled on at some length in this entry. The Hawks ended that woebegone season with the following players starting (at some part of the season) at the point.

Player (Starts)

Tyronn Lue (46)
Kenny Anderson (20)
Boris Diaw  (11)
Royal Ivey  (5)

Shouldn't have to tell you (and their record did if you needed to be told) but that mess was screaming for assistance from Billy Knight to improve that position in the starting lineup. And no, taking Diaw out to the point was not the droid they were looking for.

So, as the draft approached, the Hawks worked out Paul and Williams, who fit this need, as well as looking at the players who could potentially fall into the "best available player" category, which included Williams, as evidenced by the write-ups leading up to the draft.


At this point, all we know is that Marvin Williams is going to be a promising forward in the NBA and is most likely a top five pick or possibly even the first overall pick whenever he decides to leave North Carolina. Unfortunately, it’s just way too early to speculate specifically what kind of player he will develop into.

ESPN-Chad Ford

Williams is Insider's No. 1-ranked player in the draft. He's a versatile forward who can play both inside and out. Still developing but has the trappings of a superstar.

SI--Ian Thomsen

Has size, skills and savvy to help transform Atlanta into an exciting, up-tempo team. 

ESPN's (and Hawks Nation's own) Hoopinion:

 I thought Luol Deng was a moderately risky pick last year. I was wrong. Similarly, Williams should thrive in the extra space created by the depth of the NBA three-point line. I'd put Williams down the list of my Rookie of the Year favorites, but most likely to be the best player from the draft in five, eight, and ten years.

Billy Knight, by all admissions, eschewed the long held tradition of identifying a point guard in the lineup. "Guards are guards" he most famously said upon being asked who he saw running the point. To most accounts, he was not impressed with Chris Paul's size and wasn't sure if Deron Williams was so sure a thing as not to pass on the best available player. So there was decent consensus when, to the dismay of those who believe in resolving things like the post and the point, Knight passed on the point guards and selected the talented Williams.

Looking back, it's clear that it was Chris Paul that was the best player in that draft and he filled a Hawks need--and that, combined with Williams not yet realizing the ceiling that some might have thought possible for him, is what leads this discussion when Marvin's Hawk status comes up.

Because of the gamble of future potential over filling what folks other than Billy Knight thought was a need, there was some anticipation as to whether this (19) year old could capture the fans imagination such as the potential and athleticism displayed by Josh Smith had the year before.

But since much of Marvin's skill lay within the confines of the jump shot, this was not something that was going to jump out at fans. One of Williams' other skills, running the floor and finishing, was stunted by the lack of a starting caliber point guard to make that happen.The fact that Joe Johnson, whose ball handling skills and hopeful acquisition from Phoenix may also have persuaded Knight to pass on a point in the draft, isn't a run-the-floor ball handler may have interrupted that as well.

Marvin spent the next seasons finding his spot on the floor and role on the team, a process eased by the fulfillment of the promise of great work ethic and character lauded from his year in Chapel Hill. Marvin's obvious good nature and effort kept the erupting of Chris Paul into an All-Star into full fledged resentment of Marvin by the Hawks faithful.

Prior to the 2008-2009 season, Williams had hit a miserable 25-108 (23 percent) from beyond the 3-pt line. In '08-'09, Williams extended his range to hit 55-155 (35 percent) and took a visible step forward in his development and role in the Hawks first winning season since 1999.

The development and improvement was such that it was the first season he began to emerge from his draft slot shadow and be embraced for what he is rather than what one might have thought him to become. Marvin missed almost the entire month of March w/injury. When he returned, in a home game against the Indiana Pacers, Williams was given a standing ovation, an indication that his absence was certainly felt.

This season, Williams has not been able to build on the improvements of last season for a variety of reasons. One is the arrival of Jamal Crawford, who has a Joe Johnson like Usage Rate and therefore gobbles up extra possessions that might have found their way to Marvin last season, leading to less minutes and shot attempts per game (Williams' Usage is also down from last year while Crawford uses a bit more possessions and minutes than did Flip Murray last season.)

Another is some amount of bad luck, as Marvin has been able (for the most part) to maintain his effectiveness on his jump shots but has missed an aberrant number of shots around the basket. If he had been able to maintain last year's success rate on shots under 10 feet, he would have another (7) baskets made, which would raise his shooting percentage above (46) percent, higher than last year's number.

Marvin was signed to an extension (5 years, 40 million) this past off-season, but his future role and impact on the team remains a mystery. He has shown flashes of being able to be a scorer when Joe Johnson is out, highlighted by his (20) free throw effort against the Bobcats last season. Some have suggested he would be an ideal sixth man, or seventh man in the wake of Crawford's role, providing another strong scoring option off the bench. As it is, Marvin remains in the starting lineup, picking his spots on offense while playing solid ball on the defensive end, making his abilities to perhaps score more or take on a larger role on the team a luxury for the Hawks.

Fortunately Williams is a company man, ready and willing to be used in any capacity, and this is a trait that shows on the outside as well, making him very easy to like as a fan. His story, talent, work ethic, intangibles (see video below), and his all-star caliber mustache (of course) make him our Number Eight Hawk of the Decade.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

ATL-HOU Game Review: You're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

First things, first. The Atlanta Hawks, coming into Monday night's game, had not won in Houston since 1999, which includes (obviously to all but us Florida alumni) all six seasons in the Toyota Center.

After the Birds' 102-95 win you can cross another item off the stepping up the ladder checklist this season.

The Rockets can be hard to beat when Rick Adelman's offense moves the ball as well as Houston did in a (25) point first quarter.The Hawks seemed unready to keep up with their hosts and on the offensive end, while showing particular interest in moving the ball inside through the post, they were struggling to execute.

Despite Houston's energy and execution and the complete lack of Hawks' assists in the first quarter, ATL only trailed by (2), thanks to a good start shooting by Joe Johnson (8 first quarter points-20 for the game on 50% shooting). In the second quarter, the Hawks picked up the defense, holding the Rockets to (19) points in the quarter and a total of (6) in the last 8 1/2 minutes of the game.

This was due to a combination of the Hawks finally moving faster than the Rockets could try to get to a spot and the Rockets stopping their previously fantastic ball movement and taking---wait for the familiar sound---too many jump shots.

Oh they went inside some too--only to be deterred or altered somewhat by Josh Smith, who played with an abundance of energy throughout the night. Smith finished with (4) blocks on the night, but many Rockets shots within (10) feet missed the mark. They Rockets, for the season, is a top five worst team shooting at the rim @ 57 percent (despite shooting the sixth most per game from there). Against the Hawks they totaled a miserable 19-39 (48 percent).

While the Rockets slumped, their bench stayed on the floor until there was almost 4 1/2 minutes left in the half. They took back the lead briefly after bringing back most of the starters, but then went cold again, not scoring for the final (4) minutes of the first half and giving the Hawks a halftime advantage (11) they would not relinquish.Things were so bad that even when Houston received a gift foul at the end of the half, Luis Scola missed both free throws to ensure the Rockets' futility going into the locker room.

The Rockets played hard in the second half and never gave way until Adelman emptied the bench with (2) minutes left in the game, but the Hawks answered every spunky Houston rally with a big shot or slam after good ball movement. After having no assists for the game's first (14) minutes and having only (4) at the half, the Hawks finished with (13).

The Hawks held the Rockets below their seasonal averages on EFG% (43 against 49 for their season) and Offensive Rebound Rate. With Al Horford out with a cut thumb (courtesy of Chuck Hayes--no call), Joe Smith and Zaza Pachulia ably filled the rebounding void, with Joe pulling down a couple of tremendous offensive rebounds in the process. These, combined with Josh's 22 point/10 rebound/4 block/4 steal night, enabled the Hawks to keep the Rockets at arms length throughout the game and make the Rockets pay for their first half lapse, like all really good teams do.

Why Make Trillions When We Could Make---Billions?

At the start of the game everyone was focused on one thing----what in the world happened to Mike Woodson's eyebrows? Well, we were sure whatever happened including a waxing because the man was channeling his inner Charlie Villanueva out there.

We started a pool in the Official THHB High Definition Viewing Center and between the long timers and interns, we had the following Top 3 guesses:

3. They're making a new Austin Powers movie in Houston--Mike Woodson plays evil villain henchman Mr. Potato Head.

2. Mike Bibby ran out of shaving cream and warm water to prank the head coach---but the wax was nearby.

1. Josh Smith bet it hit rim---and it did.

Sixth Man Watch:

Jamal Crawford was not great in shooting, but did enough at the right times to give the Hawks pretty much what he's given them all year to date. Carl Landry, we have to believe, usually does better than he did against the Hawks, because the young forward was part of the problem inside offensively Monday night.

Landry had his shot blocked twice and shot 3-8 at the rim. He also was part of the second quarter unit that settled for quick long distance shots. Landry got his (16) points and (5) rebounds, but required a lot of possessions to log those digits (27 minutes, 34.6 Usage Rate-game high, 4-12 shooting).

Neither player was lights out, but Crawford had more positive impact in this game---for whatever that's worth.

Just When You Praise Your Kids--They Turn on You

Happens all the time--as soon as you brag about your kids' table manners, that's when they talk with food in their mouths. Or when you are lauding their excellent work in the classroom, they bring home that "F" on a math test.

We have been barnstorming Twitter and our own corners of the blog to campaign for Al Horford to get into the All-Star game. Horford though, even before Hayes cut his thumb, did not end up having his best game. Al picked up quick fouls, shot airballs, and turned the ball over twice against his only assist. After calling for Al to get the ball in the post, he fumbled it once, forced a shot another time, and generally didn't get on track until he returned from his thumb injury in the second quarter.

Al did have a (9) point, (10) rebound game and was very active defensively though he lacked steals and blocks, but the aforementioned foul trouble confined him to (27) minutes. His play and the play of his All-Star hopeful teammates (Smith and Johnson), if viewed by an evaluation committee, would be telling Josh and Joe (who had 6 rebounds and 4 assists to go with his 20 points/50 percent shooting) to have a good time in Dallas without him.

Great players can't be great every night, but we should have known when we started boasting in favor of Al that this scenario could play out.

Just like even our most favorite of children.

Senor Sniper

Mike Bibby is a wonderful luxury to have as a Hawks fan. Not only is he a calming influence on the game and gets the ball into the hands of our finishers so effectively, Bibby is a nice lethal three point sniper to lean on when Crawford and Johnson aren't open or the ball comes out of the lane and finds the vet teed up and waiting.

Bibby is having a four year high in Assist rate, assist-turnover ratio, and EFG% from 3-pt range. He is also right on his four year highs for EFG% and TS%. That Bibby, who just two and some odd seasons ago was the Hawks #2 option offensively, is now having the lowest Usage rate in his career means the Hawks have grown up on that end of the floor---and that Bibby's role as a long range sniper and master facilitator can be even more finely tuned and make for a very effective role player along with his role/responsibilities as team leader.

Monday, January 25, 2010

THHB's Top 10 Hawks of the Decade: Number Nine

As always, we invite you to check out our other End of the Hawks Decade articles:

A Decade of Hawks Aughts (and Aught-Nots),

Top Hawks by Statistical Category

THHB's Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade, #10

Now we look at a player (yes, only one this time) that became one of the most interesting situation/stories of the Hawks decade---a player that was also productive enough to warrant inclusion here as well. But he is/was a player that drew mixed reviews among Hawks fans, in fact, we think some will have issue with his inclusion on our list.

The Number Nine Hawk of the Decade is:

Josh Childress

From the get-go, the drafting of Childress was an interesting inclusion in a decade worth of interesting roster moves.

Leading up to the 2004 draft, the Hawks worked out many players due to their various draft positions (4 of the top 37 picks). Looking at their place with the 6th pick, the Hawks potentially had the choice of a diverse group of talents (Ben Gordon, Jameer Nelson, Al Jefferson, Andre Iguodala) but still managed to genuinely surprise by taking Childress on draft night.

Coming from Stanford, he had the look and sound of a good guy, hard working, athletic talent--and fit into Billy Knight's long, athletic wingman approach to roster building. Since the Hawks passed on Luol Deng and Iguodala to take him (which more fans were comfortable with), his unorthodox shooting style and play was ripe for criticism.

But whatever could be said about Childress' odd form in shooting, from the first season he proved to be a solid, productive player. Childress was the 4th most productive player as it corresponds to PER for the rookie season. He trailed #1 pick Dwight Howard, #2 pick Emeka Okafor, and #17 pick Josh Smith. Good job, Billy Knight, eh?

Childress did improve every season over his (4) with the Hawks and led the team for the decade in Effective FG% and Offensive Rating and was 7th in PER for the decade for the ATL. In the meantime, however, he got classified by Mike Woodson as a 6th man and hustle guy off the bench, a designation that saw him relegated to a reserve (highly used, sure), going as far as not starting a single game in '07-'08 even when injuries saw Marvin Williams and even Flubber West gain starting assignments instead of Childress and he saw his minutes shrink as well.

The issue of being pigeonholed by the staff into this role left the talented swingman longing for a different situation or more money to accept it. When the restricted free agency period arose and the Hawks (with new GM Rick Sund) playing hardball, Childress challenged the Hawks to pay up or watch Josh go overseas to Greece. Nobody blinked and Childress, while remaining Hawks property to this day, has been enjoying the European high-life for the last two seasons.

Childress gave it up entirely on the court, was good on the defensive end, and aggressive all over the place. He above the rim play was exciting and useful and the Hawks have yet to adequately replace his value to the team. He would be a wonderful starting small forward today with Marvin Williams coming off the bench. Instead they lost Childress and gave Marvin the money that could have kept Chill in the ATL. We love Mustache Marvin too, but Childress was/is more productive than Marvin at similar points in their careers.

Below is a highlight package of what we're missing out on losing our #9 player of the Decade.

We miss J-Chill and wish he were a part of all of the success the last two seasons and beyond.

(Audio on this clip is Ludacris so, you know, it's not suitable for Work or Children. In other words, if you don't like profanity, mute before listening. That is all.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

CLT-ATL Game Review: Banging That Drum

Looking at the road record of the Charlotte Bobcats coming into Friday's night game in Atlanta, you wouldn't be surprised if you looked and the score ended up 103-89 in favor of the hometown Hawks.

The Bobcats now hold a road record of (3) wins and (16) losses. That is--uh, stinky. The Hawks were able to use some early turnovers, late turnovers, and some turnovers in between to score (29) points off of the Bobcats considerable gifts, helping to snap Charlotte's 6-game winning streak.

They needed it too, because Gerald Wallace (8-12, 25 points) and Stephen Jackson (10-20, 24 points) were pretty warm and the visitors enjoyed a 30-14 edge in free throw attempts for the game.

The Hawks took the first quarter 31-17 thanks to those early gifts and converting, but spent the second quarter trying to hand it back by getting comfortable around the perimeter. The Hawks lost that quarter 26-16, but came out roaring again in the third quarter, scoring (36) points to the Bobcats' (22) and took an (18) point lead into the fourth quarter.

There the Hawks continued to work the ball inside, giving Al Horford the chances we have been begging for late in games. While it wasn't always successful, the Hawks remained balanced on the offensive end and used (14) Jamal Crawford fourth quarter points to give them their final margin of victory.

Crawford scored (18) points in the game's final 13:24 and is one of the mightiest streak scorers this team has seen. While scoring all those points Crawford rarely seemed to force the shots, being assisted on (4) of his (6) made baskets in that stretch.

All the Hawks starters and Crawford shot at least (50) percent, except for Joe Johnson (7-17), including a (10-17) game from Al Horford, who responded to a decent workload in the middle with (24) points, (9) rebounds, and (5) assists.

Johnson would have joined his heavy minute brethren in the .500 club if not for a miserable 0-5 fourth quarter where Joe showed some lapses in late game savvy (early shot clock three, one-on-three break attempt). Joe was 7-12 on his other attempts and had (7) assists as well.

Manna From Heaven

Al Horford got (17) shots, including many touches in the post, Jeff Teague played 11+ minutes, and Flubber West DNP'd. In all, with the Hawks win, it was a great night for the Hawks blogosphere.

We love the energy that new AJC beat-meister Michael Cunningham has brought to the coverage. He links out to the local crowd, makes astute observations, and seems to be extremely down to earth. If you have not checked him out already, take a pause and hit up his AJC Blog right here.

Josh Smith is beginning to be so consistently solid (caution: scary!) that he is getting into Joe Johnson territory in putting up good games that gets lost somehow in some other angle. Smoove had a 6-10/14 points/6 rebounds/4 assists/4 steals night and while he wasn't credited with any blocks, we know we saw Boris Diaw wet his britches on a shot in the lane with J-Smoove nearby.

Raymond Felton turned his ankle somewhat early in the game and did not return, leaving some extra time for last year's Jamal Crawford for the Hawks, Ronald "Flip" Murray. All RFM did was score (11) points and distribute (9)! assists and post the abberant +14 on a team full of minuses Friday night.

In the battle of the #10 Hawk(s) of the Aughts, Nazr Mohammed started for the Bobcats and beat out Zaza Pachulia, who played only 6:48 total against Charlotte. Nazr picked up (3) offensive boards and (2) blocks while shooting under .500 for the 'Cats--almost seemed like he never left Philips Arena. And, as Peachtree Hoops noted in their pre-game writeup, he's only (32), putting him on the Jamaal Magloire All-Stars as players who seem older than their actual age. Feel free to drop some more Magloire All-Stars suggestions in the Comments Area.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

THHB's Top 10 Hawks of the Decade: Number Ten

First, we invite you to check out our other End of the Hawks Decade articles:

A Decade of Hawks Aughts (and Aught-Nots),

Top Hawks by Statistical Category

THHB's Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade (the and more edition)

We kick off the countdown with a pair of Hawks that you wouldn't think were similar, but they are.

Player A: 21.6 minutes per game, 8.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.5 oreb, .467 FG, 13.0 ORB%, 20.1 USG%
Player B: 22.7 minutes per game, 8.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.4 oreb, .465 FG, 12.3 ORB%, 19.0 USG%

Our Number Ten Hawk(s) of the Decade are:

Nazr Mohammed and Zaza Pachulia

Nazr came to the Hawks in the Dikembe Mutombo deal in 2001 with the Sixers and was a solid figure on the Hawks for parts of three seasons. Mohammed played a career high amount of minutes and games started for the 2001-2002 Hawks and led the decade in Offensive Rebounding percentage. Nazr never was an above the rim player, but was able to be a good shot deterrent inside, finishing 6th in blocks per game in the decade, 5th in blocks rate, and 8th overall despite his part time minutes.

We tended to underrate him as a player when he was a Hawk, likely longing for a talent like Mutombo inside, and we bristled initially when Pete Babcock signed him to his 5 year, 28.5 million dollar deal the offseason after coming over from PHL. It wasn't long before we saw that, while Nazr wasn't ever going to be Dikembe, he was worth the moderate amount of money as an excellent offensive rebounder, good overall rebounder, and shot blocker. Nazr is still getting it done with the Bobcats, still rebounding, blocking shots, and being an excellent value in the middle.

Which brings us to Zaza, who has achieved fan favorite status for a few reasons:

He isn't afraid to mix it up with the other team, a trait that---ummm---well----not many other Hawks have. We're sure you don't need proof, but in case you do, never forget this:

His offensive rebounding and ability to get to the line. Pachulia does a terrific job of keeping possessions alive and getting shooters like Joe Johnson more throws at the basket. Zaza also does a remarkable job at drawing contact while shooting, even if sometimes he doesn't seem all that concerned about where the ball is going.

His initial contract was a modest 4 years and 16 million. His next contract, signed this past offseason, was a slight raise at 4 years and 19 million despite money out there for centers. Zaza took somewhat below market value and stayed with the ATL. Who doesn't love and respect that?!

Zaza and Nazr have another thing in common---they are not bashful about talking to the fans on Twitter, which makes them instant THHB favorites. Zaza can be found as @zaza27 and Nazr tweets from his @nazrmohammed address.

Both guys were role playing centers who provided sneaky value to the team and THHB recognizes their efforts as the Number Ten Top Hawk(s) of the Decade!

SAC-ATL Game Review: Straight Shooting (Or Not)

Midway through this 2009-2010 season, the Atlanta Hawks have (27) wins.

Staggering to think about, eh--especially as pundits such as this fire shots across the Hawks bow. The Hawks are in first place in their division and are on pace for a whopping (54) wins.

Though it led to that 27th win, the game Wednesday night was nothing much to get excited about, though there were some exciting bursts of entertainment along the way to the Hawks' 108-97 dismissal of the Sacramento Kings. The team started slow as the Kings attacked the Hawks inside and the Hawks were overplaying the perimeter to account for Kevin Martin and Tyreke Evans, but the team adjusted (gasp!) and the Kings scoring opportunities began to get a lot harder.

The Kings shot 10-38 from beyond (10) feet. Ten feet! That's a marvelous (26) percent for those w/o calculators.

The main culprit was the rookie Evans who, while he may look Joe Johnson going inside, shoots like Joe Mama from the outside. According to, for the season, Evans is shooting 184-310 (59 percent) on shots labeled "at the rim" and a gum spitting 101-305 (33 percent) from anywhere but there. To put this into some perspective---Josh Smith is 64-204 from the same range--a close 31 percent and a comparable place that we're guessing neither Evans nor the Kings want him to stay for long. Against the Hawks Evans was 7-9 at the rim and 2-8 otherwise, with most of the damage coming in that early action and then when Flubber West was assigned to defend him (more on that later).

Meanwhile the Hawks used a balanced distribution of shots and assists on their way to a (29) assist, (51) percent shooting night. Of those assists, (19) were to baskets within (10) feet, with (15) of those right at the rim. Jamal Crawford, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, and even Marvin Williams found their way into double digits in scoring and contributed more points than the possessions they used. That's a winning combination and a tasty recipe for more wins.

And with the Kings still in some kind of striking distance in the fourth quarter, the Hawks even went into the post to Horford and Smith (Sidenote: It seemed like they went to the post more in the fourth quarter than throughout the rest of the game.) to stabilize the offense and fend off the Kings last rally.

Stuff We Found While Chasing Down Another Tyreke Evans Jump Shot

With Tyreke Evans obvious shortcomings from the outside, we were surprised that Woodson elected to go to Mario "Flubber" West to defend him in the third quarter. Flubber plays notoriously close defense on everybody, can't or won't change for anybody, and was apparently willing to throw his "fastball" at Evans, even though he is a fastball hitter.

We're sorry, but you can't give "defensive specialist" labels to a player who is outplayed by Zaza Pachulia in regards to defending a lightning quick point guard such as Evans. Even Pachulia knew to dare Evans to shoot, which he did with Zaza on him (he missed).

As soon as Flubber entered the game, Evans attacked him for two quick hoops. In his nine(!) minutes of floor time, Flubber garnered (3) personal fouls, one unnecessary risk that worked and one that didn't and was mercifully (for us) pulled from the game. As we listened close, we could swear we heard Hoopinion head honcho Bret LaGree carefully documenting his case for his eventual committal hearings.

In regards to the most recent post on THHB, Al Horford used the fifth most possessions on the team despite the well stated issues the Kings had defending the frontcourt. And while Horford was used in the post down the stretch, which did put a smile on our face, he was not throughout the rest of the game. We had to laugh when The Namesake kept mentioning on the telecast that he wished the Hawks used Al more down low. After an early third quarter possession when Horford got the ball in the post and easily scored, THHF once again stated his wishes that the Hawks continue to go down there to him. They immediately went away from it and did not go back until midway through the fourth quarter. Baby steps, we remind ourselves, baby steps.

Marvin Williams took the aggressive route to the matchup and it paid off by getting to the line for 5-5 free throws and making 3-4 shots at the rim. We've been saying that Marvin would be best served showing his outside shot as a way to keep defenses honest so that he can use his speed, length, and touch to get better shots inside. Taking (6) out of his (9) shots inside of ten feet is a good place to start. Staying under control while doing so is the next step.

Joe Johnson did a nice job Wednesday night of mixing some gotta-get-to-the-basket-myself moves with good ball movement and had a solid 17/7 game and a relatively short night (31 minutes) as a reward. Though at times he looked like he wanted to give Tyreke Evans as good as Evans was giving him, it didn't become an epidemic. At one point Evans powered his way to the hoop for a score and you could tell Joe wanted to take right back at him. Which he did---successfully.

It's more than a bit fun to watch Jamal Crawford chase history. Once again he was fouled while draining a three pointer and hit the subsequent free throw. It was the 22nd time Crawford has done this and is now (2) away from Reggie Miller's all time record. Miller used to get those fouls by kicking his feet out like a frog leaping from his pad. Crawford just seems to get hit and has the---talent?--to knock down the shot anyway.

We've long lamented the efforts of Kevin Martin (and others) to get to the free throw line at any cost, including trying to actually get the ball into the hoop. So you have to know that we looked on in approval as the Hawks rarely gave into his shenanigans as he shot only (6) free throws (he averages nine per game) while still using the second most possessions on the team. Good defense on a guy who can score often in the easiest way possible.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

THHB Special Commentary: Trade Al Horford

(Hi. I'm Jason Walker, founder and editor of The Human Highlight Blog. The following is a personal commentary and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the dozens that bring THHB to you daily.)

The Atlanta Hawks limit the production and role of one of the efficient players on their team, a player who could give the offense balance and stability and in turn improve the efficiency of the players around him all of which leading to further success for the franchise.

The problem is the Atlanta Hawks don't care.

That's why the Hawks need to stop the charade and trade Al Horford before his time on the team runs out.

The Atlanta Hawks have a productive, energetic front court player who is on the tip of everybody's tongue when it comes to listing top young players in the Eastern Conference, but their actions indicate that they don't see things the same way.

Horford is being wasted nightly by the Hawks, especially in the critical part of any NBA game (the fourth quarter). His offensive touches are limited to cameo appearances and hustle plays and whatever other crumbs come from the Lords of the Philips Arena Manor.

In Mike Woodson's offense, the ball starts and often ends with the Backcourt. Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, and now Jamal Crawford have formed a cabal from which games are either won or lost. We have seen through the seasons of Hawks effectiveness (2007-current) that the approach of isolating and taking defenses on 1 on 3 cannot scale to beat the better teams in the league, especially in the playoffs.

It's a shame that Horford's all-star status even in the froncourt talent poor Eastern Conference has to explained in great detail to support his inclusion, such as here (h/t Hoopinion). On any team that plays from the inside-out or gives more than the fleeting thought of post-play basketball combined with his abilities and production rate, Horford would be a no-brainer part of the Eastern All-Stars.

The culprits behind this are his own teammates, coaches, and front office.

His backcourt teammates, who have blinded themselves with their own self-worth that they cannot allow others to impede on their shot attempts throughout the game. They are the ones that insist on passing the ball to each other, calling their own numbers late in games, and toss up ridiculously contested shots as if they are the only ones worthy of winning a game for the franchise. They are the ones that ignore the pleading requests of their coaches to pound the ball into the post, regardless of the effectiveness of such an approach.

The irony of the Backcourt hoarding possessions is that when you have a post player of Horford skills, it improves the types of shots the Backcourt gets. Horford's passing is better than average and can be used in the high and low posts to get all kinds of shots. But the Hawks would rather use Al to set screens and run away from their isolation and wait for the result of their precious jump shots. It's a sad waste of a great talent.

Yet the coaching staff offers nothing but shoulder shrugs when analyzing their late game woes and seem more than happy continuing in this failing offensive approach. They offer no change of roles or gameplan, no difference in philosophy and, in turn, no change in the results.

When the Hawks have had the greatest success this season, it has been because they have been more willing to go into the paint and eschew the easy jump shot philosophy. When they struggle, as they have more recently, it's due to the abandonment of said approach and the increased willingness of the guards (and coaches) to try and shoot their way to victory.

The front office has been reticent to extend Woodson's contact even in the face of great early season success and premature calls for the Hawks coach to be awarded Coach of the Year. Perhaps they have seen the same lack of adjustment and wasting of efficiency and talent and the subsequent struggling that accompanies the same old, same old. We would note that they helped doubled-down in the offseason by acquiring Crawford, who has spent his career in the same mold as Joe Johnson.

We don't indict Crawford because early in the season there was a sense of balance--and the staff's use of Jamal was controlled. Now, they have thrown Crawford into their failing fourth quarter strategy and Jamal is simply following their instructions and guidance (or lack of it).

A simple check of Hoopdata or Baseketball Reference can show the error in the Hawks ways and their slip from early season efficiency. This is no aberration.  We have seen the limitations of Woodson and the Backcourt's approach to games. We have also seen the potential and production in working past that paradigm and into the inside-out offensive attack.

Which brings us back to Horford. That Horford is treated as a minor part of the team's offensive strategy is unfortunate but not unexpected given this staff and roster's history and proclivity to marginalize the frontcourt's role offensively throughout the game and especially in the fourth quarter..

It's important to note that these same biases and labels from some of these same teammates that sent Josh Childress over the edge, complaining of being called "the energy guy" and being routinely ignored as a valid part of the offensive philosophy on the court from his own peers.

Such an attitude towards a very productive part of the team left the Hawks with nothing for their former lottery pick and his production. It's that kind of short-sighted inactivity and lack of intervention/change that Mark Bradley correctly (if indirectly) notes took the Hawks longer just to get to this point than a team like the Thunder. (Again, H/T to Hoopinion).

As Horford's free agency time approaches, I'm left left with two prevailing thoughts:

Why should the Hawks pour money into a player/position that they see as only a hustle role? Why pay max money when you have no intention to use the player in such capacity?

Why should Horford even think about re-signing with a team that has such an obviously low opinion of his value to the team----and that opinion is the one that is expressed on the court, gentleman, not what you spit out when the recorders are in your face.

Unless the Hawks make a change to their approach towards these types, then money spent on Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Horford are wasted capital.

So we say, trade Al Horford now. Get another guard who can give you three or four options in the fourth quarter to fire away to victory if that's the path you are committed/married to.

I believe in Al Horford. I believe he can be the cornerstone of the Hawks' offensive approach and make the entire team more productive in the process. I believe he is a slightly lesser version of Karl Malone, who can beat you low, off the pick and roll, with his passing, and on the break. The Hawks obviously don't agree, as evidenced by their actions, so I say this to the franchise I love so much:

Don't waste this guy's talent any longer---either get him to a team that has use for all of his skills and get something for him or get off your collective rear ends and change your philosophies to do so yourselves.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

PHX-ATL Game Recap: Yahtzee!

Jamal Crawford rose up and let a three point basket fly from 25 feet with the Hawks down two and time running out.

The fact that the Hawks were in position to care about the outcome of Crawford's shot was good fortune indeed.

The Phoenix Suns had rolled into Atlanta losing (8) of their last (9) road games and blowing big leads to boot. They like to run (4th in Pace on the season, averaging nearly 99 possessions per game) and shoot three pointers, ranking third in 3pt rate in the NBA (3 pointers attempted/field goals attempted-almost 27 percent of the Suns shots are threes), trailing only the trigger happy Knicks and Magic.

So that the Suns shot (15) percent of their shots in 3-pt territory and made only (2) when their average is (9) while playing at a pace (94 possessions) that is in line with Atlanta's rate would lead you to believe that the Suns were playing the Hawks game. Advantage, Atlanta, right?'s the thing about Friday night's game. Yes the Hawks got the Suns to play the Hawks way at the Hawks' pace---only Phoenix was doing it better than the home team was.


The Hawks came out, by ESPN's Hubie Brown's observation, as flat and without energy and the Suns pounced, racing out to a quick lead on the back of aggressive plays at the rim and the Hawks struggling from the same. The Hawks opened an amazing 1-11 at the rim with Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, and Joe Johnson all struggling to score in the paint.

Then the Hawks second unit came in and was thoroughly spanked by the Suns' energetic bunch, falling behind a dozen points in the second quarter before Al Horford and Johnson returned from a brief respite. With those two returning, the Hawks got busy getting back into the game. Crawford made a quick jump shot and then Johnson hit a three pointer for his first bucket of the night (9:20 left in the half).

Then, with the Hawks now trailing seven, a break for the Hawks---Goran Dragic threw a bad pass that was eventually corralled by Crawford, who immediately turned up the floor. Dragic committed a clear path foul, affording Jamal (2) throws (which he made) and the Hawks retained possession. Then Jared Dudley was caught not defending anybody for three seconds in the lane and Jamal knocked down another free throw. After Joe Johnson and Josh Smith completed a baseline alley oop lay-in, the Suns lead was down to (2). Somewhere after the Hawks most recent (5) point play, Doc Rivers was shaking his head in remorse.

The lead would go back and forth, with Josh Smith getting over his early misses and continued to dominate the boards (15 rebounds on the night). Al Horford took advantage of Amare Stoudemire's early foul trouble by taking at the big man and the not-as-strong-as-Al Channing Frye for (11) first half points.

Meanwhile the Suns kept taking it in the paint--the Suns would outscore the Birds in there 48-38 Friday night---with great success. Grant Hill was killing Marvin Williams by moving without the basketball (15 first half points, 21 overall) and while Steve Nash wasn't shooting, he had (6) first half assists to give the Suns a (5) point halftime lead.

The second half began with the Hawks two best first half scorers, Johnson and Horford, picking up where they left off in the second quarter, with Al getting (9) more points in the q and Johnson (6). The Hawks got the lead up to as many as (7) before the Suns pulled back in and took the lead early in the fourth quarter. They got the lead by  getting the ball to Amare Stoudemire and the Hawks bad bench combined with their usual fourth quarter missed jump shots.

The Hawks had missed their last (3) three point attempts and the Suns had got their lead out to (4) when Mike Bibby finally cashed in one of the open threes the Hawks had taken in the quarter and cut the lead down. Horford made another shot off the last of Bibby's (10) assists on the night to give the Hawks a slim lead.

The Suns continued to pound the ball inside, such a departure for the long range trigger happy team, with Stoudemire and Robin Lopez providing good results. By the time Steve Nash woke up and made (2) of his (3) field goals on the game, Phoenix had a (6) point lead with 4:17 left to play. Hill made a free throw to stretch it to (7) and then Jamal Crawford got back to attacking the lane and used his ability to penetrate the Suns zone to find Josh Smith for a jam, a hook shot, and another jam and the Hawks found themselves tied in a crowded, rocking house with a shade under (2) minutes to play.

After Steve Nash missed a three and Stoudemire traveled following their offensive rebound, disaster struck. The Suns finally got wise to Crawford's penetration/creation strategy and double teamed Jamal by surprise at the perimeter. Crawford jumped but could do little other than flutter the ball back towards Bibby. The Suns jumped on it and tossed it Dragic, who jammed it home to give the Suns the lead. After Johnson missed a three, Stoudemire hit a jump shot and the Hawks suddenly found themselves down (4) with (40) seconds left.

The Hawks stayed patient and Smith drove to the hoop and was met by a slew of Suns who forced him to cough up the ball. Fortunately Smith chose to get the ball to a rim-arriving Horford, who was fouled by Hill. Horford calmly made his 23rd and 24th points of the night and the Hawks trailed by (2) with 31.4 seconds to play.

The Hawks decided to face up defense rather than foul--but their constant craving to switch left the pick and rolling Suns with Nash breaking down Horford. As the shot clock (and game clock) wound down, Horford almost picked Nash's dribble, sending Nash grasping for the ball. Nash recovered and took Al to the hoop--while Al did a great job for the most part moving his feet, he hooked Nash's arm (or Nash hooked his) and one of the best free throw shooters was sent to the line to ice the game with (10) seconds left.

(This is the part where you hear THHB tell you that Nash uncharacteristically missed one or both of his free throws. Nope. He made them both.)

So the Hawks were down (4) with 10 seconds left. The Hawks had left (2) 20 second timeouts and used one to advance the ball. Bibby missed a three, but Smith grabbed his fifth offensive rebound of the night and got fouled. Smith made the first to cut the lead to (3), but then bricked the second unintentionally.

The Suns all seemed to jump for the rebound, but it caromed off the colliding visitors and into the hands of Crawford. Jamal seemed to glance to see if anyone was set for a game tying three, but in that split second noone appeared and he jammed home the gift, putting the Hawks down by one with 3.5 seconds to go.

The Suns called their last timeout and advanced the ball. With new NBA rules, teams can toss the ball into the backcourt. The vision of Nash zipping into a dark corner of Philips Arena and running out the clock was easy to imagine but the Hawks played that option very well and the ball had to be in-bounded to Stoudemire, who was immediately fouled. Amare had made 9-12 free throws to that point but missed the first shot to the delight and hope of all the ATL fans on hand. Stoudemire made the second one and the Hawks used their last timeout.

With the ball advanced to halfcourt, the Hawks used Mike Bibby to inbound. We might have thought the Suns would have a big to guard the inbound pass to make it more difficult on the Hawks. But the Suns sent Nash to front Bibby and Mike triggered the inbounds play.

First he looked to the corner where Johnson was rushing to catch the ball. Nash jumped that passing lane and Bibby was left to toss the ball to near mid-court to Crawford.

With Dudley guarding him, Crawford charged towards his man and rose up with a single second left on the clock. As the ball flew past the shot clock, the horn sounded and the red lights danced. The ball ripped through the net, giving the Hawks the most improbable win of the season, 102-101.

Buzzin' like Jolt Cola

Crawford's three gave him (21) points on the night, (9) of those in the fourth quarter. Crawford leads the NBA in minutes per fourth quarter and his complete fourth quarter effort Friday night only boosts that stat. Jamal, in fact, played the final 16 1/2 minutes in the game and still had the giddy-up to rise up for that game winner.

The shot reminded those in THHB Viewing Center of the Vince Carter shot that led the Nets past the Birds last season. We weren't as sure that Jamal's hoop was going in as we were certain Hawk Hater Carter's was, but we were not beefing about the shot, make or miss.

Among the items the Hawks wanted and got (Suns playing the Hawks' pace, Suns only hitting two threes, etc.) was that the Suns, who are next to last in the L on defensive rebounding, gave up (20) offensive rebounds to the Hawks, including those two huge rebounds by Smith and Crawford.

It was a game that Phoenix seemed to outplay the Hawks in many ways--beating them at the Hawks' own game. Maybe it was an indictment of the Suns' inability to close or the tenacity of the home team on this night that the Hawks could steal the game on a buzzer beater--whichever way it was, it's good to be on this side of a game winner---very good. Enjoy the highlights below.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

THHB Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade: And More Edition

First we tackled the Top 20 Events of the previous decade for the Atlanta Hawks.

Then we broke down Top Hawks by Statistical Category which sorted through the advanced stats (and some traditional) to look at the top Hawks in each category.

Now we begin our trek through THHB Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade--an superiorly imperfect, non-scientific rundown of who we thought were the top Hawks of the Aughts.

Today, we begin with those who didn't make the Top 10, but were notable in ways that warranted a Jason Terry Memorial Tip-of-the-Cap and an anecdote or two.

The One-Year "Wonders":

When Pete Babcock decided to rebuild, he did so by trying to infuse veteran talent to support the youth that he was drafting. Unfortunately, he often dealt the youth (in the form of draft picks) to grab onto a player on the back end of his prime or in other ways that the team never really worked. Other "wonders" were brought in via deals that sent expiring contracts out and talent in.

Jim Jackson and Isaiah Rider were brought in when Steve Smith was sent off to Portland to play out his contract. Early on the move looked great, as both Jackson and Rider were scoring and using a ton of plays in doing so. In fact, Jackson and Rider in '99-'00 had the highest teammate combined Usage % in the decade for the Hawks (53 percent). Of course, it didn't last as Rider flamed out famously towards the end of his only season in Atlanta and Jackson was sent packing early the next year to Cleveland for Brevin Knight.

Toni Kukoc and Theo Ratliff came over in a 2001 deal with PHL that sent Dikembe to Larry Brown's world. Ratliff missed almost his entire first year with the Hawks with a bad hip, but came back strong the next year to lead the league in blocks and blocks per game. Ratliff was sent packing in 2004 to Portland in the Rasheed Wallace deal. At the time of Ratliff's hip injury, folks thought it might be a Bo Jackson situation, but he bounced back the next season as noted and in 2004 led the league in games played with (85) and is still blocking shots in the L--now with the Spurs.

Kukoc made an impact immediately in the first (17) games as a Hawks---beginning a trend in which the Hawks would kick butt in April and consequently negatively impact their lottery chances. In the 2001-2002 season, however, Kukoc looked  a very old (33) years old and suffered the worst of any of his NBA seasons to date.

Kukoc was dealt in the 2002 offseason to Milwaukee in order to bring in Glenn Robinson. Robinson played one unspectacular season with the Hawks (it was their ill fated "playoff guarantee" season) and then got shipped off to PHL in return for the insurance covered contract of Terrell Brandon.

When Robinson came on board, he famously boasted to THHB that he would have us wearing his jersey by mid-season rather than the JT version sported at the time. He offered to hook us up with some swag to help the deal. Being good company men, we said we would welcome it. Soon after his boasting, we noted in our RealGM space that Robinson had a peculiar tendency to lose the ball after his third dribble, something also noted by then-assistant coach Alex English. English told us that they were coaching Robinson to only dribble twice and then make a move. While Robinson never changed his approach with us or turned us aside when we asked questions, the offer of swag never came up again.

Antoine Walker came over when JT was sent out to Dallas and didn't even make it a full season with the Birds before he was traded at the deadline for a first round pick from the Celtics. Walker was a great quote and understood the game of basketball but needed a ton of volume (minutes and possessions) to get his stats to a "star" level and shot threes about as good as Josh Smith does while taking (5) a game.

And the 2006 pick the Hawks got for Walker? Well, it was sent to Phoenix in the Joe Johnson deal and was later sold back to Boston in time to make Rajon Rondo their selection.

Alan Henderson:

Henderson's main value came prior to the decade and was more known for his contract in the aughts (he signed a 6 year, 45.5 million dollar deal prior to the 1999 season) than for what he did on the court. Henderson was an excellent offensive rebounder (4th in the decade for the Hawks in OREB%), but not much else. He was a below-the-rim player after injuries took away a season or two and the Hawks couldn't come close to unloading his deal until the last season, when he was traded with JT in the Walker deal.

Stephen Jackson:

Billy Knight brought Jackson in for a million dollars in 2003, which was odd in that Jackson was coming off a season with the San Antonio Spurs in which he played a key role (58 starts, 28 mpg) in winning a championship (foreshadowing his personality conflicts down the road?). Still, Jackson started (78) games for the Hawks in '03-'04 and showed he could be a major scorer in the league. Jackson's (42) points in April against WAS represents the 6th highest scoring Hawk game of the decade. Jackson famously stopped talking to the media during a long losing streak in which he felt he was misquoted (not by us) and intended to parlay his counting stats coming out party into an long term deal.

Jackson broke his media silence to us after the last game of the season, but not before making us wait (45) minutes after the game was over. He thanked us for our patience and vowed to answer any question we wanted to ask. From that interview, we learned that he was looking for a 6 year, 42 million dollar or so deal, which he would later get when the Hawks signed and traded him to IND for Al Harrington. It was a fitting end to a season where Jackson showed considerably different sides of his personality.

The Others:

There were a number of Hawks who were memorable over the course of the decade for reasons other than their importance or production on the court. We list because we care:
  • Ronald "RFM" Murray: 
We always abbreviated RFM's name in honor of every publication, broadcast team, and print media always taking great pleasure in saying his name all the way through---"Ronald "Flip" Murray". Murray inspired the Peachtree Hoops led phenomenon known as "Hot Flip" where Murray could suddenly and without warning begin to score out of his mind. Murray was known for being extremely and maddeningly inconsistent throughout his career, but his season with the Hawks was arguably his best as a pro. His role and its value proved to be important enough for the Hawks to spend a good amount of money in the deal that brought Jamal Crawford to Atlanta to upgrade RFM's position this offseason.
  • Ira Newble: 
Never did hustle lead to so much playing time--Newble actually averaged around (30) minutes per game for the '01-'02 and '02-'03 campaign despite being little more than a small forward type who specialized in setting screens and putbacks. Newble did hustle, however, and THHB joked with Newble about his pending free agency and if he could top the 6 year, 18 million dollar deal that Greg Buckner had received from PHL before the '02-'03 season. He ended up settling for a 4 year, 11 million dollar deal from Cleveland. Upon coming back to Philips Arena with his new team, Newble was chased by a furious then-coach Paul Silas out of the locker room and down the hallway for an unspecified comment that was made towards the coach by Newble.
  • Tyronn Lue, Tony Delk, Kenny Anderson, Anthony Johnson, Emanual Davis, Brevin Knight, Bimbo Coles, Matt Maloney, Jacque Vaughn, Dan Dickau
These were the point guards prior to Mike Bibby's arrival--The Hawks never trusted Jason Terry to run the team full time and almost immediately after drafting him started to pair him with replacement level floor generals with Lue being the best of the bunch.  We don't include Speedy Claxton on here for the same reason we don't include Terrell Brandon and Gary Payton--you have to actually play to get mentioned (ooooh---Burn!).
  • Dion Glover and DerMarr Johnson
In other words, your Shaw Summer League Hall of Famers!  Glover and Johnson represented two more young pieces that were going to team with JT and Shareef to lead the Hawks back into the playoffs. Johnson's car crash in 2002 left him lucky to walk and breathe, much less play the game again.
  • Chris Crawford
Crawford was infamous for throwing his considerable athleticism around the court to his fragile body;s detriment. Almost as infamous was the long, but fairly small contact given him by Pete Babcock after the 1999 playoffs. Crawford was as determined off the court as he was on it, always pushing extra hard to get rehabbed and back on the court. Crawford was coming off his best season as a Hawk ('03-'04) when just before the '04-'05 season opened, in an exhibition game in Birmingham, Crawford suffered another knee injury, this one costing him his career.
  • Hanno Mottola and Cal Bowdler
Bowdler was never liked by the fan base because he was part of an immediately disappointing 1999 draft. Cal could shoot it just fine, and was a great guy, but he had the knees of an 80 year old man and was slower than rush hour traffic. We would have loved to have watched a foot race between Bowdler and Gheorghe Muresan.

Mottola was a role player for Lon Kruger, but his greatest contribution had nothing to do with himself, rather, his persona was the focal point of Atlanta's 790 the Zone personality Mike Bell's greatest bits on the air---"Cooking with Hanno". High comedy, especially the one where he invites Mookie Blaylock in for some hints on baking "brownies."
  • Peja Drobnjak
Worst. BO. Ever.
  • Lee Nailon
  The only player in the decade we covered the team to intentionally play his music so loud you could hardly hear your audio after the fact. Thanks, Lee!
  • Mikki Moore and Jon Barry
After an Emory student radio personality called out Barry during a question session with Mike Woodson, Barry challenged the kid on it, wondering why he went to the coach instead of asking Jon directly. The mild confrontation occurred while we were talking to Moore and when Barry began to confront, Mikki started yelling "Fight! Fight!"  

Ah, the lottery years.

Next: THHB Top 10 Hawks of the Decade (#10)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

ATL-BOS Game Recap: Fighting Like Lions

No, we will not die like dogs! We will fight like lions! 
--Dusty Bottoms, Three Amigos

We will admit, we thought we had a different recap coming as the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks headed into the locker rooms at halftime in Monday night's game in Boston.

The Celtics led 55-46---and the Hawks were fortunate to have the margin down to single digits when they left the floor after the second quarter.

Boston, without Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace, was taking it to all the Hawks weak spots on defense. They used Rajon Rondo to obliterate Mike Bibby from the game by going around the veteran time and again on his way to (16) first half points. The times that ATL moved to help on Rondo, the young PG shifted the ball to an open man---usually under the basket, where they found little resistance from the Hawks frontcourt and capitalized to the tune of 17-21 around the rim. The Hawks simply couldn't keep Bibby on the floor as The Rondo Effect was making it impossible for the Hawks to keep the Celtics under (60) percent from the floor.

That Bibby had to be removed was unfortunate because it was clear early on that it was going to be one of the nights Jamal Crawford simply didn't have it. Prior to midway through the third quarter, Crawford was 0-6.

While the Hawks struggled defensively, they were grinding offensively. On a night where it seemed the Hawks were actually committed to getting into the paint, they found things awfully difficult there despite the absence of Garnett and Wallace. The Hawks were OK around the rim @ 72 percent on 13-18 shooting, but were an incredible 3-13 within 10 feet.

Symbolic of this frustration was the inability of Josh Smith to beat Brian Scalabrine off the dribble and get to the hoop, going 1-5 in the first half. Even Al Horford struggled to get anything to go into the hoop. Al went 2-6 inside 10 feet, including at the rim and was no better beyond that, shooting an unsettling 3-11 for the night.

Still, despite the defensive woes and the trouble the frontcourt had getting the ball to go down, the Hawks didn't start settling for bad shots (though the ball movement was weak early on)---they continued to try and get into the lane and to the free throw line.

Marvin Williams typified this approach by taking it to the basket and while he also faced the same issues as his forward brethren getting the ball to drop through the hoop, his aggressive approach led him to the free throw line for a team high (11) free throws. His (12) points and Joe Johnson's steady-as-she-goes (16) in the first half were keeping the Hawks in the water.

Then, in the third quarter, things changed.

It started harmless enough, with Scalabrine fouling Marvin and picking up his fourth foul. With his surprising nemesis out of the game, Josh Smith took a pass from a double teamed Joe Johnson and slammed it home, cutting the Celtic lead to (10).

On the next play, Ray Allen lost the ball to Marvin Williams. As Marvin broke away, Glen Davis collared him while Marvin was going up on the break. Davis clearly didn't play the ball and while he was not intending any harm to Williams, it was a careless play that will always be labeled a Flagrant Foul.

Much like longtime Celtic player/coach/broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn, Celtics coach Doc Rivers---ummmm---disagreed vociferously. His ensuing outburst cost his team (2) points and Rivers his courtside seat for the rest of the game. Toss in Armond Hill's "Me, too!" and the Hawks were suddenly back to within (6) points.

The (3) free throws that Jamal Crawford cashed in as a result of the Celtic coaches acting like Tommy on his telecasts were Jamal's first points of the game--and it may have re-aligned Crawford with the hoop as he cashed in two 3-pointers and two more free throws before the end of the third quarter. Suddenly Crawford had (11) points and the Hawks even managed to tie the game at 75 with less than a minute left in the quarter.

The Celtics, meanwhile, had gotten away from The Rondo Effect and lost their considerable offensive momentum, but they managed to start to pull away again early the fourth quarter when the Hawks starters took their last pit stops. With little less than (11) minutes left in the game, Davis knocked down a pair of jumpers to make it a seven point Boston lead again.

And then Joe Johnson happened.

Johnson got back in the game and immediately hit back to back shots, scoring (5) points in (30) seconds to get the game back to two points. Then, after Horford muffed a couple of chances to deadlock the game, Johnson took care of that by scoring his 30th and 31st points on a tough fadeaway jumper.

Atlanta's defense was now revitalized and energetic--and this combined with Boston's reticence to go back to what was working---attacking Jamal Crawford and getting Rondo into the lane---allowed the Hawks to clamp down on their hosts. The Celtics struggled (or just forgot) to get the ball to noted Hawk Hater Paul Pierce--leaving Glen Davis to get the ball in the critical minutes of the quarter.

Suddenly a game that just a quarter ago seemed like cash in hand for the Celtics was seeing the lead change hands on every possession.

Crawford drove the lane and then passed to an open man on the baseline for a jumper. Hawks fans could be heard collectively gasping as Josh Smith was the man shooting, but Smith's jumper landed in the hoop. On the next trip down, Ray Allen answered with a smooth three and the C's were up by (2) with (5) minutes to go.

Johnson answered with a second chance three pointer, giving him (34) points and the Hawks the lead again by one. Rondo then found himself switched off with Horford guarding him---Al had to goal tend to stop the speedy guard and Boston had the lead again with less than (4) minutes to play.

It's in these games that you expect the worst as Hawks fans---you expect that Pierce is going to hit big shots or that Ray Allen will slip off a pick and stick a three in your heart. So with the Celtics holding the lead, and the stretch run is on, you can only hope it's your team that hit the shots and the other team misses.

After a Josh Smith block on Rondo, the Hawks down one with almost three minutes left to play got the ball to Johnson, who took two Celtics to the right side and then shot an fadeaway that seemed to barely clear the outstretched hand of Pierce. They would be Johnson's 35th and 36th points of the night and the Hawks had the lead again.

Crawford then stole the ball from Pierce and got it to Smith and the Hawks were up three. Smith would hand the points right back to Boston when he would foul Davis on a made basket and tied the game with 2 1/2 minutes left to go.

On the next possession, with the shot clock winding down, Crawford got the ball and launched a three. Rondo jumped and hit Jamal on his shooting hand, granting Crawford three free throws, of which he hit two.

Suddenly, the Celtics went cold. Ray Allen missed a good look at a three. Then Crawford went around a Horford screen and got to the basket as neither Celtic big closed on him. Jamal's layup gently caressed the rim before softly dropping in and the Hawks were up (4).

The Official Viewing Center of THHB were allowing themselves to consider that the Hawks might pull this off--this game that had none of the markings of a typical Hawks win, but one that would clearly satisfy and pay off the hard work done in the game.

Allen got another good look---and missed again. Marvin fought for the rebound and got a timeout. Mike Woodson took the entirety of the timeout and then some, still sketching out the play for his closing backcourt of Johnson and Crawford as play was about to resume. As the two walked onto the court, you could almost hear them saying to each other that they didn't understand what Woodson was writing up and called an audible---whichever one of them got the ball would dribble out up top and take it in the paint for the shot--as always.

The ball ended up in Jamal's hands and he dribbled the shot clock down. Horford came to the top to set the screen and once again Jamal went around Al's pick and found himself wide open for the jumper. A second later the ball ripped through the net and the Hawks had a (6) point lead with a minute left to play.

The ending was anticlimactic---well, ok, not so much--but it lacked the drama we'd come to expect in Boston. Pierce, Allen, and Rondo all missed their shot in the last minute and failed to make Atlanta score any more to win and the Hawks walked off the court with the 102-96 victory.

The Hawks could have gotten down when the Celtics were dominating them on both ends, but they stayed aggressive, got to the free throw line and kept themselves in the game. This team will ultimately be judged on what they do in the playoffs---all the truly good teams are---so while this game wouldn't have meant much in the final opinion authored in April and May either way---it's encouraging to see them battle in this game where they didn't in Orlando.

Is This The End? No!

Horford struggled mightily in this game, but he kept working on defense, being a key reason Kendrick Perkins turned the ball over (6) times. Horford's fundamentally sound defense caused Perkins to show some poor footwork, though Horford can't take credit on one play where Perkins couldn't contain his excitement in having faked out the Hawks front line and having a clear look at the hoop. Unfortunately he was too excited and once again travelled.

Jamal Crawford hit 4 of his last 6 shots and had all (17) of his points and (5) of his (6) assists in the second half as the Hawks had to hide Mike Bibby on the bench. Crawford was getting abused too, but the lineup of Smith, Marvin, Al, Joe, and Jamal were very positive on the night, including a +24 for Al.

The Glen Davis Flagrant Foul and the fallout for the Celtics was a significant, if even statistically spurious, occurrence. Rondo, who had tormented the Hawks to that point, would score (6) more points and get (Zero) assists the rest of the way. Also from that point, Paul Pierce had (4) points in the last (18) minutes of game action.

For as much as he provided them in his (21) minutes of play, we were surprised that we didn't see Brian  Scalabrine for any of the last (19) minutes of the game. It's probably a good play for the C's, as they already had received a season's high from Brian and didn't want to risk getting diminishing returns by bringing him back late in the game, but we thought he played tough defense on Smith and certainly provided energy and spark (along with three 3-pointers) that Boston might have been able to use in the fourth quarter in some way.

The discrepancy in free throw attempts will no doubt be noted (33 for the Hawks to 18 for the Celtics), but the difference was in the way that the Celtics defended compared to Atlanta that explains some of the gap. While the Celtics definitely attacked the paint, they usually found their shots uncontested by Horford or Smith in there. This was in large part due to The Rondo Effect that permeated much of the game, where Atlanta had to step over to cover the driving Rondo, leaving a Boston big open to score with relative ease. Contrast this with the wall of Celtics the Hawks had to contend with every time they were in the lane and you begin to see how the Celtics weren't fouled as much as Hawks were. They didn't allow the easy hoops the Hawks were and made their guests earn their points from the line whereas the Hawks simply chalked up two to their hosts, also explaining the 48-34 Boston advantage in points in the paint.

Finally, A Huge THHB 'Grats to Joe Johnson for having his biggest scoring night in Boston with his (36) points and for notching his 1000th three pointer of his career. We loved the (36) he scored tonight---as he rarely did it by forcing shots and trusted that his teammates would get him the ball in the right places, which they did. (8) of his (14) field goals made were assisted, a season high.

(all stats provided by