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 Hoopdata.com)


CoCo said...

Great recap, I feel like I just watched the game all over again. I really didn't have the time to recap this game last night. Oh,

"While the Celtics definitely attacked the paint, they usually found their shots uncontested by Horford or Smith in there."

Um, yeah.

Jason Walker said...

Thanks, CoCo!

Last night, it wasn't really Josh or Al's fault (most of the time)---they would often be rotating back to the basket after someone had to roll over to challenge Rondo after he blew by Bibby/Crawford.

I was somewhat ok--it just explained why the C's were attacking the basket and not getting fouls called, and we were getting calls---we didn't defend the basket and they did. Period.