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?

Well....here'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.

Oops.

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.


1 comment:

THHB said...

From new AJC Hawks beater Michael Cunningham's Blog report (which was excellent, btw--hit it on the Bird Feeds):

–At one point Woodson pleaded with Bibby to feed Al Horford in the post against Robin Lopez. Bibby obliged and Horford worked Lopez for two straight baskets. Then the Hawks went away from Horford. No, it didn’t make sense.

–With Lopez back on Horford in the third, Woodson again wanted it to go to him on the post but this time the Hawks didn’t even get it to him once. Horford led the Hawks with 24 points, but think what he might have done if not ignored for stretches.


Ha! Welcome to Atlanta, Michael! One game and he already notices Al's criminal underuse.

Mr. Cunningham, you have to learn---only the guards are supposed to shine in big boy time!