Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ATL-MEM Game Review: Sorry Memphis, No Slumpbusters Here

You could feel for the Grizzlies, you really could.

Memphis is experiencing a good season, one in which their throwaway off-season acquisition (Zach Randolph) has turned into an All-Star and their young core (Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley) is beginning to come together. However, coming into their Tuesday night home game against the Hawks, they were in the throws of a three game losing streak, something that in the Western Conference can drop you behind teams very quickly. As it was, Memphis woke up Tuesday and found themselves at the bottom of the (12) teams in the West above (.500).

However friendly these Hawks are face-to-face, they were not in any position to offer on-the-court charity to the Grizzlies, chasing the Magic in their own division and not wanting to fall any further under .500 on the road (they entered the game a single notch below). In the end the Hawks would use an aggressive approach on offense, a tight second half defense, and Jamal Crawford to nab a quality 108-94 win in Memphis.

The game started with Joe Johnson hitting (5) points on the first two Hawks possessions. If THHB told you that Joe would score (6) more for the other 47:44 minutes in the game, you might have thought we had the wrong result in the previous paragraph. But trust us---our eyes hath not deceived us.

The Hawks played good enough offense in the first half against a team that, while they are offensively exciting at times--especially in transition, is a borderline bottom five defense in the league. Defensively, the Hawks struggled as Memphis took off in transition after makes and misses, scoring some easier points as Atlanta was slow to get back and defend. When Gay made a free throw with 2:19 left in the first half, the Grizzlies led 53-44. What came next was a (9) point run by Marvin Williams and Al Horford and when the horn sounded, the MEM lead was down to 55-53.

Williams was the aggressor all night, taking the ball to the basket and scoring on six of his eight shots inside the three point arc. He also helped keep the league's leading Offensive Rebounding Rate team down to moderately low (10) offensive grabbing (6) defensive boards of his own to go with his (15) points on the night.

The Hawks outscored the Grizzlies by (9) in a third quarter that saw the Atlanta defense quicker back on defense, rebounding well, and getting Memphis to shoot more from the outside. The margin might have been larger if not for some extremely careless ball handling by Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford (3 turnovers) in transition opportunities. But after Smith committed his third turnover with 4:22 left in the third quarter, the Hawks would not lose the ball again until Woodson emptied the bench in the fourth, a 13:32 span.

During that stretch, the Hawks turned the Grizzlies over (4) times and outscored their hosts 37-18 with half (OK, more than half--19) of those points coming off the considerably warm fingertips of Jamal Crawford.

Well, now me and Homer Jones and Big John Talley
Had a big crap game goin' back in the alley
And I kept rollin' them sevens
Heh heh, winnin' all them pots
My luck was so good I could do no wrong
I jest kept on rollin' and controllin' them bones
And finally they jest threw up their hands and said
'When you hot, you hot'

-Jerry Reed, 1971
Folks, Crawford was hot. 7-10 with (2) assists and (19) points in those deciding minutes of the game. That streak included (3) threes, but he was just as crafty getting to the rim as well. He is fun to watch when he is on---you expect to hear the old NBA JAM announcer bellow "He's On Fire!" when he gets going as he was in Memphis Tuesday night.

Riding the Fiery Trail Through Graceland

Separate from Crawford, the rest of the Hawks had a good shooting night as well, putting a (55) percent field goal number up on the board. In all, (5) Hawks joined Crawford in double digits, including Mike Bibby--who put 11 points/6 assists up in a half a game's work (22 minutes).

Al Horford won the battle of the efficient, yet underused centers battle with Marc Gasol, despite the latter's attempt to channel his inner Sabonis with hooking arms chicanery and lower body shoving as Horford swept through the lane offensively. Horford scored his usual (15) points on a mere (7) shots, blending the inside with the outside fluently. He also made inside life difficult for Gasol, who managed to only make (3) of his (7) shots. Horford was a game high (+21) while Gasol was a game low (-23). Yahtzee!

The Hawks blocked only (3) shots on the night, but two came on what has to be considered the play of the night for the Hawks. Early in the second half Memphis got ahead of the Hawks in transition and OJ Mayo was ready to lay it in for the finish. When he let the ball go Marvin came from behind for the block. Sadly, the ball landed in the hands of Zach Randolph, who was ready to quickly finish his gift for two points. That was the plan, until Josh Smith quickly got between the rim and the ball and put the whammy on such plans. Nice.

In the shadows of Crawford and the team's excellent shooting night was the all around numbers that Josh and Al put up in the game. Smith finished with 7-10, 17 point, 6 rebound, 4 assist, 3 steals, and a block night while Al countered with his 5-7, 15 point, 8 rebound, 4 assist, 3 steal night of his own.When the frontcourt is active and involved, that makes it easier for Johnson and Crawford, especially against a willing defense like Memphis, and nets the Hawks a lot of wins.

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