Tuesday, March 9, 2010

ATL-NYC Game Recap: Misdirection Plays

In the aftermath of the Hawks 99-98 loss on the road to the New York Knicks, there will be plenty of talk about Wilson Chandler's block of Josh Smith dunk attempt with seconds left on the clock, Al Horford's split second too late bank shot, and the Knicks' 10-15 three point shooting after an 0-18 effort the previous game against New Jersey.

Those were definitely factors in the game, but none were bigger than the offensive decisions in the (16) minutes in the beginning of the second half and four possessions inside the last 2 1/2 minutes of the game. With wiser strategy in that vast amount of time---there may never have been a need for such drama.

The Hawks entered the game against the Knicks, as they have every game this season with New York, with a decided advantage inside. In the first game of the year, THHB declared that Al Horford had stolen David Lee's lunch money. But since that first matchup against the Knicks, the Hawks have shown that they are not aware or do not buy into that advantage.

The Hawks played the first half and took (28) shots inside of 16-feet to (14) shots outside that mark. In the third quarter alone the Hawks took (12) shots outside of 16-feet to (11) inside--not an indication that a team buys into an inside = success correlation.

By the time the fourth quarter clock reached 8:16, the Hawks trailed by (11)--the biggest Knicks lead of the night--and had taken more second half jump shots (16) than inside shots (12).

Then, when it seemed the Hawks might just send up the white flag and continue to try and shoot their way out of trouble--a method that has spelled doom to their recent fourth quarter chances--the Hawks began to get the ball inside to Josh Smith and play strong defense on the other end.

Slowly, the Hawks paralyzed the Knicks scoring while chipping away at the lead on the other end going through Smith in the post. Whereas the Hawks took (7) free throws in the first (16) minutes of the second half, they shot (9) in the next six minutes of the game. And when Joe Johnson made the last of those nine attempts, the Hawks had cut the lead to a single point, a 20-10 run.

But just as quickly as you could say, "Lesson Learned. Hooray!", the Hawks abandoned the boat that had taken them off their sinking ship. After continued success going inside and narrowing the margin, Johnson couldn't help himself when he found himself open coming off a screen, 23 feet from the hoop. He missed.

Then it was Smoove's turn to defy what had been working when he too launched a jump shot with daylight in front of him to the hoop--a path that had played a large part in his (9) fourth quarter points. That was no time to see if the clunker could still start up--it was time to stay in the Ferrari that had got you there.

Still the Hawks defense had clamped down on the Knicks and Atlanta, for the third time, had a chance to take the lead. This time Smith ran the middle of the lane and short-armed a runner that the Knicks rebounded and turned into an Al Harrington two-pointer.

Now with the Hawks down three with (50) seconds left, they took another three pointer. Jamal Crawford aimed and missed his 11th shot of the game on (16) attempts. Fortunately, the Hawks got the rebound--but wasted it when Josh took another 20-footer, which also missed. Smith rallied to put in a layup and the Hawks trailed by one with 27.5 seconds left.

The Hawks continued their strong defense, forcing a turnover from Toney Douglas with a little less than (8) seconds left. Jamal Crawford weaved his way down the court, into the lane, gave up a 7-10 footer to hit a baseline running Smoove. Josh caught the ball went up for the slam, but didn't get up high enough to beat Wilson Chandler's second block around the rim of the game. The ball came off into Al Horford's hands with .6 seconds left, but he took too long to get the shot back on the glass so, despite the fact the ball went in, the Hawks would lose when the officials determined it had been shot too late.

The Hawks played (6) minutes of the second half going inside and nearly won. Now imagine if they had played with their heads the other (18) minutes of the game. One day they'll learn the lesson of understanding where your advantages lie---and that it's not always in your predetermined "big guns".

Other Red Herrings

On a night where the Hawks played a small Knicks team that is tied for the fourth worst blocked shot rate and gives up the fourth most makes at the rim per game and the 7th worst opponent field goal percentage at the rim, and had David Lee in foul trouble late in the game (33 minutes), the Hawks top frontcourt players (Smith, Horford) shot (36) times (18-36, 50 percent) whereas Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson shot (33) times (13-33, 39 percent).

When David Lee left the game with his 5th foul and 10:03 to play, the Hawks celebrated the matchup of Al Harrington on Al Horford by running no plays for Horford in the 3 1/2 minutes Lee was off the court. Horford scored on a fine look by Smith on an unscripted play, and Horford himself blew it by turning it over once away from the post and getting called for an illegal screen, but one has to wonder why the Hawks didn't immediately try to exploit the matchup versus taking two jump shots and not running Horford to the post.

The Hawks defense was roundly exploited throughout the other three quarters for laying off the shooters, allowing easy buckets on ball movement, etc. Exhibit A was Danilo Gallinari, who saw plenty of daylight on his 9-14, 27 point night. The Knicks, who average 45 percent shooting per night, shot 51 percent against the Hawks.

There's Matches in the Bathroom, Just Beneath the Stairs

Mo Evans seemed well suited as a zone buster, running the baseline quite well and cashing in on 3 of his 6 shots.

Woodson does seem to be learning his lesson in another area, bringing Marvin Williams back into the game for Mike Bibby for the final 4:26 to improve the team defense.

Jeff Teague made a nice driving layup during his 5+ minutes, but THHB couldn't help but notice that he got caught turning his head twice on cuts to the hoop by the Knicks, costing buckets on both gaffes.

The Hawks shot free throws (21-27, 78 percent) above their seasonal average (76.4 percent), but when the team loses by a point, it's hard not to think about those free points rimming away. Smith missed (4) of his (7), Crawford missed a technical free throw early in the fourth quarter, and Joe Johnson missed one in a pair that would have tied the game at 97.

The Hawks have now slipped below .500 on the road (15-16) and are wobbling a bit versus getting stronger headed down the stretch. They desperately need to recalibrate and understand what is working for them and when. The fact that they switched to the post for almost (6) minutes in the fourth quarter against a team that struggles defending the post is a glimmer of hope, but we'll have to ignore what happened in those four late possessions to take too much heart in it.

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