Sunday, April 19, 2009

You Can't Spell Victory Without Team

In Game One, with a 90-64 shellacking of the visiting Miami Heat, the Hawks made the HHB look gooood. Don’t believe us? Then read our Preview and listen to us on the Bill Shanks Show and see what we mean.

Hey, it’s just one game---Game 1 in a (7) game series, but it was one really good game, a game where they did everything that they needed to do, and made as strong a statement as they could have made.

We predicted sweep because we feel strongly that ---when the Hawks play together on both sides of the floor, the Heat can’t beat them. The Heat cannot execute as a team as good as the Hawks—therefore the favorable matchup.

We have long contended that the Birds are better when they trust each other on both ends of the court. The Hawks value is when they are playing together, not as a bunch of individuals, but together as a team. One could make the argument that this has been the case with any successful team.

In Game 1, the Hawks did that over and over again, and while there were times when the offense stalled because the ball did, there were more than enough times when they moved the ball and got a good shot and basket.

We were especially impressed when, at the end of the third quarter, Joe Johnson looked as if he was going to break down the defense to wind out the clock—but this time he slung the ball to a moving RFM, who got inside the defense, drew a gaggle of Heat, and then dumped it off to Al Horford, who calmly made the baseline jumper with almost no time left to go.

It's no mistake that the Hawks had (6) players in double figures while playing this trusting, efficient game.

Defensively, the Hawks had a game plan which didn't involve sending the house at Dwyane Wade, and for at least this game, it worked. Wade never made the impact most expected, instead with twice as many turnovers (8) than FTA (4), Wade was relegated to trying to win the game by himself or watch his teammates fail trying to help Wade win the game.

That the result was a (26) point pounding by the home team, the teammate scenario seems a little thin.

The Hawks made Wade try to shoot over the Hawks inside; the so-called "building a wall" defense. Wade seemed so confused at times and conditioned to meet resistance that he, at one point, passed up a sure layup or contact and tried to throw the ball across his body to the outside to James Jones.

We'll say that again---he passed up the layup attempt to toss it outside to James Jones. This was not a good idea.

Without committing double teams to Wade and creating easy shots for Miami's undercards, the Hawks energetic defense tempted the Heat to fall into exactly what their current habits are; to stand outside and shoot quick jump shots. That the team was in the 20's in 3 point rankings would seem to dissuade the Heat from this approach---but like most young teams (takes one to know one!) with any defensive resistance, their true colors will emerge. For the Heat, it's a nasty mix of quick jumpers, no rebounding, and turnovers.

This defense allowed the Hawks to run and run and run---giving Josh Smith the forum to make the case why Philips Arena is called the Highlight Factory. With Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson providing the role of the straight men---they kept setting it up and Smoove came rim rocking it down.

The only complaint we had was that the Hawks, who were enjoying a 20+ point lead even at the half, seemed to start their usual "killing them softly", (5) minutes to go offensive sets about a quarter and a half earlier than usual. This eliminated the chance to stretch the lead out to 30+ and gave the Heat a little bit of life as the third quarter wound down.

But then a funny thing happened. Just as we were in agreement in the Official HHB HD Viewing Center that if the lead should fall below 20 that a timeout should be called, Mike Woodson did just that. Then, as if hacking into our collective mindshare, Woodson proceeded to call consecutive post plays to stop the Heat momentum and to get good shots for the Hawks. Surprise! It works!

The Heat played the role of the team playing a bunch of youngsters (Mario Chalmers, Michael Beasley, Daequan Cook) significant minutes and getting their first taste of playoff basketball. Think Josh Smith doesn't care and you can take advantage--maybe in Game (52), but not in the playoffs, and not in Game (1). Lesson learned.

It's possible that the Heat will adjust in Game (2) Wednesday night. Wade could come out and try to win the game on his own. We say, great, go ahead and try, because while Wade going for 50+ may get headlines, we don't think they'll get the win. Because it takes more than one player to make it happen in the playoffs---it take a good team---and the Hawks have one that, when playing together, is much better.

Arena Cleanup

Peachtree Hoops and Hoopinion called it: One thing that last throw away game against the Heat showed was that RFM had significantly more trouble against Cook than against Chris Quinn. Sure enough, as soon as RFM checked in, there was Cook---and the 1-6 game from Murray was a good indication that Eric Spoelstra got that one right.

We were told from the time the trade was made, and the point was made again often on the TNT telecast, that Jermaine O'Neal was acquired to beef up the playoff push for MIA. We noted after the Heat benched JO for the fourth quarter earlier in the season against the Hawks that it would be a disappointment if that's all they could expect out of O'Neal. (21) minutes, (5) shots, and (5) points has to be less than even the most pessimistic could have expected.

The Hawks forward-centers (Smith, Horford, and Zaza Pachulia) nearly outrebounded the Heat 29 to 35. The Heat had (5) offensive rebounds---that trio of Hawks had (8) on their own.

The Heat played about as dismal of a fourth quarter as one can remember----They had (7) in the entire quarter--a quarter in which they would have wanted to make a push as PHL did in ORL to wash away a (16) point deficit. That (5) of the points came with less than (3) minutes left and from the shooting touch of Jamario Moon has to be even more disconcerting.

And Now For Something Completely Obvious

In short, it all came together for the Birds in front of a rocking ATL:

Mike Bibby orchestrated the team like a maestro with his (9) assists.

Joe Johnson provided some great drives to the hoop early on and then played the role of decoy as he drew the Heat and then moved the ball to get better shots.

Al Horford challenged shots inside, sent a Wade shot the other way, and ran Jermaine O'Neal to the bench---all while adding some nice jumpers, a post presence (shocking!), and a perfect night from the line---(We bet he thinks Ziggy's gotten too preachy, too!).

Marvin Williams got his feet wet and then had to come out of the pool--missing (3) free throws indicates that he needs some Rusteeze on his stroke from the line, but blowing out the Heat without him or RFM getting into rhythm is a good sign.

Josh Smith put on his usual Philips Arena playoff display---but he also added (10) rebounds and challenged shots inside, though he had no blocks. (23) and (10) with a 5-6 night from the free throw line is a very good way to start.

One hopes that the Hawks can take the picture and recreate the energy and efficiency on display Sunday night when they go to play this team again in Game (2)---Their only foe may be complacency, something that has manifested itself in this team during prosperous times.

But we're standing by the sweep--Game (1) was a good indication why--the Hawks are talented and loaded---and the Heat, even with the great Dwyane Wade, are not yet there.

The HHB is giddy--and not just about the great taste of yogurt---Streamers and confetti for the Game (1) win can be launched in the Comments Area.


Unknown said...

Another flawless piece by the king of all hawks fans!

Jason Walker said...

Thanks, Mom! Alright, now I'll come over for dinner---