Tuesday, March 9, 2010

THHB Moves to Peachtree Hoops

So, my dear, it's been a blast
You were not my first
You won't be my last
Ciao, I got to mambo

-Billy Crystal as Fernando, 1985

As the sign says over the door at Peachtree Hoops, we are indeed moving our staff and intrepid band of researchers, statisticians, wizards, and accountants over to the fine offices of the Sports Blog Network.

We are doing this to join forces with the incomparable Drew over there, to split the administrative load it takes to produce this kind of operation, and to bring to life some of the ideas that have been languishing on the desktops, iPads, and post-its of the entire THHB crew.

It's a privilege to be included as a co-manager, to gain access to an incredible network of people who have similar goals as ours, and to bring more and more Hawks opinion, data, and entertainment to everyone in concert with someone as fun and dedicated as Drew.

The Human Highlight Blog will live on over there, as we will continue to use this title in our posts, and this site will stay warm, with Twitter updates and other site post updates appearing in case folks have grown accustomed to seeing it. No new posts, just frozen in time. As we explained to CoCo, it's like putting a sheet over the hot rod and putting it in the garage for now.

Now we going to ride in the limo as long as they'll have us--and we thank everyone over there for that.

And of course, we invite you to come join us for the ride.

Hope the spell check works good over there.

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.

Check us for accuracy by watching the Highlights:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

ATL-MIA Game Review: Scoring Malfunction

It amazes and confounds watching this club sometimes.

How is it that a team can work for countless hours in practice and shootarounds, and then 3-4 hours on gamenight preparing to win---and then do the things that lose ballgames for them every time at the most inopportune times?

Below is the ESPN shot chart for the fourth quarter in the Hawks 100-94 loss in Miami Saturday night:

That's a whole lot of standing around shooting from the outside for the Hawks, who again forgot that the most effective way of attacking a zone defense is dribble penetration and ball movement. Whoops. Guess that lesson will have to be re-run again--in the form of the second half defense of the Miami Heat.

The Hawks scored (38) whole points in the second half, and if you examine the other quarters of the shot chart, you'll see that the migration of shots to the outside over the course of four quarters resembles a weather front heading from inside to outside. That has never been a good weather pattern (4-7 in games where they shoot 22 or more threes) for the Hawks this season and the results bore it out again in Miami.

The stagnation of the offense eventually toppled the Hawks calling card on the season, turnover margin. The #1 team in Turnover Margin this season (averaging 2.39 fewer turnovers per game than their opponents) lost that battle 13-6 to the Heat, including a brutal (7) in the fourth quarter.

It was comical to hear Larry Drew talk after the first quarter about how much they want to play their offense inside-out. It may be the plan, but against the Heat it must have been written in disappearing ink. The Hawks scored a low (26) points in the paint, in large part due to the zone the Heat deployed in the third quarter. Teams normally don't stay in zones in the pros due to the excellent penetration skills teams have and subsequent ball movement that leaves teams getting good shots and leaving the zone as a quick defensive gimmick. The Heat were able to stay in zone for the majority of the final (18) minutes of the game as the Hawks effort to dribble around it or pass/shoot over it left the offense in park and the Heat with the game.

Moving On

Jamal Crawford hit yet another (4) point play which when you consider that was 11 percent of the Hawks offense in the second half should dampen the joy such a play usually brings.

We're not going to continue to harp on Joe Johnson, but his idea of dribble penetration is usually Part 23 of his (20) second Isolation Plan. It makes him much less effective against zones which is why Joe should not be triggering any offense against zone. He should be a zone killer spotting up after the dribble penetration has been engaged by a different Hawks player.

(Sidenote: When Joe Johnson backs down a player in the "post" while Josh Smith is on the floor, it makes Smith a shooter. Not a good plan.)

As if battling the zone wasn't hard enough mentally and physically on the team, they continued to wander down on offense and try to set things up the with (11) seconds left on the shot clock. Where's the urgency?

Joe Smith should be noted for his great play off the bench in the first half. But at the end of that shift, he got hit in the nose and pulled an Unsolved Mysteries for the rest of the game (Robert Stack voice: He was never seen nor heard from again).

We just don't understand how the staff/players continue to fall into the same traps. Maybe it's the way it is in the NBA, or with teams that just don't have what it takes to be deep players in the playoffs. But we see this team as talented enough to do just that---but the problem with seeing the same mistakes/trends with a team is that those errors/choices become grooved into habits--and habits are hard to break.

See, we didn't ever move on. Force of habit.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

GS-ATL Game Review: Core Discipline

The Golden State Warriors had played (2) games prior to Friday night's 127-122 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Philips Arena in which they had made over (50) percent of their field goals, (40) percent of their 3-pointers, and (80) percent of their free throws, all while turning the ball over (11) times or less.

In the first of these games, in Milwaukee, the Warriors lost due to being outrebounded on the offensive glass 15-2 by the Bucks and 46-31 overall. The additional (9) shots plus Brandon Jennings seasonal epic (55) point game cost them an early season road win.

The next instance, a home game in February against the Kings, Golden State blew Sacramento's doors off, 130-98, behind (89) points between the three guards (Stephen Curry, CJ Watson, and Anthony Morrow).

Against the Hawks on the road, the Warriors arguably played a better game than they did when they came back from (18) against ATL in their own house and won. They had more three pointers made (11-3), fewer turnovers (11-13), and more offensive rebounds (14-9).

What was different for the Warriors tonight is that the Hawks, despite the Warriors great success at making shots and getting freaky rebounds on the offensive end, stuck with what worked all night long--going inside--and got the win.

For the most part, the Hawks worked from the inside-out, as no Warrior was able to match up successfully with Josh Smith or Al Horford. Between the two big men, the Hawks shot 20-30, 16-23, for (56) points and (24) rebounds, (9) of which were offensive. Adding to the frontcourt dominance was Marvin Williams, who matched his frontcourt brethren with (9) offensive rebounds of his own.

For the Hawks, it was a must not to ignore the size advantage the team had over their visitors. It showed good, selfless team play on the part of the volume shooting guards to use this considerable leverage to win the game, especially in light of the outside shooting of their counterparts. The Hawks outscored the Warriors 52-38 in the paint, and few of the Warriors paint points were out of the half court set, scoring many on their (31) fast break points.

When the Hawks needed big buckets late in the game, when the Warriors simply wouldn't stop making jump shots, they went into Horford, who delivered with a quick move to the basket for one score and two clutch free throws. Smith added two more later to seal the deal.

The success of the inside game was augmented by the outside shooting of Mike Bibby, who was a happy recipient of wide open shots with Oakland sagging in to protect what they could of the paint. Bibby had a season high (7) made three pointers and (23) points, besting his previous season high against PHL in November. Such accuracy helped make up for the lack of hoop luck for Joe Johnson, who needed (14) shots to get to double digits in scoring (3-14).

Also not-hot was Jamal Crawford, who had (2) points through three quarters, but finished strong with (12) fourth quarter points, 5-13 shooting overall. But while being cold from the floor, Crawford and Johnson combined for (13) assists in what was a good ball movement game all around for the home team (27 assists).

Some for you and some for you

As good as the Warriors were, the Hawks were better due to using their strength. In a similar look at the Hawks prowess when hitting the 50/50/75/less than 10 turnover objectives they produced against Golden State, the Hawks have won both times they accomplished the same this season. This first was the home win against Toronto and the other was the recent win at Utah.

We're confused how Stephen Curry "only" averages 15.6 points per game overall in the league as he went over thirty points (31) against against the Hawks for the second game in a row. Curry put (32) in against the Hawks in Oakland and did it both times while shooting over (50) percent (13-18/11-19). Curry dished out (11) assists while committing (7) of the Warriors (11) turnovers on the night, all while doing what THHB calls "pitching a complete game"--playing all (48) minutes. No Hawk has done that since the '07-'08 season when, surprise, Joe Johnson played every minute against the Bulls in a 103-94 loss in Chicago. It was Curry's 4th complete game of the year.

Enjoy the highlights:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

THHB Special Commentary: Context

The AJC's excellent Michael Cunningham pleads with the Hawks fans and its bloggers in his piece this afternoon.

Money Quote:

I’d expect there to be more joy and optimism even among my blog people, who aren’t the casual fans glancing at the standings and saying “Hey, the Hawks are ballin!” but instead wring their hands over all the things they see wrong with their squad. Love ya for that, and I understand this is a place for you to dog your no-good family among family while bitterly defending them against outsiders (that’s not just my family, is it?). But your team is in the East mix so please try to have some fun.

Now, I don't know exactly who he is referring to, but it's safe to say that all in the Hawks Blogging Nation have focused on the endgame/destination versus the ride getting there at quite a few points in the season.

So let me say that Michael, to that end, I assure you that, as the one who is documenting a horrible decade in Hawks basketball and was on-site witness to most of those disasters, it is definitely a joy to be debating, analyzing, and recapping the ins and outs of a playoff bound team.

Even as I was on The Bill Shanks Show today, it was important to note that we are talking about a team who is in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference, have been assured a playoff spot since the first week of the season, and only recently lamented the exclusion of a THIRD Hawk on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

Still, as we also mentioned on Shanks' show, married with our excitement of the relevance and success of our favored team, there is the understanding of where this team can go and the associated frustration with the shortcomings that threaten to prevent the team from achieving that destination.

This is where we find the blogs, fans, and even national pundits---we've clarified where the Hawks are and how they got here, now what's the next step and what's keeping them from getting there. Players aren't satisfied with stopping at a certain level of success---unless that stop includes a championship ring on your finger. And it's no different for the people that watch and support the team as well.

Utah Jazz fans should do somersaults about the run they have had with Jerry Sloan since the 80's---but should that prevent them, the beats that cover them, or the Jazz themselves for wanting, working towards, and discussing what can get them to the ultimate prize?

We have context, but that won't stop us from looking beyond that spot for the next one. We celebrate the achievements of this team, even on a night to night basis--but we also understand there is more there and what a shame it would be if they never got to the ultimate place that their talent says they can go.

So the fans are going to come out to the games and yelp when Josh Smith does something amazing, when Joe Johnson applies his late game killer sauce to his opponent, while wanting the team to continue to improve and calling them out when they repeat the same mistakes.

Hoopinion will continue to document Josh Smith's inability to make jump shots as he is celebrating the reduction of those same shots that have resulted in Smith's rise to greatness this season.

Hawkstr8talk will tinker with lineups, trying to get the most out of the Hawks for (48) minutes as his goal is always the championship.

Peachtree Hoops will bounce off the walls in both excitement and frustration from minute to minutes with his team.

CoCo will continue to dish out the hard love, and be there for a hug as well.

Soaring Down South will continue to analyze and communicate his view of this Hawks team and, like the rest of us, try to understand how they can get to the next level---while enjoying this one on the way.

After all, this is probably a (50) win Hawks team who is going to enjoy first round home court advantage in the playoffs for the second straight year. They have crossed off a number of "sinces" from the beginning of the season forward in their path to this success.

In contrast, (10) years ago Isaiah Rider was giving a farewell press conference in the bowels of Philips Arena with a fishing cap on his head.

Times are most definitely better.

THHB's Top 10 Hawks of the Decade: Number Three

First time checking out our End of the Hawks Decade articles?

A Decade of Hawks Aughts (and Aught-Nots),

Top Hawks by Statistical Category

THHB's Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade, #10, #9, #8, #7, #6, #5, #4

We're down to the last three Hawks--most of you probably have done the math and figured out whose left (like commenter dmorton surmised by #7)--hey, it wasn't the best of decades for a sports franchise--there weren't many who stood out (or lasted) for a decent part of the decade.

Now we move onto one of THHB's all time favorites. We've got an official award for the opposing player who does the extraordinary during our game reviews named after him. He was THE hawk for the first half of the decade.

The Number Three Hawk of the Decade is:

Jason Terry

We love Jet. The way he flew down the court with the ball. The automatic nature of his jump shot. The headband and the high socks.

JT was part of the fabled 1999 draft that netted the Hawks Terry, a few years of Dion Glover, even less of Cal Bowdler, and the vapor that was Jumaine Jones as a Hawk.

Going into that draft, there were (5) point-ish guards that were potential lottery picks. The Hawks, having traded their PG of the 90's, Mookie Blaylock, to Oakland for their pick, would select #10 and were predicted to select one of those guards. Of the bunch, it was expected that Steve Francis and Baron Davis would be long gone by the 10th pick (and they were). The others that the Hawks would have a shot at would be between Terry, Utah's Andre Miller, and Duke's freshman William Avery. Miller would be somewhat of a longshot to make it to 10, leaving the Hawks choosing between Terry and Avery.

Some predictions had the Hawks selecting the young Avery, but ultimately the Hawks chose wisely and grabbed Terry, who was coming off a championship career at Arizona. Terry immediately got to work with the Hawks working on his jump shot constantly (his late night trips to the new Philips Arena practice floor to shoot jumpers was a popular story at the time), learning the nuances of running the point, and fighting for playing time under veteran coach Lenny Wilkens.

A running theme during Terry's tenure as a Hawk was the TV drama-esque question of "Is He or Isn't He" in regards to being a point guard. Bigger point guards were brought in (Emanuel Davis, Boris Diaw among the group) to play with JT so he could he could just focus on scoring and then the team would shift back to Jet playing the point, with Glover at shooting guard. Despite the back and forth, Terry managed to post career highs in Assist Rate, Assists per game, and Total Assists in 2002-2003, finishing in the NBA Top 10 in each of those categories. For the decade, Terry led the Hawks in the same categories.

Still, Terry never really seemed comfortable triggering the offense full time, leading to the famous statement by his last GM, Billy Knight, that defining who is the "point guard" isn't necessary---there are just "guards".

The two highest scoring games of Terry's career came as a Hawk, both occurring in 2002-2003.

The first was an epic shootout between JT and Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, where JT set his career highs in point (46) and free throws made and attempted (13/17). Nowitzki, who had (42), Steve Nash, and Tim Hardaway put away the Hawks late in the fourth quarter.

The other was the home finale against the Cavaliers, where JT scored (43) and dimed (10) times. The Hawks trailed by (3) when the Cavs missed their free throw with a few seconds left and JT took the ball, elected not to call a timeout, raced down the court around a strong Ira Newble screen, and buried the game tying three. The Hawks would win in double-OT (and probably got Newble a fat multi-year contract with the Cavs that offseason).

One of the least told Terry traits was his ability to get into scraps on the court. Terry famously got into it with (then) Pacers PG Anthony Johnson and has continued his fiesty personality in Dallas. And he was the only one to have Shareef Abdur-Rahim's back in his fight with Kenny Thomas in 2002.

During interviews, JT is very personable, always flashing his big smile. While he doesn't ever say very much in those interviews, Jet was always willing to talk to the media after games, something strong on a franchise that didn't experience much winning while he was in the home locker room at Philips Arena. THHB's Jason Terry Tip-Of-The-Cap awards during game reviews are named for Terry's propensity to acknowledging his opponent after games---and there were plenty of chances for Terry to tip that cap throughout his (403) games as a Hawk.

In the summer of 2003, Terry tried to get away from all the losing, signing an offer sheet with the Jazz. A 3 year, 21 million dollar deal, the Hawks waited the (14) days before matching, but not before Terry asked that it not be matched. To his credit, once back in the ATL, Terry made the best of the rest of his stay before being shipped off to Dallas a part of Billy Knight's reset of the roster in 2004.

We loved Terry's speed, his shot, and his personality. We wish he had some success in the ATL, but he certainly has made up for it in Dallas with the Mavs. His skills, production (4th in PER, 1st in Assist Rate, 1st in Steals Rate), and attitude despite his constantly changing role on the court, having weak coaching, and no veterans to help along the way, endeared himself to THHB and has earned his ranking as the #3 Hawk of the Decade.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

ATL-CHI Game Review: Taking Advantage

The Bulls were missing Joakim Noah and Luol Deng and had traded away Tyrus Thomas, giving the fully loaded Hawks a supreme advantage inside, which they used to exact a 63-37 advantage on the boards, including (22) offensive rebounds, on their way to a fairly easy 116-92 win in Chicago.

Though the Hawks never trailed in the game, the Hawks needed a 41-24 fourth quarter to close the argument. The Bulls fought hard, including Derrick Rose (24 points), to keep it close, and the Hawks obliged by having another poor shooting night from the Backcourt (Joe Johnson 5-15, Bibby 2-7, Crawford 6-13, 13-35, 37 percent total).

Still, the Bulls had no answer for the length and activity of Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Al Horford, and Zaza Pachulia, as each had a hand in building that extreme rebounding margin and the associated second chances.

Smith had (9) first quarter points and maybe should have had the ball a lot more given the complete inability of the Bulls to defend him going inside. Taj Gibson only saw a blur from Smith when trying to check him, and Smith converted 7/14 from the field and scoring (17) for the game.

Remember when we used to say that Smith needed to understand his role (read: improve) in defensive rebounding? Smith averaged (10) rebounds per game in February and started March off with a season high, (18) rebound bang against CHI. In addition, SportSouth ran a great graphic in the game regarding Smith's ranking in both blocks and steals, illustrating that he is the shortest player in the Top 12 in blocks and the tallest player in the Top 12 in steals. Nice. If Smith keeps this up, folks will have to stop talking about his potential greatness and just talk about the greatness.

Marvin Williams found his place on the team last night in exploding to the rim and finishing, also going 7-14 (18 points) and getting (9) rebounds. The Bulls, without Deng, Noah, and the traded Thomas, simply didn't have the length or athleticism to keep the Hawks off the glass with any consistency and despite their hustle, this deficiency cost them the game.

Trick Shots

The Hawks busted out a couple of beauties, both of which should be logged in the highlights if there is any decency and common sense in the NBA.com highlight department.

The first was quite a bit of luck as Maurice Evans dribbled out behind the three point line with the shot clock winding down. Evans is no Joe Johnson in these situations, but there was nowhere left to go as he tried to dribble down the baseline and was met by the Bulls defense. Feeling contact, Evans began to lean out of bounds as he flipped the ball in the air towards the basket. Chicago fans had to feel as if they were predestined for defeat as the ball seemed to curve around the backboard into the net. Evans seemed annoyed that there was no call. Celebrate, Mo!

The other was in the shadows of garbage time. This time the ball came to Mario "Flubber" West on the outside. Amzaingly, West authored a knee knocking cross over and then drove to the hoop. With little between him and the hoop, West took off in the air, leaning a bit towards the basket. With a large amount of authority, Flubber slammed the ball through the net, eliciting a large amount of "Oooohs" and "aaahhhhs" from the Chicago faithful (they must have been if they were still in the arena at that point). Heck, even all the staff tracking the game for THHB hit the arrows on the DVR remote to check that play out a half dozen times. It was most definitely sweet.

We Tied a String Around Our Finger

We will not forget Al Horford who, in the midst of when this was still a hotly contested game in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, sent the Hawks up by (7) twice with made baskets, and then got the Hawks into a double figure lead with seven minutes left to play. Horford also pulled in (10) rebounds to go along with his (15) points--a second straight double-double. We still see a lack of aggressiveness around the hoop on offense--we wonder if there is an injury or a lack of confidence in there. Instead of playing not to be denied, Horford sometimes looks as if he is applying for a vacancy in the hoop instead of simply taking the space.

We also won't forget Mike Woodson for somewhat understanding that the Bulls had no height/strength  inside and trying to exploit it. Yes, we think that there should have been an avalanche of possessions for Smith, Horford, etc, but we saw a lot more post action in Chicago than in recent games, and he kept Horford and Pachulia in there together to start the fourth which helped give Smith needed rest while the big boys continued to dominate the glass.

Highlights of the Bullying of the Bulls below:

Monday, March 1, 2010

MIL-ATL Game Review: Stump the Band

Sometimes, we just don't know.

Somewhere deep beneath the box scores and replays of the Hawks 106-102 overtime victory over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks we know there are reasons and explanations.

There have to be theories why the Hawks needed overtime at home to dispatch a .500 Bucks team that lacked firepower to the point where they signed Jerry Stackhouse to come in and provide some oomph to their efforts.

THHB watched as the home team outrebounded the Bucks, along with having fewer turnovers, more free throws, and made more baskets than their visitors.

We mean, apart from the same old, same old of standing around on offense leading to poor transition defense, right? Right?

This game ended in a win, which makes the all of the minutes we watched go down as easy as castor oil. But the contest served to turn up the burner on all the simmering doubts and questions regarding viability for the long term and whether this team even believes or understands that there are issues that need to be resolved here.

The fourth quarter malaise that has been a Hawks staple since just before the Cleveland games is on the verge of graduating to a tradition. Once again the ball stopped moving, and therefore the Hawks stopped moving as well. When this occurs the ATL end of the scoreboard follows suit. It's discussed on their telecasts, by the head coach and players after the games, and yet there they are still---not moving, watching, waiting for someone else to do something.

It wasn't like that in the beginning---the Hawks blitzed the Bucks with (7) field goals in the game's first (4) minutes, using energy and ball movement to get any shot they wanted. Why then, after such success, did Joe Johnson take a Josh Smith outlet and then toss off the effectiveness of what they were doing to back a guard down (23) feet from the basket and attempt a quick fadeaway without a single pass?

This lack of respect to what was working began the Hawks down a tailspin that would see them only convert (10) more baskets for the other (20) minutes of the first half. The Hawks never really got back into the same kind of flow, rather, they scratched and clawed to survive in a game where John Salmons and Jerry Stackhouse took turns scoring on the Hawks backcourt "defense".

(Sidenote: There is a lot to love about Joe Johnson, including the fact that he is willing to take and can make the clutch shots late in games. Much is made about how Joe never talks to the officials, doesn't run his mouth, etc. But what is unspoken is the darker trend of the frustration foul, something the Johnson does habitually, especially after a bad forced shot, self turnover, or an uncalled offense to his being. Johnson had two of these against Milwaukee, the second of which Johnson was fortunate not to get called for a flagrant foul as he shoved a driving Buck to the ground. There is not much to make of this--just a shade of Johnson that is under-reported but obvious to the rolling eyes of THHB.)

Maybe no sequences define the Joe Johnson era in Atlanta better than the fourth quarter isolations of Joe-on-Five, the final shot--a last second 20+ foot fall away after dribbling the clock down from (13) seconds, and the overtime, when Johnson spent the time taking and making the shots he had missed previously.

The Hawks have done a better job of distributing scoring opportunities more equally across their talented roster, however Sunday night Johnson took (26) shots to score his (24) points--with (10) field goals made. Johnson wasn't the only player below the 1.00 Points Contributed/Possessions Used---his backcourt mates continued their trend down below the same 1.00 mark, with Jamal Crawford posting a .82 and Mike Bibby offering a stinky .56. It has been long said that Crawford and Bibby offer little when they are not making shots--last night was another piece of evidence in that argument.

It's a shame the Hawks didn't sign Stackhouse because when Jamal and Bibby aren't hitting, it would be nice to plug in another streak scorer to have another option. As it is, Woody feels like he has to ride out their slumps because he has no other options. Bucks coach Scott Skiles, on the other hand, shows how to do the hot/cold shuffle.

Skiles had seen enough of Luc M'bah a Moute in his short stints on the floor--yielding a -20 in his (13) minutes on the floor. Skiles had other options, and he used them. When Sekou Smith favorite Luke Ridnour showed he had his game going, Skiles rode him over rookie Brandon Jennings.

Everyone in THHB Viewing Center could visualize Stackhouse coming off the bench for the ATL so we wonder why the Hawks brass couldn't do the same.

Da, Da, Da

Al Horford, on the surface, seems to have had a decent game. (17) points and (10) rebounds, but he continually made himself small around the hoop by leaning in too far and tossing behind his body, trying to sneak the ball in under the basket, etc. Horford has left the All-Star in some western city---he needs to get his groove back, especially with the Backcourt struggling to be efficient.

On the other hand, Josh Smith continues to prove that he was the best the Hawks had to offer that exhibition in Dallas. Smith went 22/15/6, continuing his sick stat-stuffing since returning to action. He had two of the Hawks three And-1s, ditching the long shot to get back to attacking the rim, drawing contact, and finishing or getting to the line, where he made 6-8.

It's difficult for Marvin Williams to find a place in the offense other than flying in after the Backcourt launches a shot to keep a possession alive when the ball isn't moving. Marvin made a couple of shots after Josh Smith found him on the weakside---really the only times the ball moves from side to side in the halfcourt is when Smoove initiates.

Highlights Right Now:

Friday, February 26, 2010

DAL-ATL Game Review: Broken Record

We'll make this simple.

Hawks start slow.

Hawks come back and lead game.

Dallas goes zone.

Hawks shoot jump shots.

Dallas scores, and scores, and takes the lead.

A late technical foul helps game into overtime.

Dallas stays in zone.

Atlanta remains outside, missing jump shots.

Dallas remains outside, making jump shots.

Dallas scoring, Hawks snoring.

Game over.

Atomic Dog

It's fitting that Jason Terry was in the house tonight, because we have to give a Jason Terry tip-of-the-cap to Jason Kidd, who absolutely, without question, won this game for the Mavs.

Yes, yes, Dirk Nowitzki was great--(37 points on 15-26 shooting). But Kidd had an unreal triple-double, laying down a 19/17/16 line--the first of such kind since Magic Johnson did the trick in 1989.

When Kidd entered the game in the fourth quarter, the Hawks held an 86-71 lead with 8:23 left to play. From that point on, the Mavericks outscored the Hawks 40-17. Kidd had (9) points and (7) assists the rest of the way, including a sure-to-be-discussed play where Kidd saw Mike Woodson directing his team on the court, ran full speed towards the coach, then threw a forearm into Woodson while he had just barely made it back off the court. Not only did Kidd get away with initiating contact like that, the Mavericks were awarded a technical foul for interference on Woodson.

Some call this veteran or savvy. We call it a "jerk" move.

Woodson was off the court, Kidd initiated contact, with a forearm shiver no less. It's not basketball, yet there it was.

Still, it had nothing to do with Kidd killing the Hawks with threes (3 of them in that run) or leading the charge of standing around in a zone while the Hawks continued to try to shoot over it with no success over and over again. And it certainly didn't take away from the statistically incredible night Kidd had. Bravo.

Blame Game

There will be plenty--there often is in games such as this. You can point to Woodson for his lack of adjustments to the zone or his sojourn onto the court which led to the Kidd nonsense.

Al Horford was terrible all night---losing Haywood on the glass, shooting 4-16 and missing a free throw down the stretch. He had his shot blocked (4) times, making himself awfully small around the hoop. His ineffectiveness was especially painful given the shooting struggles the Hawks had late.

Joe Johnson had a statistically tremendous game (27 points, 10 assists, 11-21 shooting), but he forced shots late and had a forgettable bit of basketball late that helped force overtime. Johnson was backing Barea down in the post, leveraging more than one forearm to Barea's chest in doing so, and then missed the short range shot. Johnson jogged back down and then, with his feet out of position, lost Jason Terry as the Jet took the ball baseline. Josh Smith rushed down to help only to watch Terry zip the ball back out to the top to Nowitzki, who slung it over to Kidd who hit yet another three pointer to give the Mavericks a two point lead.

Jamal Crawford took nine 3-pointers and missed seven of them. His coldness enabled a team high (low?) -14 for the night.

The team's transition defense was shaky throughout the game, which especially hurt when those long jump shots (The Hawks attempted 26 threes, 9 more than their average per game) went the other way.  The ESPN TV team of Dan Shulman and Hubie Brown were calling them One and Done and the Mavericks were taking advantage the other way.

When teams go zone, one of the keys is to attack the middle, penetrate, get to the line. The Hawks decided they would shoot over it, and it failed. At the time that Kidd checked back into the game, the Hawks had attempted (18) free throws. For the last (13) minutes of the game, they would attempt (3) more and make only one.

Any NBA player will tell you about how teams always make runs, which is why it's so surprising that those same players on the court seem to forget that when they have a big lead. It's too bad tonight, because the Hawks had overcome their early game misery to play fantastic basketball, especially Josh Smith, who put an 18/11/8/7 (steals) up for the home team, only to watch himself fall into the same traps the team falls into--the chase for the glory of the made jump shot. They were in position to drop the 4th best Western Conference team--and let it go.

Zones, Jump Shots, and Jason Kidd.



THHB's Top 10 Hawks of the Decade: Number Four

Haven't seen our Countdown of the Top 10 Hawks of the Decade? Check out our other End of the Hawks Decade articles:

A Decade of Hawks Aughts (and Aught-Nots),

Top Hawks by Statistical Category

THHB's Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade, #10, #9, #8, #7, #6, #5

Our next player arrived as a part of the Pete Babcock "rebuild while staying relevant now" plan, which, umm, yeah.

Our Number Four Hawk of the Decade is:

Shareef Abdur-Rahim

The Hawks had the #3 pick in the 2001 draft and worked out a variety of players who could continue the rebuilding started by the recent drafting of guards Jason Terry (#10, 1999), Dion Glover (#20, 1999), and DerMarr Johnson (#6, 2000).

It was a big man draft, which worked well for the Hawks, given the guard heavy draft focus above. The high school quartet of Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, DeSagana Diop, and Kwame Brown were all targets of then GM Pete Babcock, as was Duke straight man Shane Battier. Less known to all was the potential impact of Spaniard Pau Gasol. And, if the backcourt were still an option for Pete, Jason Richardson and a guy named Joe Johnson would be there, if wanted.

In the days leading up to the draft, Grizzlies GM Billy Knight was wanting to shed costs and one of the biggest salaries he could shed was that of sixth year forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Shareef was going into the third year of a 6 year, 70.88 million dollar deal and the Grizzlies were going nowhere. Babcock saw the opportunity to snag a young (25 at the time) 20/10 caliber power forward. As he stated after the deal was struck for Lorenzen Wright, Brevin Knight, and the Hawks pick in the 2001 draft, "We felt we could either draft someone who might become an All-Star or acquire someone who was already there." And so the deal was done.

Immediately upon arriving, Abdur-Rahim showed what had made him a productive player in VAN; a fundamenally sound, workman like post approach and a nice, if a little robotic, jump shooting style. Abdur-Rahim counting stats, constantly referenced in the tidy PPG/RPG format (as we did just above), were a product of high minutes and high usage, and his time in ATL was no different, trailing only Joe Johnson in Usage for the decade (25.4).

Despite the production and efficiency (20.2 PER), Abdur-Rahim's numbers rarely had the impact one would expect with stats (and contract) such as his. He produced, but it was as understated as he was and rarely had a take-over effect on games.

One fantastic exception was the Thanksgiving break explosion in 2001 against the Detroit Pistons, when Shareef dropped the magic (50) on their visitors in a 106-99 win. It would be one of two times Shareef scored 40+ points in his career, both with the Hawks. He had a great spin move to the hoop, great touch around the basket, and had an unusual way of dunking despite looking like he was (27) feet underneath the hoop.

He was recognized in 2002 as an NBA All-Star and, while his production validated his presence there, his ho-hum approach to the game didn't translate to that particular exhibition.

He played on a youthful, rudderless roster with questionable coaching and never complained, he just worked, and played solid basketball. He was never the star Babcock might have thought when acquiring him to grow with his young guards,and they never had a winning record with Shareef. His time as a Hawk ended when he was sent packing again by Billy Knight, now the Hawks GM, as he scrapped Babcock's roster and started over in 2004.

Despite his mild-mannered appearance, impact on the game and the team's record, Shareef led the team in PER for the decade, was near the top in total rebounding rate (6th, 13.3), defensive rating (4th, 105) and TS% (4th, 55%). In the traditional stats, he was 2nd in PPG (20.4), 3rd in rebounding (8.9), first in free throws made per game and attempted per game (5.5/6.6), 4th in FG% (47.3), 2nd in FT% (83.5), tied for 4th in steals (1.1), and was the best post presence the Hawks had before Al Horford showed up in the ATL. He grinded out efficiency and production every night he was here---not too high, not too low--much like his post game demeanor.

His consistent, dependable, high level production makes him THHB's Number Four Hawks of the Decade.

(Video Note: Looking around the webbage, there appears to be no video evidence of Shareef's time in the ATL, save for this TNT footage from '02-'03. So we've included a highlight package that has bits of him playing for everybody but the Hawks. Go figure.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

MIN-ATL Game Night (Now w/Quotes!): Smoove Just Like Silk

Returning home from a long break from the circus-infested Philips Arena, the Atlanta Hawks took care of the business of winning, outlasting the Minnesota Timberwolves 98-92 Wednesday night.

Leading the way was the all around excellent play of Josh Smith. Smith led all scorers with a season-high (27) points and then added (10) rebounds, (5) assists, (2) official blocked shots, and a number of Jonny Flynn and company's shots altered in fear of heartbreaking rejection.

"He changed a lot of shots and helped everybody," said a thankful Mike Bibby about Smith's deterrent presence around the net.

Maybe it's because he doesn't always do it as smooth as his nickname suggests, but Smith's production is borderline prodigious. Because he doesn't shoot the ball well (though tonight he seemed as on as his skill will allow) he'll never be the type to snap off a scoring run as grand as Kevin Durant. Still, his omnipresence can lift the team to victory, a characteristic present in the game tonight.

"He was all over the place," beamed Coach Woodson afterwards. "He was blocking shots, scoring for us, made his free throws, rebounded the ball---he was solid from beginning to the end."

"You don't realize all the things he's doing," said Al Horford about his teammate's performance. "He's quiet in putting up those numbers, but he's been doing it for us all year long."

"It feels good," allowed Smith about his effort. "Any time I can help the team win in any way; points, rebounds, steals, blocks, assists--it puts a smile on my face."

In addition to his aberrant effectiveness in jump shots on this single night, Smoove took it to the free throw line for a total of (11) free throws, with (9) made. His efforts on the glass helped limit the top 10 Offensive Rebounding Wolves to a mere (7) for the night, a pre-game objective met by the Hawks.

"Keeping (Kevin) Love and Al Jefferson off the glass--they're beasts on the glass and live for second chance points, boxing them out and limiting those offensive rebounds, that was good," acknowledged Smith.

Horford agreed, "We made a conscience effort to keep them off the glass. We know how dominant Al Jefferson and Kevin Love can be, so we really tried to limit them. It helped to have our guards coming in and helping us with the rebounds." Horford added, laughing, "(Mike) Bibby stole a couple from me--he's been telling me he's trying get his rebounding percentages up."

Horford pitched in with (13) rebounds and (5) assists, helping make his unusually deficient night from the field (a rushed 5-14) less painful.

"I just tried to stay with it. I didn't have the shooting night that I usually have," Horford admitted. "But I made sure that I stayed in it and do the other things like defending and rebounding. Once the game got going I was able to handle it, though." (Horford was 3-6 in the second half)

Joe Johnson was a steady-as-he-goes (21) and (5) assists, getting to the line for (7) throws of his own. He gave the Hawks a solid hand along with Mike Bibby, who emerged from a slump to hit 5/9, 2/4 for (12) points. He added (5) rebounds of his own--says Woodson, "We're going to need Mike to continue to step up, knock down shots and run the ball club like he's done the last two years."

Bibby's effort was needed in what was easily Jamal Crawford's worst game as a Hawk. Crawford was oh-for-seven and had a mere point, leaving him wondering (in jest) about his standing as the frontrunner for Sixth Man.

"It was probably his worst game of the season," said Woodson. "But he's entitled to that. He's been solid all season for us."

Nothing's Easy

The Hawks took a (12) point lead into the final quarter--not even close to comfortable, we know---but quickly gave it back thanks to a less than stellar second half effort from the second unit.

It's too bad because one of the best parts about the first half was the play of the recently slumping bench. The second unit scored (18) first half points, led by Joe Smith and Mo Evans. Zaza Pachulia, who has been a bit salty about his own play and the lack of time on the court to work through it, had (6) rebounds in the opening half. "We were concentrating on limiting their second chance buckets," said Pachulia.

In the second half, however, the bench was able to only add (5) points (all Evans) and Pachulia a single extra rebound.

"I was hoping to go with our second unit the rest of the way," explained Woody when talking about the slow fourth quarter start. "They didn't get it done and I had to go back to our starters."

Included in that first half goodness was the solid play of Jeff Teague, with whom THHB visited with before the game. Teague ran the offense well in the first half, garnering his (4) points, (2) rebounds, and an assist for his work. On one bucket, Teague took a long outlet pass and finished strong at the hoop, taking the play right into the chest of Corey Brewer.

Kevin Love is an offensive rebounding machine. Despite the overall effective effort of the Hawks in keeping MIN off the offensive glass, Love still managed to make his mark, getting (4) of the (7) for the team. Love, who lacks only the three point shot to officially look like every church league superstar, was unable to display his well chronicled passing skills, as he had zero assists.

As rated as Love's skills are at passing, J-Smoove's skills are underrated. Among power forwards who play 25+ minutes per game, Smith is first in assists and weighted assists (which gives bonus for assists leading to a three). He is also 4th among power forwards in assist to turnover ratio, with 1.84, which is by far his best in his career.

Enjoy the highlights:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

ATL-UTAH Game Review: Adam Keefe This

Cross off another "since".

Not since the days of The Namesake, Kevin Willis, and company had the Hawks won in Salt Lake City. (17) years had come and gone since the last time the Hawks walked off the floor in Utah victorious.

So it's fitting that, in a season of sinces, this streak should fall as well in a 105-100 win over a shorthanded Utah Jazz team that fought the Hawks to the very end.

It wasn't perfect, to be sure. The Hawks scored (20) points in the paint in the first quarter, then managed only (16) more the rest of the way. They allowed (19) offensive rebounds, which helped the hosts to a ridiculous amount of second chance baskets. Also, the Jazz took advantage of some spotty transition defense from the Hawks, getting (17) fast points as well as taking it to the Birds in the middle for (58) points in the paint.

In spite of the lack of lane buckets, defensive rebounding, and shoddy transition D, the Hawks can count themselves as winners for two overriding reasons:

1. Their shots, especially Joe Johnson's, went in.

The Hawks shot (54) percent from the field, including 8-16 from three point range. Johnson was responsible for 12-19/2-3 of that shooting, adding (6) rebounds and (6) assists to his game high (28) points.

We don't like when the team goes away from something that they do really well (score inside) and roll the dice on jump shots going in---but we'll take them happily when they do.

2. Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko didn't play.

The energy that Utah's replacement crew played with may have not seemed like the Jazz lost much, but not having those two, and after playing a tough game the night before, had to help the Birds cause.

But it wasn't easy even without those two in the Jazz unis for the night. The Hawks started strong by moving the ball around and getting those points in the paint. Marvin Williams showed a lot of energy by driving to the cup and slamming home some easy baskets on his way to (8) first quarter points, but scored only (3) more total after that opening salvo.

The Hawks came out and played with the intensity and desire that comes after one gets embarassed as they were in losing to Oakland last night, yielding such a large, late lead to a team that had not overcome such a fourth quarter deficit since 1978.

But, as these things do in a (48) minute game, that emotion wears off and teams are left with choosing to come up with energy to build on what was started or being to relinquish that momentum. Alas, the Hawks began to grow weary of moving the ball, getting inside offensively, and moving on the defensive end as well, and their early game momentum waned.

The Hawks gave back their early lead and treaded water for the next two quarters, going a long period of time in the third quarter without points in the paint, second chance or fast break points. The Hawks bench showed that if in the game as a full unit at a time, the results could be disastrous. One need only look at the (-17) number accrued by Jeff Teague in a little more than (3) minutes of floor time to understand that observation.

As the fourth quarter began the Hawks began to show more life and diversity on offense, using Josh Smith as a channel for their offensive attack. Smith, who had aided and abetted the Jazz with some shaky shot selection in those middle quarters, and some loafish defense in transition, as well a couple of poor passes to begin the final quarter, was magnificent the rest of the way. Smith tallied (5) points, (3) assists, and (3) rebounds in the last quarter, as well as winning a critical jump ball that gave the Hawks possession up (4) with (30) seconds to play.

The Jazz are so hard to pin down in their own building that despite all of that, the Hawks still needed a bit of loose ball luck, some close range misses from Utah, and the calls to fall on behalf of the non-red-jerseyed Birds to manage to break the decades long madness. What a relief.

Hey, It's Good to Be Back Home Again

Al Horford must have drawn the short straw in the locker room before the game because the efficient all-star only had (4) shot attempts on the night. Oh, he still managed to score (13) points on those four shots, due in large part to his 7-8 shooting from the free throw line (game high). Horford was also game high with his (+24)---good things happen when Al is on the floor--and there might have been more if Al hadn't tied for sixth in shot attempts on the night.

The bench, as we stated earlier, was a problem, as Zaza Pachulia joined Teague as almost equally leaky (-16), though it took Zaza double the minutes to accomplish that. We're puzzled as to why the Hawks either don't play the reserves beyond Jamal Crawford at all or they play them together as a unit for long periods of time. Seems like those are the only two options instead of notion of mixing in starters with the reserves so that they aren't out there on their own for a long span of time. The lack of firepower and execution on both ends by the second unit was obvious and the Jazz took control during the four minutes or so they were in there together.

The Hawks ended up with a split of the four games on their West Coast swing, though the configuration of those wins and losses didn't quite come together as expected. Atlanta have not played at home since before the AS break, but they return home to play the Timberwolves on Wednesday, a game which gets THHB treatment as we will be making our first trip inside the Arena this season.

Let us know if you'll be there--and in the meantime enjoy the highlights of the Hawks first win in Utah since 1993.

Monday, February 22, 2010

ATL-GS Game Review: It Says Plenty

We're sure there will be a lot of folks who will take the result of the Hawks' 108-104 loss at Golden State and say how it doesn't mean much, it's one game, it's a long season, etc.

Certainly, Sunday night's loss won't cost the Hawks a playoff berth, likely not home court for the first round, etc--there won't be any long term ramifications as a result of this one loss to the Warriors.

Still, the blueprint and DNA of this loss is one that is marked across the franchise at this point, with these players, and these coaches. The refusal to play fundamental basketball and eschewing of what has proven to be successful even throughout the course of the single game that they are playing has served and will serve as their ultimate escort from the 2009-2010 season.

After three quarters, the Hawks led 90-73. ESPN, the entire THHB staff, and stray dogs were commenting how the Hawks, after playing loose basketball and settling for long shots, leading to what Golden State does best, run a bunch of guards in the open floor to get easier shots, finally took control of the game.

Don Nelson said as much during his post third quarter (which the Hawks dominated 38-22, with 24 of those points coming in the paint) interview with the Worldwide Leader, expressing how they were able to get the Hawks to play their way for the first half, but Atlanta used their size advantage well in the third to take control.

Apologists tonight might make mention of being in the third game of this West coast trip, and how fatigue might have set in, but THHB has to, has to, call foul on that. We're talking about (12) more minutes to play the same fundamentally sound basketball that was played the prior (12) minutes. The Warriors didn't get taller. The Warriors did nothing different defensively. It was the Hawks that applied the cruel poison to their own game by taking the game back out to the perimeter for their final bow.

Don't tell us how there was a possession here or there that didn't work in the paint, or through Al Horford, etc. We can fill a canyon full of possessions that don't work the way the Hawks insist upon doing their business on a consistent basis. They lost sight of what was working,  lost their focus, and eventually lost the game.

Again, we realize that this doesn't make the Hawks a losing team. This outcome doesn't automatically invert their record or weigh more than the single stroke in the loss column. But, it does continue to color in the fact bubble that this team cannot be counted on to play consistently to the strengths that have led/will lead to their greater success.

And Furthermore

The Hawks came apart mentally in the fourth quarter after being shaky throughout, save for that aberration that was the third quarter. They were scrambling, unsure of what, where, or how to get the ball in the basket. After taking (24) free throws through three quarters,  they attempted merely (4) in the final quarter. Jamal Crawford lost his mind with an inexplicable technical foul in a tie game, on the road, after a play that led to the Hawks retaining the basketball with (35) seconds left to go in the game. Mind boggling.

Sure, statistically the Hawks look great. Al Horford had 26 and 11, Joe Johnson had 31 points, Josh Smith 14 points, 17 rebounds, and 7 assists. We're sure it feels as hollow to them as it rings empty to us.

We were going to say something nice about Stephen Curry, who is part of a marvelous renaissance of shooters in the league, with Kevin Durant leading the way, but we can't find the heart right now. Suffice to say, we love his shot, and his 32 points on 13-18 shooting was impressive.

Adding insult to the injury is the fact that the Warriors had eight men ready to play this game, health-wise.

To put the Warriors away, especially as short handed as they were, requires an offensive skill set that the Hawks don't have, both in the players and the coaching system. Teams like Golden State can be licked by moving the basketball from side to side, patiently moving without the basketball and getting the shots you want as a team. The Hawks, as we all know, prefer to dribble and let the defense rest a bit, and dare you to outdefend their isolatory skills. This is the case in the post, perimeter, whatever, it's what the Hawks do. There is occasional movement without the ball, set plays where the Hawks execute nicely, but nothing that resembles the drumbeat consistency of a team like Utah, who most recently beat the Warriors, in Oakland, by logging (32) assists.

The more the Hawks misfired from the outside, the more the Warriors ran and got easy shots, to the tune of (54) percent shooting to the Hawks (45) percent. The Hawks did exactly what it took for Golden State to win the game, and the hosts graciously accepted. The end.

Here are the highlights, if you can make it through them. Good luck.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

ATL-LAC Game Review: The Big Three-Oh

Some Al Horford numbers:

31 points. 15 shots.

6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals.

12-15 FG, 7-9 FT, game high +22.

Suffice to say, it was a good night for our favorite former Gator now Hawk big man. Horford was on all night long and scored in a variety of ways. Horford wore out Clipper big men Chris Kaman and Deandre Jordan by running the floor and taking advantage of many of the Clippers' generous 22 turnovers.

But it wasn't just the Hawks' 34 points off turnovers that Horford feasted on, he scored in the half court as well, taking it to the taller Clipper big men. Yes, it helped that the Clippers had just dealt Marcus Camby leaving the hosts one shot blocker down, but Al stayed true to his pre-game objective---stay aggressive. That aggression led to his game high 9 free throw attempts as well as a number of in-close baskets made.

Al has to share the glory on the night with Josh Smith, who enabled many of the early Horford buckets with his unselfish, timely passes around the bucket. J-Smoove got his (20 points) as well, along with 9 rebounds and 4 steals, but it was many of his 7 assists that set the Hawks off.

It was great to see the Hawks take advantage of their front court advantage by getting Smith and Horford a lot of touches, not relegating their fortunes on the night to whether Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford were hot or not. With those points off turnovers, 19 fast break points, and 70 (!) points in the paint, the Hawks took control of the game early on and never let the Clippers fully back into the game despite giving up a 50 percent shooting night to their hosts.

Taking Care of Business

Helping the Hawks was their signature trait of the season, protecting the basketball. The Hawks had a mere 9 turnovers against a whopping 27 assists. A 3 to 1 ratio will win a lot of games unless it's only 3 assists and 1 turnover. 

Along with Crawford, who had an inconsequential 12 points himself, was the return of Zaza Pachulia. Zaza had a tidy 8/7/1/2/1 line in his 18 minutes and shook of rust right away by getting the ball and diving into the Clippers on his first possession. He missed both free throws, but he settled in nicely after that, furthering the Hawks "attack" approach even with the second unit in the game.

If you looked at the traditional lines on the Clippers' Bobby Brown, Craig Smith, and Eric Gordon, you might be led to believe they were a big reason they were still in the game. But their awful turnovers (14 between the three of them), especially those from Brown, were major catalysts in their undoing.

The Hawks scored 70 points in the paint, made zero 3-pointers and allowed only 8 Clipper offensive rebounds.

Chris Kaman can score the ball, he proved that again by making a series of jump shots and hook shots, but for the Hawks to score 70 points in the paint and for the biggest guy on the court to have a single blocked shot seems subpar.

The Hawks didn't have to win this game, but it would have felt like such a missed opportunity to take a road game from a weakened team (oh, Baron Davis didn't play, either). For a 4-game road stretch which included winnable games such as this one and the defensively challenged Golden State Warriors, it behooved the Hawks to get things going the right way.

And, for THHB, attacking the opponent's weakness--even if it didn't involve making jump shots, forcing turnovers, scoring in the paint, keeping them off the glass, and taking care of the ball was the right way to start.

Well, that and 31 points on 15 shots for Horford. That was good, too.

Enjoy the highlights:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

THHB's Top 10 Hawks of the Decade: Number Five

Before we begin, you encourage you to check out our other End of the Hawks Decade articles:

A Decade of Hawks Aughts (and Aught-Nots),

Top Hawks by Statistical Category

THHB's Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade, #10, #9, #8, #7, #6

Our Number Five Hawk of the Decade is:

Al Horford

For those Bird Watchers who witnessed Al mesh seamlessly into the high talent fabric that was the 2010 All-Star Game, you had to feel pride.

There was your guy, your player hitting jump shots, running the floor, finishing strong, rebounding, provide (what?!) defense at an AS game. Al proved he belonged on a stage where few Hawks have proved worthy.

This season, Horford became the first drafted Hawk to represent the good guys in the All-Star game since Kevin Willis in 1992.

Still, as the 2007 NBA Draft approached, and as Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were already penned in at the top 2 positions, what the people wanted to do with #3 pick was hotly contested as seen here, here, and here among many channels of opinion.

In the Hawks Blog-o-rama, ESPN's Hoopinion thought very highly of Al in his two opportunities to evaluate their options. We had our sights set on Al from the get-go and are thrilled things have worked out better than if the team had cast their lots with Jianlian or Conley as were discussed in those circles.

Right from the beginning, Horford was a team favorite due to his hustle, attitude, and plus level abilities. He was drafted to fill the need for a post playing big on both ends, and to date he has not disappointed statistically--and has delivered when called upon. His immediate acumen in the front court allowed the Hawks to divest themselves of the previous fellow drafted to fulfill such desperate needs, Shelden Williams, in the trade that brought the #6 Hawk of the decade into the fold.

Horford ranked second in the decade in Defensive Rebounding Rate (24.2, second to Mutombo), and in Total Rebounding Rate (16.8) while also being the only Hawks to rate in the Top 5 in both Offensive and Defensive Rating (114/105).

There has been much discussion around how historically little Horford is used offensively, but more recently Coach Woodson has seen fit to include Horford more. Still, as Hardwood Paroxysm showed in their PER/Usage report, and as Matt Moore himself thought enough of to invoke all caps, AL HORFORD NEEDS MORE TOUCHES. End quote.

Horford has acquitted himself nicely in being a power forward in a center universe, something he admitted to us he wasn't sure he was able to do and still be the player he thought he could be. But he has and he continues to grow, meaning that this may not be the only decade that Horford resides in the Hawks Top Ten.

His growth has helped the Hawks rise from the depths of the lottery to deeper and deeper into the playoffs. His professional approach and attitude has come to define him and are likely the reasons, along with his production and talent, that the coaches voted him in as a reserve in this year's all star game.

Will he have a Derek Harper like consistency to his statistical improvement? We hope so, and look forward to seeing Horford in a Hawks uniform for a long time.

After all, he is our Number Five Hawk of the Decade.

Friday, February 12, 2010

THHB's Top 10 Hawks of the Decade: Number Six

If you haven't heard, you can check out our other End of the Hawks Decade articles:

A Decade of Hawks Aughts (and Aught-Nots),

Top Hawks by Statistical Category

THHB's Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade, #10, #9, #8, #7

Number Six is a player upon whose arrival the improvement of the franchise kicked into high gear.

Our Number Six Hawks Player of the Decade is:

Mike Bibby

Bibby came to the Hawks in the 2007 deal that sent Anthony Johnson, Tyronn Lue, Lorenzen Wright and 2006 Hawks' first rounder Shelden Williams to Sacramento in a salary dump trade.

The trade marked two things:

1. The Hawks were finally the team buying at the trade deadline instead of selling. A wonderful statement on the state of the franchise.

2. Bibby marked the first real point guard the Hawks had rostered since Mookie Blaylock was dealt in 1999.

Neither of these things should go understated, as they were significant marking points of the team's direction. That the Hawks were able to get a player of Bibby's caliber for nothing more than a collection of salaries was a position that the Hawks hadn't been in a while.

But what made Bibby's arrival most weighty, as well as garnering the #6 slot on our list, was that the presence of his consistent, long range shooting and leadership at the position that needs it most---and those two things drove the Hawks to the next level--the playoffs.

Last season, Bibby turned in a terrific performance at the point, stated somewhat awkwardly by THHB here, prompting a 3 year, 18 million dollar deal for a job well done and some continued stability at the point.

Bibby provided a needed relief for Joe Johnson, one as another shooter in the backcourt who is cold-blooded when it comes to taking late game shots, another as an outlet to pass to when double-teamed, and finally as the needed locker room voice---not just to the media, but to teammates and Coach Woodson as well. THHB makes the point that without that steadying influence in the locker room, the team doesn't mature into the home court holding playoff team it is right now.

This season, Bibby's role is reduced due to age, defensive erosion, and the presence of Jamal Crawford. Bibby's numbers are down---including rate numbers---and his skill set is more role playing facilitator and long range sniper than 35-40 minute-per-game workhorse, but he still provides the leadership and playmaking abilities at the point that the team needs there.

Bibby's arrival on the team, and the leap of success that followed, along with his production since he joined the team, makes Bibby our Number Six Hawk of the Decade.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

MIA-ATL Game Review: Stumblin' In

One of the nice things about the laid back atmosphere at the Official Headquarters of THHB is that, when faced with a game that so throughoughly grosses the game review team out, such as the Wednesday night home tilt versus Miami, we don't have to get into the nuances of such an epic fourth quarter fail.

No, Hawks Nation should be thrilled to have ESPN's Hoopinion, Yahoo/SBNation's Peachtree HoopsFansided's Soaring Down South, and fellow indie bloggers Hawk str8talk and CoCo's: The Vent around to bring the noise on those nights when THHB get grumpy and doesn't want to bring themselves to work after such a game--preferring to ignore the stink and watch "Caddyshack" for the 101st time together.

That way we don't have to recap such things as an (84) possession slush fest that looked as if the Hawks were trying to shoot out of the (50) inch snowdrifts they avoided in the nation's capital over the weekend. If we did break it down, we would find that---


---are the reasons why the Hawks never could get momentum, dog paddled for three quarters, and then gave way in the fourth. Hope it was enlightning.

Location, Location, Location

Since we don't have to deal with the cold weather or the powder (no, not the Chris Washburn kind), we can freely give our other thoughts about the individuals associated with Wednesday's game---all without a jacket.

Joe Johnson may have collapsed (without the partnership of Jamal Crawford, out with a shoulder injury) under the previously common, but recently unique offensive focus the Hawks left him with, but THHB is not going to pin it on the (trumpets) FOUR TIME ALL STAR. No, we don't blame Iso-Joe, Joe-on-Five, or any of the other (fair) nicknames for the previously default Hawks offense. No, in this game it was his teammates inability to make, get, or take good shots that left the ball back in Joe's hands to try and save the day.

Al Horford, for what looked to be the third game in a row, was doing a dang-good Boris Diaw impersonation, at times not even looking to attack the hoop though he has had great success dealing with the Heat frontcourt in the past. And some times that he did, he looked like his first option was to pass, not shoot, much like the former Hawk first rounder now located in CLT. This is not the behavior that the team needs, especially on a night like Wednesday when the outside shots were not there. In a typical bad-game moment for the team, though, when Horford did finally shake the Diaw-blues and make a couple of strong buckets in the fourth, the team went away from getting him the ball. Alas.

The entire team struggled to get baskets at the rim, shooting a (45) percent clip, the team shooting (38) percent overall. Marvin Williams was 1-4 at the rim while attempting to recreate the 6-6 bonanza from the night before and help the effort, but finished 3-11. Not helping were the (10) turnovers shared between Joe Johnson and Al Horford (14 for the entire team). On a night when possessions were few, and the shots aren't falling, tossing (12) percent of them away between these two guys made it a difficult task to win. Between that and the shooting, it was just a bad night.

The Hawks were still treading water, hoping to get by on a C+ night, when Daequan Cook played the role of Jamal Crawford in a Heat uni and shot the Hawks down in the fourth quarter. Cook for the night went 7-12 with every shot happening from the outside. Maurice Evans let his guard down for a tick in the final quarter, and when Cook was done making Evans and the Hawks pay, the game was figuratively over.

If the Hawks are wondering how they can more consistently conquer their division mates (they are now 4-6 in the Southeast) they can look to the wisdom of ESPN's Hoopinion, who wrote this excellent passage (which of course needed to be explained to the brainiacs here at THHB).

---but it's clear that an average rebounding team (which is what the Hawks are overall) can maintain a healthy +5 or +6 point per 100 possessions differential. They certainly can as long as they turn the ball over less often than the other 29 teams, and, should they start turning the ball over more often, they could maintain said healthy differential by improving their rebounding, or shooting a higher percentage from the floor, or getting to the free throw line more often.

They turned it over more than the Heat, shot worse than the Heat, and rebounded worse than the Heat. So, using this formula (which ironically is exactly what Bret said there wasn't---ha!), the Hawks needed another (57) or so free throws to overcome the nastiness.

Another Amazing Gesture by a First Class Franchise

The aforementioned members of the Hawks Blogging Nation were invited to ask questions to Hawks GM Rick Sund before the AS break/Trade Deadline at some point before/during the game between the Heat and Hawks. We look forward to seeing what questions they asked as THHB had to decline due to our tax-friendly location for our HQ here in Florida.

The event is another example of how the Hawks have long been ahead of the curve when it has come to the internet generation of sports coverage, as long as you are there to do your work with a level of respect, courtesy, and some professionalism--well, that doesn't really explain our inclusion, does it?


Here are the highlights:

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 rebounds.by 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.