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: