Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hawks 98 Magic 87



That was nice. By "that" I mean being wrong about most everything I wrote in the game preview yesterday, having an excuse other than laziness to skip writing more game previews, and, most importantly, watching the finest performance the Hawks have turned in this season.

Stan Van Gundy agrees:

We did make some mistakes, but I actually thought a lot of it was them. They've got great, great quickness as a team, and good length. I thought they made it very, very difficult on us to get quality shots - they contested shots better than anybody that we've played against.

Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo did not, as I predicted, torch Anthony Johnson and Acie Law IV. They didn't get a chance to get burned. Joe Johnson guarded the Orlando point guard on the vast majority of their possessions. He couldn't keep either Nelson or Arroyo in front of him any better than Anthony Johnson or Law would have but Johnson's size made it possible for the Hawks to switch on the pick-and-roll without creating a series of matchup problems for themselves. It was an effective coaching decision and came as a complete shock to me. At least until I discovered the identity of this plan's creator:
The defensive wrinkle Hawks assistant coach Dave Fizdale suggested in the scouting report for Monday night's game against Orlando seemed like a subtle one.

"Everything unfolded exactly the way it was supposed to," Josh Smith said. "Fiz went over the blueprint during shootaround and it played out just the way he said it would."
I liked that decision a lot better than Woodson's use of the Law/Anthony Johnson backcourt combo for 3:11 at the end of the third and start of the fourth quarter. Neither is much use off the ball and Law especially needs experience playing the point. Orlando got within four before Woodson put a more sensible unit on the floor.

His chosen five did not, at that moment (10:05 left in the 4th Quarter), include Al Horford. The reason: Horford had four fouls and is apparently not allowed to commit any more than four fouls, ever. Sure, he struggled to guard Dwight Howard but Horford scored seven points in 8:25 and the team was +9 while he was on the floor. Once he fouled out, Lorenzen Wright (one point, three rebounds in 27:10) would have still been available to play.

But this isn't the day to harp on the things that Mike Woodson does that I don't understand. Shelden Williams (hope his elbow heals quickly) and Anthony Johnson (who has played three pretty good games in a row) can't be expected to play as well as they did last night consistently so it's imperative that the team take advantage of the convergence of their competence.

Eastern Conference Player of the Week Josh Smith has moved far beyond the realm of competence. When he is the best player on the team the Hawks look okay. When he's the best player on the court (as he was last night) the Hawks look genuinely dangerous. Smith posted another 5x4 last night and dominated a game despite occasionally lapsing into a jump shooter.

This morning the Hawks stand at 10-10, tied for fifth in the East. Should Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia, and Tyronn Lue bolster the rotation sooner rather than later, Atlanta could force the bottom half of the Eastern Conference to chase them down and take their playoff spot. That didn't seem possible two weeks ago.

Ballhype: hype it up!

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