Last night showed why The Drive is for 35 rather than 38 or 40, for the eighth seed rather than the sixth, and why Billy Knight has asked three times this season for permission to fire Mike Woodson.
The Hawks weren't playing especially well for three quarters, but one felt they were in control of the game. They appeared to recognize that they could get easy shots more often than the Knicks could. Every Hawks stop, every converted layup or dunk, inched Atlanta closer to victory. Through three quarters, Atlanta did a good job of getting the ball to any player with a significant advantage against his defender. Granted, that's not hard to do when playing the Knicks but still it's something (sadly) unusual to see the Hawks accomplish.
Then the fourth quarter started.
Jared Jeffries is an overrated defender. Which isn't the same thing as being a poor defender. Which Jeffries demonstrated in the fourth quarter as Atlanta forced the ball to Joe Johnson either posting him up or putting him in isolation against Jeffries. Joe Johnson's strength is not beating players off the dribble. Jeffries could stay in front of Johnson and possesses the length to challenge Johnson's pull-up jumper. Joe Johnson couldn't get any easy shot off against Jeffries yet the Hawks insisted on continuing down the path of greatest resistance.
Atlanta ran two plays for Josh Smith in the fourth quarter. On the first, with just under 10 minutes remaining in the game, Smith caught the ball on the wing, beat David Lee off the dribble, and missed a spinning layup in the lane. The next play Atlanta ran for Smith was the pick-and-roll with Bibby that resulted in an alley-oop dunk with 1:12 left in the game. Smith snuck in a couple of fourth quarter jump shots to break the boredom, but once again Atlanta's best player stood and watched while Joe Johnson was asked to do something extraordinarily difficult.
Atlanta scored 81 points through three quarters with a balanced, relatively up-tempo offensive attack. They scored 18 points in the fourth quarter (inflated by five made free throws in the final 11 seconds) forcing the ball to Joe Johnson in the half-court. If the Knicks were marginally better or if the Hawks were marginally less lucky (Smith made one of those boredom-induced jump shots, a corner three to tie the game at 88.) The Drive for 35 would have stalled before it really began.
The revelation that Billy Knight has repeatedly tried to fire Mike Woodson this season gave me a new reading on Woodson's bizarre handling of Al Horford in the fourth quarter. Horford picked up his fifth foul with 1:58 left and Woodson took him (he of the 20 points and 11 rebounds) out of the game in favor of Marvin Williams (he of the 6 points and 3 rebounds). Horford returned to play just 16 more seconds. Woodson obviously wasn't saving Horford to use in a particular situation to help win the game. The only explanation for taking Horford out is that Woodson didn't want Horford to foul out.
My new suspicion is that Woodson does this in a misguided attempt to avoid criticism. I suspect he'd prefer not to face any questions that would arise if the Hawks fell apart and lost a game after Horford fouled out. First of all, if this is the case, Woodson overestimates the amount of mainstream media scrutiny he's under. To say that no one cares about the Hawks is but a slight exaggeration. Secondly, the indefensible absence of a not yet disqualified Al Horford on the court is obvious to anyone seriously watching the game so the only people liable to criticize Woodson's coaching are going to do so if Horford's unnecessary absence appears to cost the Hawks a game.
As a head coach, Mike Woodson combines stubborness with an inability to think through the consequences of his decisions. Steve Belkin, Michael Gearon, Sr., Michael Gearon, Jr., Bruce Levenson, whichever of you are keeping Mike Woodson in charge of this team are guilty of committing the exact the same mistakes.
Josh Smith Jump Shot Log
February 29, 2008 vs. New York