Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nets 125 Hawks 117



The biggest Hawks game in nine years didn't go so well did it? Bob Rathbun dared tempt the fates early in the second half with talk of two game leads and not losing the tie-breaker to New Jersey. His excitement seemed genuine but his confidence seemed mistaken for a man who has seen this team play before. I started cringing before events took their predictable turn for the worse.

The Hawks lost on the road. The Hawks blew a second half lead. The Hawks couldn't stop dribble-penetration. (Devin Harris played and was predictably devastating.) The Hawks spent long stretches of the second half with hopelessly misguided groups of five players on the floor. The Hawks appeared to have little idea how to go about getting a good shot when they needed to score. None of this is new but once more we delve into the particulars.

The Hawks had a two point lead when Zaza Pachulia entered the game with 6:03 left in the third quarter. The Hawks played the rest of the quarter (save the final 19 seconds when Acie Law IV replaced Mike Bibby) with a lineup of Bibby, Josh Childress, Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Zaza Pachulia. With one shooter (who was also the lone ball-handler) and both Smith and Childress pushed to the perimeter the offense consisted almost exclusively of Pachulia scoring off of offensive rebounds.

Defensively, we all got to witness Josh Smith's unique "weight on his heels" defensive stance as he attempted to guard Vince Carter during this stretch of the game. My first question was, Has Smith never been taught the proper defensive stance? As he continued to lean backwards with his feet underneath Carter's center of gravity 25 feet from the basket I began to question whether Smith had ever seen a basketball game before. The only upshot of this overall monstrosity is that I should never again have to hear someone say "Josh Smith is really more of a 3." Atlanta trailed by four at the end of the third quarter.

After that debacle, Atlanta played the first 4:38 of the fourth quarter with Marvin Williams at power forward. Atlanta literally did not get a rebound during that time. Their deficit at the end of that stretch was 12.

How hard is it to use your guy who's only consistent positive contribution is to make open jump shots at small forward and your guy who should never be allowed to take a jump shot at power forward? I think it would have to be a damn sight easier than reversing their roles. Not that reversing this bizarre transposition of playing time would have won the game for the Hawks. But it was ten-and-a-half straight minutes of madness during which the Hawks were outscored by 14 points.

The second half also served to (once again) put Joe Johnson's (not insignificant) offensive skills in perspective. Johnson and Vince Carter* both scored 17 points in the first half. Johnson on 11 shots, Carter on 10. In the second half, Johnson went 2-7 from the floor and score 7 points. Carter went 9-16 from the floor and scored 22 points.

*How fortunate is it for Vince Carter that the Nets' roster is now almost entirely populated by players who are young and/or not good? It's not just that he only plays hard when he feels like it but that on a night when he chooses to play hard and show all the gifts he doesn't feel like sharing on a regular basis he also screams at his teammates to play hard. Oh, tonight we play hard, Vince? Okay. In other circumstances, with different teammates, his potentially infuriating behavior last night could have inspired a punch to the face.

Yes, sometimes the Hawks' offense should run through Joe Johnson. When he has an advantageous matchup, for example. Otherwise, it should not because he is not good enough to carry the team to victory very often. This is doubly frustrating because of the Hawks have other good offensive players. Johnson need not carry the team's offense. Al Horford scored 20 points on 9-11 shooting and picked up six more assists. (Many of his 12 assists over the last two games have come after Horford grabs an offensive rebound. The way this team is run, he can only show the full flower of his gifts after the designed play has failed.) Josh Smith (When was the last time he got the ball in the high-post and the opportunity to beat an opposing power forward off the dribble?) cannot be allowed to stand on the perimeter. He is a bad player when he's taking spot-up jump shots (1-6 last night). He is a great player when he is at or around the basket (6-8 from the floor, 6-8 from the line).

There would be turnovers were the offense to run through Horford and Smith more often but I think that's a reasonable byproduct of turning the team over to its future rather than telling them, "Hey guys, we're going to do something stupid that probably won't work. After that, go grab an offensive rebound and do something positive with that to create the illusion that this team can sneak into a playoff spot while being about 12 games under .500. Thanks."

There will be no more positive game previews this season.

Ballhype: hype it up!


Anonymous said...

Josh Smith can't defend and can't shoot. He is a good blocker and can create shots around the basket (when he remembers to do so). I'm starting to wonder if it's really worth bringing him back. In the long run, the Hawks might be better off re-signing Childress and doing a sign-and-trade deal with Smith for draft picks, a true center, or any player that can actually do a bit of defense.

Bret LaGree said...

The Hawks have to re-sign Smith. I believe that he's one good coach away from being a devastating player. If I'm wrong and he's not capable of recognizing what he can and can't do, I'd be surprised if he lost trade value going forward. He's still very young.

That he's a bad individual defender is magnified on this team because no one else one the team (with the possible exception of Al Horford when he's not overwhelmed physically) is a good individual defender.

Atlanta's two needs this off-season (after re-signing Smith and Childress) are a center who can defend and a backup for Joe Johnson that can defend. If the latter could make open jump shots also all the better.