Joe Johnson made two free throws with five minutes left in the game to pull the Hawks within a point of the Houston Rockets. The next five Hawks possessions transpired as follows:
- Mike Bibby misses a layup. A good possession that lacked a finish.
- Joe Johnson misses a jump shot. Al Horford and Josh Smith miss their follow attempts. Good effort on their part, but again lacking a result.
- Joe Johnson has his shot blocked but recovers the ball. Unfortunately this bit of good effort only leads to a Josh Smith three-point attempt (missed, natch) as the shot clock expires.
- Mike Bibby turns the ball over.
- Joe Johnson misses a guarded, fade-away jumper.
The contrast between Tracy McGrady, legitimate All-Star and franchise player, and Joe Johnson, good player but not at all capable of carrying even a mediocre NBA team, was stark. Johnson cannot score when the other team knows he's getting the ball in end-of-game situations. There is ample evidence of this, my Exhibit A being the 2007-08 season.
One of the most important things the next Hawks head coach must do is put Joe Johnson in a role commensurate with his abilities. This should be a relatively easy decision as the Hawks already have a player on the roster who, unlike Johnson, consistently creates matchup problems for opposing defenses. Or, at least I assume they do. It's tough to tell when Josh Smith has been shut out of the offense for the most part. My doubt being fueled by the suspicion that it's partly his own damn fault.
Even though I absolutely believe it to be true, I still pause before and hedge in saying that Josh Smith didn't have a good game last night. He scored 16 points and grabbed 22 rebounds without giving a consistent effort. Defensively, he's worse than he was at the start of the year, no longer gambling recklessly but merely giving the impression that he's gambling. Opposing teams should run the pick-and-roll at him every time down the court right now. He'll take a half-hearted swipe at the dribble before watching the rest of the play 20 or more feet from the basket. Offensively, he's settling for jump shots and refusing to dunk the ball.
The next head coach will have to increase Smith's responsibilities (It's madness that I even have to write that the team's best player should be responsible most often for whether or not they win or lose.) and hold him accountable for his behavior. I don't advocate yanking him from the game every time he takes a jump shot or chooses a three-foot, sideways finger roll over dunking on someone and/or getting fouled. I advocate insisting that he use his skills on every possession. Only then will we learn if Smith's disrespect is directed primarily at Mike Woodson or at Smith's own talent.
I'm leaning toward skipping Friday night's game against the Clippers. (Which isn't televised locally presumably in deference to the ACC and SEC Tournaments where, collectively, one out of every six teams competing is a decent college basketball team. Granted, Friday night's game in Philips Arena will feature zero out of two good NBA teams, and might go 0 for 2 in teams that are competing as well.) Spending money at the arena seems like a sucker's play at this point. As for going out and watching the game on League Pass, I'm not sure I possess the self-confidence both to ask a stranger to put the game and sit there, in public, and watch the game seriously.