Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Game 5: Hawks @ Celtics, Open Thread

I'm not going to live blog tonight's game. (If you need that, I assume Micah will take care of you.) Should anyone have anything to add during or after tonight's game, this is the place.

This is not a trick to get you to write a first draft of my game recap. Honest.

Ballhype: hype it up!

A Brief Post Looking Ahead To Next Year (Optional)

I won't be offended if you skip this post about next season written on the morning of Game 5 of a playoff series this season. I won't even be offended if you tell me it's in poor taste to have written this. I leaned toward that point of view before scraping the bottom of a greasy barrel of gameday stories.

The cutthroat competition in the Western Conference may be a boon to the Atlanta Hawks. Two coaches who, though they may have legitimate limitations in terms of winning a championship, might be looking for a new job. Sure, I can see why Chicago would be an attractive destination for a coach wanting to prove something to his former employers, but haven't the young Hawks (and their fans--a home court advantage is fun!) made a compelling case over the last four days that they have an immediate future brighter than simply not sucking anymore.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More Links to Savor

Shoals at freedarko (This excerpt has changed three times in the formation of this post. Go read the whole damn thing.):
The Hawks transcend principle or philosophical systems. They are without precedent and supernatural in their arrival. To try and make sense of them, or to have viewed them as grist for match-up columns, would be to miss the point of this otherworldly occurrence. They have flourished not because basketball needed a savior, or because they were tailor-made for the job, but because sport is not politics, economics, or the academy. Nor should the NBA be a haven for college-style chisel jobs (sorry, Thaddeus). Even I can't convince myself I've known all along, or that this stands for anything other than itself.
TrueHoop's Henry Abbott wrote about the game at some length and said some nice things about Mike Woodson:
Running a franchise that is torn between multiple owners can't be any fun, but credit Mike Woodson with having his players on the same page and playing hard. The offense is kind of ragged at times -- the only time they look really organized to my non-coaching eye is when they watch Joe Johnson in isolation -- but everyone is all over every loose ball, and the spirit is excellent. I have been hearing all season that, despite widespread rumors he was a lame duck, Hawks players have been buying what Mike Woodson has been selling, and that's huge.
Which compelled me to insinuate myself and my long-standing beef with Woodson into Henry's otherwise fine post. I hope my tacked-on contribution (and thanks to Henry for tacking my thoughts on) is worth a laugh to the regulars here, at least.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Hawks 97 Celtics 92



Down 16-3, with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen making threes for fun, the Hawks without a field goal (Had they still failed to get a shot up to the rim at that point?) and the denizens of Section 109 begging the referees for a call, any call, to serve as intercession between one basketball team that looked powerful and one that looked weak, you could have offered me ridiculous odds, mathematically and probabilistically unsound odds, on the Hawks winning Game 4 and I would have turned you down meekly. I recognized the part of me that prepares myself for calm acceptance of an unwished for result taking control as it did when Derrick Rose banked in a fall-away 19-footer as the shot clock expired with four minutes left in that game three Mondays ago.

This part of me is having a very bad April.

The Hawks had the lead before the first quarter was over (In the first quarter, Marvin Williams: -11 in 6:04; Josh Childress: +16 in 5:56. Why in the world did Marvin play the first 8:36 of the second half? Cheers to Doc Rivers for leveling the playing field by keeping Eddie House on the court for more than half of the fourth quarter.), kept the lead through the half (Despite a lengthy appearance from Solomon Jones, who, credit due, on the final play of the first half spared the blushes of the man who is to defensive stoppers what Royal Ivey was to point guards), suffered a (familiar) scoring drought throughout the third quarter, but came out in the fourth quarter playing tremendous defense (Boston scored 5 points in the first 9:20 of the fourth) and doing something subtly different offensively.

I don't know what that difference was. Joe Johnson had the ball a lot in his brilliant fourth quarter, but he had the ball a lot in the ineffective third quarter. If anybody studied this on their DVR, please share your thoughts. Johnson, to be sure, made some tough shots in the fourth quarter but his shots were, for the most part, contested by the Celtics after he got to a dangerous position off the dribble. That's not how the Hawks offense normally functions in the fourth quarter of a close game against a good opponent. Consider this an item for further study.

A fleeting thought must also go (on this off day at least) to what degree a consistently vital home court atmosphere could help this franchise next year and beyond. I've already got the Hawks penciled in for a 2- or 3-win improvement simply from a coaching upgrade (Now that my first choice appears to be off the market, I'll throw out a crazy suggestion: Sam Cassell...the game recap will now resume.) and maybe another win if they bother to fill the back end of the bench with actual NBA players. Could a revitalized Philips Arena provide further opportunity for improvement?

Other people's thoughts from around the web...

Braves and Birds:
While the Hawks had a few terrific individual performances last night, they still don't run anything approaching a coherent offensive system. That works when Joe Johnson is absolutely unstoppable, but I'd like to see more movement and structure from this team. That said, you can't fault Mike Woodson last night for simply riding a hot hand. A lot of coaches would have screwed that up by complicating was was a very simple situation: Boston could not guard our best player, so our best player should get the ball on every possession.
Behind the Boxscore:
Listen, these Hawks are better than their 37-45 regular season record. Joe Johnson had absolutely no lift for the first 45 games of this season, and Mike Bibby's essentially average play is a huge increase over the Tyronn Lue and Anthony Johnson. Atlanta, for intents and half-hearted purposes, started playing for keeps in mid-February.

This is a pretty good team that is playing its best offensive ball of the season while slowly sneaking back to the defensive ideal that won it so many games earlier this year. I was too flip in saying that the Celtics would win "in two," and there's no shame in Boston splitting two in Atlanta.
Hawks BasketBlog:
From where we were coming home after Game 2 to where we are now, it's just night and day. I'm trying to think of an adjective to describe the win and the energy in the building, but the Thesaurus is failing me, so I am forced to make up my own words. It was spectnomenal. It was fantasterful. It was ricoculous.
The Vent:
Believe it or not ZA ZA Pachulia set the tone for this win tonight. About midway through the 2nd quarter KG elbowed him and ZA ZA ran up in his face and put his forehead against KG's forehead and let him know that it was not going to go down like that! We aint scared of the stinkin Celtics, and it's high time they realize that!
Josh Smith:
"People were acting like we were supposed to be some charity case but we felt all along that we belonged. They bested us in [Games 1 and 2 in] Boston. We can't erase that. But this is a series now, a real series."
Jeff at CelticsBlog:
As a Celtics blogger and a self appointed voice of Celtics fans everywhere, I'm supposed to have something to say about all this. But I have to admit that I'm still dumbfounded. I don't know if I'm supposed to sooth people's fears and assure them that everything's going to be alright or if I should be slamming on the panic button and declaring a threat level green in Celtic Nation.
Steve Weinman at CelticsBlog:
The stats are impressive enough -- that the man outscored the league's best team on his own in the fourth quarter, by a 20-17 count -- but the box score will never convey the feeling that came with watching Joe Johnson do his work last night.

So while we take the next day and a half to wonder what the boys in green need to do to get their mojo back, it's worth taking a few moments to pay some homage to an opponent's performance that was truly exquisite.

Heck of an effort, Joe. Just don't let it happen again, and we'll be good to go.
Peter May:
And watching Johnson slice and dice through the Boston defense is going to give Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau a couple of sleepless nights. Johnson was LeBron-esque, going around people, falling back, leaning forward, making shot after shot after shot. Where on earth was the help? Where on earth was a double-team to take the ball out of his hands? Why did the defense, when it was there, steer Johnson into open areas instead of into some guy with a green jersey, as is normally the case?

"It will be interesting to watch the film to see what we didn't do," said Ray Allen, who was charged with guarding Johnson, but more often than not was running into Mike Bibby picks when the clear-outs started. And that's what they were. This wasn't Hawks coach Mike Woodson calling plays. This was Johnson taking over.
For more Celtic-centric blog reaction, click here.

Marc J. Spears:
The Celtics arrived in Atlanta a few days ago believing they would wrap things up here in this first-round series, one step taken toward their dreams of a 17th NBA title. In a stunning turn of events, however, they leave here itching for the comfortable confines of Beantown, in a situation where they could become part of nightmarish history.
Sam Cassell:
"Basketball is a strange thing. Strange things happen."
Game 6 tickets are on sale. I'm not getting anything from posting that link. Attending last night's game was as fun and exciting as any sporting event I've been lucky enough to witness in person. If you're dithering, let me encourage you to go the game Friday night.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hawks 102 Celtics 93 -- Yes, Really



It was an unexpected but fortuitous moment for the Hawks to play their best game of the season and give a rare glimpse of what this team could be. If the Hawks continue to play in this vein (though they're unlikely to match the quality of last night's performance) for the remainder of the series this season will constitute far more of a success than I thought possible Saturday morning.

Offensively, the ball often went first to Josh Smith or Al Horford for them to convert chances themselves or to use their skills as passers to find shooters open on the perimeter. Defensively, the Hawks were not able to force many turnovers but they controlled their defensive glass and ran opportunistically off of Boston's misses. The combination of transition play and inside-out ball movement in the half-court made the Hawks uncharacteristically difficult to guard. Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby got to utilize their shooting and passing skills without having to dominate the basketball.

As to whether it's a performance that can be replicated or simply a glorious one-off, I'm (characteristically) of two minds. First, it wasn't a perfect performance: Mike Bibby shot better than he had in the first two games but didn't shoot especially well, Horford wasted on the bench for most of the second quarter, Joe Johnson had a typically difficult fourth quarter (1-7 from the floor), and Mike Woodson found two different opportunities to put Solomon Jones in the game (12 of Boston's 93 points were scored in the 2:25 Jones played).

However, some stars aligned for the Hawks. Atlanta scored nine points on six Josh Smith three-point attempts (One-third of Atlanta's fourth quarter points came from Smith three-pointers. I have to imagine the Celtics were pleased with the shots they forced Atlanta to take in the fourth quarter.) a level of efficiency unlikely to be replicated. Also, one has to assume that, should he find himself going to the basket more in traffic than in the open floor, Smith might revert to his (less-effective) repetoire of finger-rolls and flips rather than attempting to dunk the ball at every opportunity. I'm also willing to go out on a limb and predict that Ray Allen shoots better than 1-6 from beyond the three-point line in Game 4.

But why should you seriously consider what I'd predict. Everything that happened in Game 3 confounded my expectations--from the Hawks outworking the Celtics (while at the same time playing with intelligence and poise) to the crowd in Philips providing a significant home-court advantage. The chance of the Hawks evening the series on Monday night remain small, but I'll head downtown with the expectation that the Hawks will play a tough, competitive game against NBA's best team. This pleases me greatly.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

David Thorpe Breaks Down Game 3

Scouts, Inc. and's David Thorpe previews Game 3 of the Hawks-Celtics series, providing a succinct and professional description of this awful halfcourt offense we've watched all season long:
Johnson faces the entire Celtics defense when he has the ball. Atlanta is not spreading the floor enough for him, allowing help defenders to move off their man and toward JJ without being spread too thin. Marvin Williams hurts the Hawks with his inability to make 3s (1-for-10 on the year), especially when he's stationed on the wing opposite Johnson when JJ has the ball. It's often his man that provides the most help.
Thorpe goes on to outline how the Hawks could adjust:
With Bibby struggling from 3 (18-for-58 in April), it may call for more playing time for Josh Childress, who can stretch the defense opposite Johnson and then push Williams down to the baseline with Al Horford and Josh Smith. This would open up the middle for Johnson and Childress to use their size on drives if the Celtics close them out on the perimeter too hot.

Both guys can make plays inside as long as they have space to operate. Post-entry passes and side pick-and-rolls are being clogged up by Celts defenders because the men they are guarding are crashing toward the basket instead of maintaining their spacing integrity by staying behind the 3-point line.
To his credit and/or in deference to reality, Thorpe does not predict that the Hawks will make this or any other adjustment. The whole piece is excellent and worthy of your time.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Celtics 96 Hawks 77



Live Blog of Game 2

Things have gone according to (low) expectations through two games of this series and the degree to which Boston has dominated leaves one looking for ways the Hawks can make a game competitive rather than for ways the Hawks can win a game.

Last night, the Hawks played a decent-to-good defensive game. Sure, the Celtics missed a lot of open shots but the Hawks didn't allow Boston to attempt too many free throws and, in the second half at least, Atlanta did a good job of rebounding Boston's misses. The Celtics scored just a fraction over 1 point per possession, about 11% below their season average.

The Hawks defensive performance only impacted the margin of their defeat because Boston made Atlanta completely ineffective in almost every area of offensive performance. Had Atlanta not gotten to the free throw line 40 times, the TNT researchers would have kept us well-informed of playoff scoring futility records throughout the fourth quarter.

To wit:
  • Atlanta turned the ball over on 23% of their offensive possessions.
  • Atlanta made just 41.8% (23-55) of the their two-point field goal attempts.
  • Atlanta made 0% (0-5) of their three-point attempts.
  • Atlanta grabbed 13.5% (5 of 37) of potential offensive rebounds.
I wish I could say that Atlanta got to the foul line so often through positive, aggressive play but, for the most part, I felt the Hawks understood they couldn't get a good look by running their offense (such as it is) and decided their best/only chance of scoring was to drive into traffic, draw/create contact, and hope to get a call.

The Hawks could take a big step toward giving themselves a chance to be competitive in either Game 3 or Game 4 were they to take care of the ball, but no matter what Joe Johnson thinks:
"But we're not valuing our possessions right now. We're so careless with the basketball, we're not helping ourselves at all."
the majority of the turnovers committed by the Hawks are caused by Boston's defensive pressure.

Even envisioning a scenario where the Hawks don't turn the ball over as much, one would still want to add the caveats that Boston shoot as poorly as they did in Game 2 and the Hawks rebound as well as they did in Game 1 before predicting even a single-digit Hawks defeat. Which leaves Hawks fans wondering whether a reminder of Acie Law IV's promise will overshadow the misguided attempts at leadership exemplified so far in this series by Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson:
"We're not even giving ourselves a chance. We're not playing team basketball and we're not playing hard on both ends of the court. We're showing a lot of immaturity right now. Mike and I are the oldest guys on this team right now at 29 and 26, so we've got to try and find a way to help these guys out on the court."
Making shots and not turning the ball over would be a good start toward helping the guys who, despite their supposed immaturity, are outplaying you "out on the court." Their comments as much as their poor play have me leaning toward advocating the Hawks trade Bibby and Johnson within the next nine months and committing the future of the franchise to Smith and Horford.

Joe Johnson could help a good team on which he didn't have to (or wasn't allowed to) punch above his weight. As for Bibby, well, his $15.2M contract expires after next season and that might be worth something to someone.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Live Blog--Game 2: Hawks @ Celtics

I'm going to do this MBM-style so hit refresh early and often and use the comments as necessary.

Mercifully it ends. Boston wins 96-77. It could have been much worse (cosmetically at least) for the Hawks. There really was nothing to say about the last several minutes of this game. Good night, everybody.

I'm going to Game 4 on Monday night. I doubt I'll see what David Stern envisioned when expanded the first round to best-of-7 series.

4Q, 5:40: Should any of the Hawks actually succeed in kicking things off tonight, I've the suspicion that Garnett could whip all of them by himself. I don't want to see any more half-assed cheap shots because Josh Smith is still a confused young man.

4Q, 8:17: Mike Bibby attempted to get a piggy back ride from Glen Davis without asking permission first. Not cool. It would be a shame if this game got chippy down the stretch. The Hawks need to focus on being competitive as a basketball team rather than proving themselves "physical" or "tough."

4Q, 8:39: I think James Posey just got called for a flagrant foul because Josh Smith chose not to land after he was fouled. Granted, James Posey might have been called for a flagrant foul in part because he's James Posey.

4Q, 9:02: Three-point shots add up faster than two-point baskets and free throws. Atlanta hasn't made a three tonight. The analysis presented herein is matching the excitement of the game.

4Q, 10:54: If nothing else (Probably nothing else between you me and the lamppost), Acie Law should have secured significant minutes for himself in each of the next two games on the basis of his offensive performance tonight.

end of 3Q: Rajon Rondo misses a six-footer over West. Celtics 76-58. Boston has nearly doubled their lead over the course of a quarter wherein they missed many, many makeable shots.

3Q, :09.2: Mario West, Defensive Stopper makes an appearance.

3Q, 1:15: Ray Allen's three makes it 76-56 and I'm allowing myself my first drink of the night.

3Q, 2:05: It's not a good sign when the broadcaster is willing to cut away from live action of your game to show the final seconds of an 18-point game.

3Q, 3:07: Dick Stockton just called Al Horford "Tito Horford" and that doesn't infuriate me. I've been up for over 20 hours straight, Dick Stockton's calling a Celtics playoff's like I've discovered some sort of basketball nerd fountain of youth.

3Q, 3:19: Josh Smith is visibly frustrated in a way that suggests he has no idea how to channel his frustration effectively. He's being petulant toward referees, teammates, and now that Rajon Rondo lays the ball in to put Boston up 19 leading to an Atlanta timeout, I expect he's about to be petulant toward his head coach.

Josh, if you want to shoot more free throws, try dunking on people in the paint rather than attempting one-handed and/or double-clutch, submarine, fall-away layups.

3Q, 5:53: Joe Johnson throws the ball over Josh Smith's head in an attempt to give Smith a 1-on-2 fast break opportunity. Atlanta has scored 8 points this half.

3Q, 7:35: JoJo White is talking about Mario Chalmers, getting jobbed in the 1966 NCAA Tournament, and all is briefly right in the world.

3Q, 8:25: While the officials debate whether or not to call an obvious goaltend on Josh Smith, I'll tackle the other side of Smith's jump shooting: 3-6 from the floor, 6-8 from the line when not shooting jumpers.

3Q, 9:12: Joe Johnson flattens Rondo before making a mid-range jumper. It looks like two Hawks are already tired of being guarded by him.

3Q, 10:18: Josh Smith is 0-4 on jump shots, 0-1 on three-point attempts.

3Q, 10:40: Three Boston possessions, three layup opportunities. Luckily for the Hawks, Paul Pierce passed up the first to throw a pass off of Josh Smith's shoulder, Smith blocked a Kendrick Perkins dunk attempt, and Kevin Garnett misses a layup.

Half-time: 52-42 Celtics. I'll have my first drink when the Hawks fall behind by 20 or Josh Smith makes a jump shot, whichever occurs first.

It's all well and good for Charles Barkley to insist the Hawks should play faster but when you can't guard Sam Cassell or a gimpy Paul Pierce, it's unlikely you'll get enough stops to run with any consistency. Allowing the other team to get 40% of possible offensive rebounds (as Boston did in the first half) doesn't help either.

To respond to Edwin's comment at 9:05pm, it's not just bad passing, it's horrible spacing that makes double-teaming Joe Johnson so effective.

2Q, 2:28: Marvin Williams attacking James Posey off the dribble: bad. Marvin Williams hustling after his own awful missed shot: commendable. Marvin Williams failing to convert the ensuing layup or draw a foul: all too predictable.

2Q, 2:52: I hope Scoop Jackson is watching at least the possessions when Josh Smith and Kevin Garnett are guarding each other. Attempting to guard in Josh's case.

2Q, 3:50: On a single defensive possession, Al Horford traps Rondo in the backcourt, keeps Rondo in front of him while Mike Bibby jogs back on defense, switches onto his man (Kendrick Perkins) and runs out to challenge an 18-foot Kevin Garnett jumper (missed) on the low wing. I thank you, Al Horford. Atlanta thanks you. Your next head coach salivates at the thought of you.

2Q, 5:33: Boston leads 43-31 at the timeout with Kendrick Perkins headed to the line. It's been an unsurprising two minutes of game time. Boston's just a lot better. Oh, Marvin Williams has been back on the floor.

2Q, 7:37: Mike Fratello thinks Josh Smith needs to learn to be a smarter player around the rim. (True enough, and though he should start there, he could do with learning to be a smart player all over the court.) Fratello uses Leon Powe as a positive role model for Smith. I nominate the better 5:coaching Powe's received as a primary difference. And still Ben Braun got fired.

2Q, 8:23: Acie Law might actually be more effective when playing more than 4 minutes at a time. It's not flawless basketball but it's marginally encouraging for the future.

2Q, 9:03, coming out of the timeout: Al Horford's in the game. The second quarter of a game in which he's already picked up two fouls. I think this marks tonight's game as an important game on the Hawks' calendar. I'm a bit nervous.

2Q, 9:03: Sam Cassell makes a pull-up jumper on the resultant fast break to put the Celtics up 34-24. Atlanta timeout.

2Q, 9:15: Marvin Williams gets a layup blocked by Paul Pierce and I, for the first time, see Marvin and think Charles Smith. Also, Joe Johnson is back in the game. Should have mentioned that sooner.

2Q, 10:34: Marvin Williams getting a call while trying one of his "off-the-dribble moves" does more harm than good if it encourages him to try another off-the-dribble move prior to the start of the 2008-09 NBA season.

2Q, 10:47: Acie Law has serious room for improvement as a defensive player. Sam Cassell shouldn't get loose that easily. Not when you're 20+ years younger than him.

2Q, 11:25: Josh Smith is 0-3 on jump shots.

Mike Woodson alternates saying things that don't make sense with saying things that aren't true. I could have done an entire post live blogging his between quarters interview with Cheryl Miller but I choose only to watch it twice and march forward.

1Q, 1.1: Brilliant pass from Josh Smith ahead to Zaza Pachulia for the and-one. Boston 24-20 at the end of the first quarter.

1Q, 1:02: Acie Law gets a layup off of a screen-and-roll with Zaza Pachulia. That's a sentence I assumed I'd type a lot more often than I did this season.

Rajon Rondo was drafted with a pick that once belonged to the Hawks. Rajon Rondo was also selected 16 spots behind Shelden Williams.

1Q, 2:50: Josh Smith now 0-2 on jump shots but Marvin Williams provides a rare glimpse of what we once thought he might be with a tomahawk follow dunk.

1Q, 3:52: Acie Law IV didn't exactly make those of us clamoring for more time for him look good. Rajon Rondo takes the ball away from Law off Acie's first touch of the game. Of course, we can always claim Acie doesn't turn the ball over there if he'd gotten more PT.

1Q, 4:03: Hawks call a timeout down 15-9. This is why the Hawks are probably going to get swept: Atlanta can't score enough to keep pace during a Boston cold (injury-influenced, too) stretch. They may not even make it to 80 points tonight.

1Q, 4:20: With a pull-up from 23' 6" with Kevin Garnett's hand in his face, Mike Bibby plumbs new depths of poor shot selection. Josh Smith, the ball is in your court presuming you find yourself somewhere with your feet set.

1Q, 4:41: Horford has two fouls now. Let's tally up how many more minutes he plays before the half versus how many Joe Johnson plays before the half. Both numbers figure to be comically small.

If you're looking for a more experienced hand, Micah Hart is live blogging the game as well.

1Q, 5:20: Forget what I said earlier, Mike Bibby is playing even worse while the crowd boos him. 13-9 Celtics.

1Q, 7:05: Are the Hawks still throwing games in the bag? Marvin Williams just posted up James Posey. He appeared to do so on purpose and with the foreknowledge of both his coaches and teammates. Marvin traveled before he started a post move.

1Q, 8:10: Smith is also 1-1 on dunks. Two fouls on Joe Johnson. No way he gets the Smith/Horford treatment which only underscores how stupid and self-destructive that is.

1Q, 8:22: Marvin Williams has successfully boxed out Kevin Garnett twice. In more expected news, Josh Smith is 0-1 on jump shots.

1Q, 9:45: Celtics up 5-3 at the first timeout and Paul Pierce headed to the end of the bench if not the locker room.

1Q, 10:38: At a certain level, circumstances dictate results. Boston wasn't smart that nine teams passed on drafting Paul Pierce. Atlanta was far from the only team that would have taken Marvin Williams with the second overall pick. Marvin Williams can't guard Paul Pierce, though.

1Q, 11:36: Celtics fans are booing Mike Bibby when he touches the ball. What, is he going to play worse because of this?

Sam Cassell, front-and-center in sharing in Kevin Garnett's Defensive Player of the Year Award after his 17-game, 299-minute contribution to Boston's excellent team defense this year and still he's likable.

Prediction corner: KD says Boston by 112. I'm going to wait before I file that under exaggeration. Should Josh Smith and Al Horford pick up *gasp* two fouls each in the first quarter things could get uglyier.

Pre-game thoughts: It's not up-to-the-minute content but I like to point out the occasional things I'm right about (not that accurately predicting the Hawks would fail to back up their pre-series talk was an especially brilliant insight) so here's what Josh Childress said following Game 1:
"We never played like the aggressor, like the team with nothing to lose, which is what we've been talking about since we knew this matchup was coming."
Joe Johnson sort-of followed up on his:
"These games don’t matter. We accomplished our goal and these last two games, just throw them in the bag and don’t even worry about them. We just have to be ready to get up and go for the playoffs."
line of thinking, by saying after Game 1:
"I didn't expect it to be like this, but I'm glad we got it out of the way."
That makes two games thrown in the bag and one game out of the way. If you're counting.

CelticsBlog has a game preview here. One can envy the preview's author, FLCeltsFan, for his unfamiliarity with the inner-workings of Mike Woodson's mind which this excerpt from the preview reveals:
We can expect the Hawks to make some adjustments to try to beat the Celtics...
I may not have seen Game 1 but I did see a couple of hawks this week.

When in Cambridge, Hoopinion recommends visiting The Fitzwilliam Museum.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Game 2 Will Be Liveblogged

Watch this space from approximately 8pm EDT. Tip-off will be past 1am according to my body clock so things could get punchy early.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Admission

Blogging from across the Atlantic turned out to be more difficult than I foresaw. Not to confirm a stereotype, but having an unusually good and busy stretch of life is not conducive to good blogging. Barring unforeseen delay(s) Hoopinion will return to a normal schedule Wednesday night with a liveblog of Game 2 and the usual post-game content on Thursday.

Thanks to all who have read regularly this year for their patience with my ill-timed absence this past week. Special thanks to Ron and Bronn for carrying on and posting their Game 1 reactions in
the comments of the previous post.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hawks v. Celtics: Series Preview

Between travel and my pessimistic anticipation of the series against the Celtics I've got nothing accomplished here for days. Abandoned drafts of posts have piled up as tip-off approaches and it's come time where I have to make a choice, put fingers to keyboard, and hit "publish post."

If you want to read how the Hawks could possibly compete in this series, please read what I
wrote for the Hawks Blog Roundtable, convened by Micah Hart.

In short, the Hawks are not going to win this series. The Hawks are probably not going to win a game in this series. There are a variety of reasons for this, some to do with the Hawks and some to do with the Celtics. The Hawks are in the playoffs by virtue of several years of high draft picks making them sightly less bad of a basketball team than seven other Eastern Conference teams. The Celtics are in the playoffs because their organization demanded that they challenge for a championship. The Celtics took a more difficult path yet also achieved their goal with far more ease than did the Hawks.

I don't know precisely why the Hawks are as mediocre as they are. I've varied (as have you who have commented here over the course of the season) the primary direction of my frustration from players to the head coach to the general manager to ownership but there's no precise way to allocate responsibility. Mostly I go off of the last infuriating or disappointing thing I've read. There was plenty of that this week but I made a conscious decision not to create a post for each ridiculous thing I read someone associated with the Hawks say, such as in 
Mike Woodson's interview with Sekou Smith:
Q. It's no secret you've had some dust ups with many of the players you've coached. In hindsight do you wish you'd have handled things any differently?

A. The one thing I would hope at the end of the day, if I'm here coaching or not coaching, is that those players respected me. None of these players can ever say that I didn't give them a chance to play and I wasn't fair. They might not have gotten as much playing time as they wanted to get. But they can't say I wasn't fair. Because I've played guys when they probably shouldn't have played, when they weren't even ready. And sometimes that can be detrimental to a player because if he's not ready and you play him you damage him for the rest of his career. So yeah, I've been tough. But I think when you're coaching a young team you've got to be tough. They might look at it as tough but I look at it as coaching.
The contradictory qualities of that answer shine through. I was fair (in that I played guys who shouldn't be playing). I was tough (as a substitute for teaching young players how to succeed). I gave young players chances (whether they deserved them or not, whether or not it would, in the grand scheme of things, hinder their development). That is the answer of a man lacking a plan and it provides insight into how this team is so rudderless.

Later in the same interview, Woodson reveals himself to be as shameless as he appears to be clueless:
Q. Do you think by making the playoffs you [and your staff] have made a case for new contracts that will allow you to continue the progress that's been made to this point?

A. No doubt. There's no doubt we made a case. When I took this job we vowed to get this team into the playoffs and we're in. Now I have no control over ownership and what their decision is. And I'm not going to sit here and strain myself and worry about it. My thing is, I hope, again, that my players respect what I've done and I hope they want me back. That's more important than anything else to me.
You can't pin the blame solely on Woodson. There's the waste of the 2005 and 2006 Drafts. This is a dysfunctional franchise. How is a Hawks fan (or more likely, someone considering investing their time and energy in becoming a Hawks fan) supposed to respond to Joe Johnson's quote following the loss to the Heat in the 82nd game:
"These games don’t matter. We accomplished our goal and these last two games, just throw them in the bag and don’t even worry about them. We just have to be ready to get up and go for the playoffs."
On the one hand, the players have accomplished something. Joe Johnson played on a 26-win team here. Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Al Horford, and Marvin Williams have never played for a competent franchise. One has to look hard to find legitimate NBA players on the bench. 

On the other hand, how hard can you root for a team that's satisfied enough with 37 wins to express a sense of entitlement. It became a joke as he season progressed how the players and coaches would explain away almost every one of their 45 losses with some variation on "We weren't ready to play." or "We just didn't have the energy tonight." Now, they're going to take a few days off to celebrate the eighth-seed in the playoffs yet be ready to match the ready-to-get-up-and-go-ness of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce?

I could be wrong. I would gladly be wrong. But I don't think that once this series tips off at 8:30 EDT it will stay competitive for very long. The difference between to the two teams, both over the entire regular season and in their three
meetings this year is vast. I wrote after the second of those three games that Garnett combined the talents of Josh Smith and Al Horford while also adding a jump shot. Though I think that given the proper support from their organization, Smith and Horford could anchor a team that is competitive in at least the first round of the playoffs as early as next year I fear we'll spend the next week watching a few talented, inexperienced players we've come to admire look, in the end, hopelessly outclassed.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hawks @ Heat

I'll be on the road tonight and tomorrow, unable to watch (or post commentary on) tonight's captivating tilt. Use the comments if you feel the need to, well, comment on anything crucial that occurs.

Salim Stoudamire's career high is 37. I'd love to see him take a run at that in (presumably) his final regular season game as a Hawk.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Magic 121 Hawks 105



Neither team took the game seriously but, frankly, from Atlanta's perspective it can't be encouraging that Bibby, Joe Johnson, Smith, and Horford were each -21 or -22 in their limited minutes. Orlando's regular rotation hammered Atlanta's regular rotation. Nothing to lose sleep over but nothing to encourage one to put any money down on the Celtics in five, either.

If you want to read an AP story about Mike Woodson's year-old promise to shave his head if the Hawks made the playoffs, help yourself. But don't read this quote from Woodson on a full stomach:
"I had to go off on some guys. After that, we never looked back."
Ballhype: hype it up!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Something to Keep in Mind the Next Time You Read Something Scoop Jackson Writes About Basketball

One of these things is not like the others.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Back in the Playoffs

The Wizards beat the Pacers 117-110 in Washington last night to put the Hawks in the playoffs for the first time since the 1998-99 season. If there's a new regime installed in the Indiana front office and they decide not to retain Jim O'Brien he could be a candidate for (what should be) the open head coaching job in Atlanta. After the game he demonstrated a familiarity with Mike Woodson's favorite post-loss theme:
"We didn't bring it, that's the bottom line. It's not a matter of being surprised, it's irrelevant whether I'm surprised or not. Big game and we did not defend."
Reactions from the locals...

...there’s no reason to fret over how they got in. The Hawks (despite all their failures) worked hard to get here. So not even a cynic like me (or even that rascal Blog Z) can knock them for the potholes they fell into along the way.

Show them (especially the players) some love for having the guts to get up off the canvas two months ago and make this push (the Hawks have gone 15-13 during this late season push with two games to play).

Give them some love for getting here despite all the hurdles, self inflicted and otherwise.
Drew at Hawks, Dawgs, and Jesus:
You may say who cares? You just bought yourself a four game sweep. You have a terrible coach. You are the youngest team in the NBA. Who cares?

I don't disagree. But tell me the last thing that has stuck with you that you can't remember. Tell me the last thing that you know that happened, that matters to you, that you have no recollection of?

And I will tell you that thing matters.

As for me, I think I'm more appreciative of the hard work of the players than I am frustrated about the obstacles put in their path by management and the head coach. I do not want to see the Hawks swept easily by the Celtics but I think it's a probable outcome.

Six weeks ago, I predicted 35 wins and the eighth seed. I got the playoff berth right but underestimated the schedule's remaining wins by at least 15%. In the comments of that post, you'll see that Joe and Bronn were both more right than I. Not that anyone should be surprised by that.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Celtics 99 Hawks 89



I'm a day late in posting a recap but the extra time hasn't allowed me to discover anything positive about Saturday night's game. Sekou tried to do so in his blog yesterday afternoon:
The Hawks might have lost the game Saturday night, but they succeeded in delivering two very clear messages to the league’s best team and their probable first-round opponent in the playoffs.

* They won’t go quietly into the dark if they do indeed attain this playoff berth they can’t seem go get their hands around.
* They have absolutely no chance of pulling off a shocker the way Golden State did in last year’s wild NBA postseason.
He ended up in the fog of questions that appear to have no answer that we've all, those of us who watch this team closely, found ourselves lost within:
I can’t for the life of me figure out how Acie Law IV could be the No. 11 pick in a draft and not find his way to the floor anytime over the last four games or how Jeremy Richardson could be signed for the remainder of the season and then be left to style in a warm up every night without so much as playing 30 seconds here or there to help the cause. And I won’t even touch the Salim Stoudamire issue. It just makes no sense.
One day after attempting to communicate a new, open-minded and flexible approach to a player picking up 2 fouls in the first half, Mike Woodson sat Josh Smith for the final 7:56 of the first half and Mike Bibby for the final 6:39 of the first half. For six minutes or so at the end of the second quarter we got to see Marvin Williams, Solomon Jones, and Salim Stoudamire on the floor at the same time against Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo. The Hawks were down 35-36 when Smith left the game, down 35-39 when Bibby left and down 44-55 by the time both returned for the start of the second half.

Woodson's post-game assessment:
"If I had to do it all over again, I probably should have had Bibby's butt on the floor."
I guess we can add Mike Woodson to the list of Hawks' personnel who don't listen to Mike Woodson.

The most talented name on that list, Josh Smith, provided a perfect encapsulation of the manner in which he frustrates: playing bursts of inspired basketball, especially in the third quarter when the Hawks grabbed their first significant lead of the night, and also taking bad shots, turning the ball over, and committing dumb fouls bred purely from frustration. As great as Smith was in the third quarter, his first appearance in the fourth quarter was disastrous. The Hawks didn't surrender their lead in the space of that 1:31 wherein Smith missed two jump shots, had a shot blocked by Glen Davis, committed an offensive goaltend, turned the ball over, then immediately fouled (his fifth) James Posey, and got himself replaced by Marvin Williams, but it did inaugurate the near-seven minute scoreless stretch of the fourth quarter.

Smith's reaction to his team blowing a lead against Boston's reserves:
"I wouldn't say it was their second unit that beat us. It was Sam Cassell. He was pretty much the only player on the court who could score points."
From 8:23 to 1:36 in the fourth quarter, the Hawks did not score a point. That has nothing to do with Cassell's ability to score.

Doc Rivers may claim to think otherwise:
"It wouldn't be an easy series."
but I don't think it's going to be easier to score against an engaged Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins, and Ray Allen than it was Saturday night against Cassell, Tony Allen, Posey, Davis, and PJ Brown.

I don't care that the Hawks played pretty well against Boston's first unit. Saturday night's game was just another example of the Hawks playing inconsistently and coughing up a chance to win a game in the fourth quarter. It would be extraordinarily fitting for Atlanta to clinch their playoff spot on a night they don't play and their sole rival for that spot loses: Pacers at Wizards, tonight at 7pm. Fire up the League Pass and root for Indiana to accomplish what's eluded the Hawks so far. It's not just the calendar that makes me think Indiana is more likely than Atlanta to reduce the Hawks' magic number to 0.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hawks 116 Knicks 104



More detailed commentary (hopefully not of the suffocatingly negative variety*) from me coming later today. Until then, tide yourselves over with game recaps (AP, New York Times, AJC) and liberal use of the comments.

To accomplish that I might have to steer clear of the decision to go small for the final 9 minutes. Maybe Mike Woodson's right and I'm wrong and Al Horford just isn't that useful a basketball player. Not to the extent Marvin Williams is, at least. Where would the Hawks have been without Marvin's fourth quarter point not to mention his fourth quarter rebound?

Ballhype: hype it up!

Friday, April 11, 2008

At This Point Mike Woodson's Just Pulling My Leg

From Sekou Smith's AJC article this morning:
Managing the minutes of his starters has been one of Hawks coach Mike Woodson's toughest tasks this season.
I'd go (or have gone) with something more along the lines of managing the minutes of the few players on his roster who can play NBA basketball has been demonstrably beyond the capabilities of Mike Woodson this season but I don't have to talk to Woodson on a daily basis and can thus be blunt without suffering any real consequences.
It happened Tuesday in Indiana. Horford picked up his second foul with the Hawks leading 20-18 with 5:46 left in the first quarter.

Woodson sat him and the next time he saw the floor, at the start of the second half, the Hawks had been outscored 49-32. They trailed by what turned out to be an insurmountable 15 points. So don't expect Woodson to yank his starters at the first sign of trouble Friday night in New York.
It's taken 78 games to figure out that the best players should play the most minutes? Or has it taken 78 games to learn that players (even rookies) are disqualified after their sixth rather than their fifth foul?
"Certainly, if you take him out, you have to bring him back at the seven- or eight-minute mark of the second quarter [rather than sitting him out until the third quarter]," Woodson said. "A lot of it depends on the situation in the game. When Al got his second Tuesday night it was still a back-and-forth game.

"But he came out and then they just took off. We couldn't even get out of the first quarter, so you don't want to risk that again going into the third quarter."
I've read the above several times and it makes little sense to me. I guess we can take away two things from that quote: 1) Mike Woodson coached the game in Indiana so poorly that even Mike Woodson can recognize how poorly Mike Woodson coached the game and 2) Mike Woodson can't form and communicate a coherent thought about how to deal with foul trouble (either real or perceived).
Horford's impact on the game, a 29-point blowout before a late Hawks rally, was non-existent. He finished with four points and five rebounds in under 20 minutes, an unacceptable performance for one of the Hawks' most important players.
Horford also finished the game with five personal fouls. It's disappointing that Horford had a bad game but nobody's going to play 82 good games. It's unacceptable that he sat for 17:47 of the first half with just two fouls and 10:46 of the second half with just four fouls.

Al Horford:
"After you sit that long it's tough to come back into that type of game in any kind of rhythm. I know I felt out of it at the start of the second half. We were already down big and it wasn't easy trying to get back into the flow."
See also, Acie Law IV's inability to improve as a point guard while playing 0 to 6 minutes a night; those minutes coming regardless of whether he plays well or plays terribly.

The season, and Mike Woodson's head coaching career, can't end fast enough.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

In Their Own Words

Pacers 112 Hawks 98



Monday, April 7

Josh Smith:
"Don't think we don't know it, that we don't feel it. We have to keep our eyes on the prize right now. We know that, too. But if we play like we did in [Saturday's win] in Philadelphia ... we just have to handle our business."

"We've had our ups and downs along that way, but we're in a good position now. We just have to finish what we started."
Tuesday, April 8

Josh Smith:
"This is the game we needed to win to lock things up, and we didn't do it. Now we have to go down to the wire with this thing and play every game like it's our last."
Joe Johnson:
"We just added a level of drama to this whole thing by not taking care of our business. They just played harder than us. It's how hard they played. We don't play hard, we get our [expletive] kicked. Point blank."
Mike Woodson:
"Unfortunately you have to play four quarters. We only played one quarter. We got back in it and cut it to 10 twice. But you can't spot this team 30 points and expect to come back and win. We didn't have any kind of defensive presence. You're talking about making the playoffs; you better play defense and rebound the ball to give yourself a chance to win."
Joe Johnson:
"That's an inexcusable defensive effort. I don't think we realize what it was going to take [defensively] and it showed in the way we played."
Joe Johnson:
"We acted like we didn't want to play tonight, and if you can't get up for this game, you don't need to be playing at all."
Ballhype: hype it up!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Back to Work

That was fun.

Moving on to the business at hand this evening, Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star breaks down the Pacers' situation entering tonight's game:
The Pacers are three games behind the Hawks for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. A victory cuts the Hawks' lead to two, gives the Pacers the tiebreaker and keeps the Hawks' magic number to eliminate the Pacers at three.

A Pacers loss means they can't pass Atlanta and will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season, something they haven't done since Reggie Miller's first two seasons in 1987-88 and '88-89.
Sekou Smith tackles the same theme from the Atlanta perspective:
With a win tonight, the Hawks can eliminate any doubt about where they're headed when the regular season ends.
Sekou also got a pair of typically strong quotes from Josh Smith:
"Last time we came up here, we got our [behinds] whipped," Smith said. "You can't sugarcoat it. They smashed us."
"Don't think we don't know it, that we don't feel it," Smith said by phone after the Hawks wrapped up practice Monday in Indianapolis. "We have to keep our eyes on the prize right now. We know that, too. But if we play like we did in [Saturday's win] in Philadelphia ... we just have to handle our business."
Ballhype: hype it up!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Hawks 92 76ers 85



I'm hung over from celebrating Kansas' victory into the early hours of Sunday morning so this will be brief. And it should be brief as the home-and-home with the 76ers played out the opposite of how I would have predicted had I been foolish enough to predict the outcome of either game.

It sure is easier to win when you put your best players on the floor in the fourth quarter. Mike Bibby played another lousy game but that doesn't mean he's not the best option at point guard in the fourth quarter. So he was on the court and able to make a couple of shots in the last three minutes. Mike Woodson would be well served to treat Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Josh Childress the same way he treats Bibby and Joe Johnson. The Hawks only have five good players. Put them on the floor and the chances of winning improve.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

76ers 109 Hawks 104



The game was probably lost because Mike Bibby shot 9% from the field and he can't even stay in front of Andre Miller defensively. (I think Woodson's refusal to use Acie Law IV for anything other than 4 to 8 minutes in the first half suggests that Woodson knows he won't be around next year and developing Acie Law in any way shape or form won't do Mike Woodson a damn bit of good so why bother.) Still, I'm curious why Mike Woodson decided that Al Horford (should Coach Woodson be reading this, I'll make explicit that Horford is the team's best rebounder and one of only two Hawks (the other being Joe Johnson) who could ever be described as an above average man-to-man defender) was superfluous to efforts in the fourth quarter.

My specific questions:
  • Why did Woodson rest Horford for the the first 6:12 of the fourth quarter if he was willing to pull him for the final 3:13?
  • Why did Woodson replace Horford with Marvin Williams?
  • Why was Williams guarding Andre Iguodala late in a close game?
  • Why did Woodson keep Williams on the court to guard Samuel Dalembert after Williams had to be switched off Iguodala following consecutive possessions where Iguodala scored?
  • In the final three minutes of a close game, should 40% of your lineup be matched up against the guy they're guarding only because they've made it abundantly clear they cannot guard someone else on the court? Shouldn't, maybe, at least one of those guys be sitting next to you, the head coach?
  • Wouldn't Al Horford be expected to better the production (0-1 FGA, 1 offensive rebound, 1 defensive rebound) of the players (Pachulia and Williams) who played in his stead in fourth quarter?
I only have an answer for the last two items.

If you'd like to read (once again) various Hawks players quoted as saying they lost because they couldn't match their opponents' energy level and they must do better tonight, click here.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

FTW: Al Horford

It would be better with a quote from Horford, but here we go:
Al Horford may eliminate any controversy surrounding the end of Wednesday's 127-120 overtime victory over Toronto.

Horford told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Thursday that he touched the inbound pass that Toronto's T.J. Ford tipped in at the end of regulation. Ford's basket, which would have won the game, was disallowed when replays showed he was still in contact with the ball at the buzzer. The game went into overtime tied 107-107.

Toronto officials, including head coach Sam Mitchell, contend that the game clock started early with 0.5 seconds left on the play. They indicated following the game that they may file a protest with the NBA. As of Thursday afternoon, the league had not issued a statement that a protest had been filed.

Horford said the inbound pass tipped his fingers, meaning the clock should have started at that point. If that was the case, there would not have been enough time for the ball to reach Ford and be tipped in with just 0.5 seconds left.
Ballhype: hype it up!

Hawks 127 Raptors 120 (OT)



Through three quarters we didn't see anything unusual. However easy it was (at times) for the Hawks to score it was, over the course of the game, consistently easier to score against them. Down 91-74 with 1:10 left in the third quarter, something changed. The Hawks did not transform into a collection of shut down defenders but they played far stronger and sensible defense than we're accustomed to seeing. The fourth quarter and overtime were far from perfect but it was legitimately impressive.

Josh Smith deserves special credit for his man-to-man defense on Chris Bosh in the fourth quarter and overtime. With the exception of a couple of foolish attempts at swatting the entry pass as (or after) it reached Bosh's hands, Smith demonstrated that, should he feel like it, he just might be more than a help defender. Bosh was 2-9 from the field (plus 7-7 from the line, he's good after all) in the fourth quarter and overtime. Of course, Smith almost negated all of that good fourth quarter defensive work by failing to switch onto TJ Ford on the almost game-winner on Toronto's last possession of regulation.

(Speaking of which, Sekou agrees with me that the clock started before Ford touched the ball. Who knows if that would have made a difference. Ford had the ball in his hands for about half a second. See also: TrueHoop, the Daily Dime, and the man who called for vengeance on Al Horford, Doug Smith, correctly pointing out the timing error was courtesy of one of the three officials and not, for once, the scorer's table. Still, a protest is likely.)

Credit where it's due, TJ Ford's contribution to Atlanta's victory can't be overlooked. His "defense" on Bibby's game-tying three-pointer with :00.5 left in regulation consisted of nothing more than looking directly at Bibby rather than raising his arms or even crowding Bibby.

In overtime, Ford took 8 of Toronto's 12 shots and registered not a single assist. Because of the low esteem in which I hold Mike Woodson, I'm skeptical if the positive consequences of the decision to use Josh Childress rather than Bibby on Ford were thought through completely. Childress couldn't stay in front of Ford either, but Bibby's not as likely as Childress to help off of his man when Ford beats the first defender. The Hawks could survive Ford shooting two-pointers (and no free throws) longer than they could survive the rest of the team shooting open threes.

Speaking of three-pointers...

Josh Smith:
"I'm not a 3-point shooter, but if it comes to me, I'll take it."
Consistent success for the Hawks doesn't lie in counting on Josh Smith to make jump shots (though I consider those sideline three-pointers a lesser evil than the twenty-foot two-point attempts from the top of the key). That the Hawks got into overtime was due to a far too rare demonstration in the fourth quarter of Smith's varied talents (2-4 FGA, 5-6 FTA, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block). The weekend games against the 76ers will give us a better idea if last night was a one-off example of heady, clutch play or just a night where everything worked for 16 minutes.

The magic number for a playoff spot is 4. Anyone with dreams of moving out of the eighth playoff spot should take a deep breath and remember that a sweep of the 76ers this weekend will still leave Atlanta a game behind Philadelphia in the race for seventh in the East. The Hawks are almost as far behind teams 5 through 7 as the are ahead of the Pacers and Nets. The possibility of a first-round playoff victory was given away earlier in the season.


Ballhype: hype it up!