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!


Anonymous said...

The game was thrilling enough to wash the bad taste of Matt Ryan out of my mouth (I'm aware of the dirty connotion to that metaphor). My initial thought, Bret, was that the Hawks played their best game and Boston their worse. But on further review, Boston didn't play poorly. Not great, sure, but not bad either. You might point out the ten straight missed shots in the third quarter, but the Hawks were playing good defense during that stretch and forcing tough shots.

Any chance of repeating this performance?

Anonymous said...

Somehow losing to the Celtics 4-1 will almost feel worthwhile except that it will likely save Woodson's job for at least another year.

Bret LaGree said...


I think the Hawks can replicate parts of their peformance (not turning the ball over, playing decent defense, using Smith and Horford a lot) but I'd be surprised if they shot the ball as well as they did Saturday night. (Though there is the chance that Bibby picks up some of the slack created by Josh Smith not shooting over 70% from the field.)

To be in the game late I think the Hawks will have to get a ton of offensive rebounds and try to match Boston's offense by shooting more often rather than shooting better.


Of all the things that concern me about the upcoming off-season, signing Mike Woodson to a second contract to be the team's head coach is well down the list. I believe he's still the coach more because ownership is cheap than that they're malicious.

Anonymous said...

Wish I had been at this game. Don't celebrate too hard, Bret, get home safely.

Good call on Bibby though. He didn't do anything in the second half, but he did hit some jump shots while Josh Smith was throwing up airballs. But I don't think either of us expected JJ to abuse Ray Allen (then Allen AND Rondo when they brought the double) like that in the fourth quarter.

bonitis said...

2-2. incredible performance by joe in the 4th. i hope you all have tickets for friday. ticketmaster still has some available.

Anonymous said...

Last nights game was amazing and definitely one of the best I have seen in a long long time. I wanted to call up Doc Rivers and tell him he better find somebody else to put on JJ, because last night, he schooled Allen and Rondo like they were rookies. I told my wife right before the half that we needed the all-star JJ to show up and take over this game and he did exactly that.

J-Smoove put up a lot of forced long distance shots, some of which weren't entirely his fault, but more so because he was passed to with less than five seconds on the clock. And although I agonized over each futile three attempt by him, all I could think about was his Game 3 performance and hope that something would land.

I will say this though, whatever Boston was drinking last night, I want some. I can't believe how many threes they were making. It was sick.

Either way, these last two games show perfectly what this team is capable of and all I can hope and dream for is that they realize it and maybe take another game. I'm perfectly happy with the results, hell one game was good for me, but pushing this series to seven, or man if we could steat the series, well, that would really be more than I could have dreamed for this year.

And regardless of what happens, lets hope that this is proof enough to the Atlanta Spirit that we need to keep this team intact and get a better coach for next year.