Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hawks 105 Nets 88



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
NJ 89.7 0.98 44.7 28 31.8 19
ATL 89.7 1.17 56.4 37.1
21.9 16.7

In the midst of the giddy return of Mike Bibby's shooting stroke (7-12 FGA, 3-6 3PTA in the final three quarters) and Joe Johnspn's ability to convert scoring opportunities (29 points on 17 FGA and 7 FTA) let us not overlook the team's defensive performance in the second half of the game.

New Jersey's Offensive Efficiency by Half

HalfOff Eff

Most interesting about that improvement is that it came about despite Atlanta's best defender, Josh Smith, spending most of the second half on the bench. Smith played the first 8:38 of the second half but never returned after picking up his fourth foul. There were two prominent in-game reasons not to bring Smith back into the game*: 1) Shot selection (3 of his 6 field goal attempts were jump shots and he never got to the free throw line) and 2) He couldn't keep Ryan Anderson off the offensive glass. As to the first reason, let's hope that a two-game amplification of Smith's season-long struggles at the free throw line don't dampen his already tenuous commitment to attacking the basket rather than floating on the perimeter. To the latter, though Anderson was only credited with four offensive rebounds, he got a hand (or finger) to two or three more New Jersey misses by consistently (if not constantly) boxing out Smith on New Jersey field goal attempts.

*Not including the fact that the Hawks immediately went on an 8-1 run after Smith left in the third quarter.

Even on an off night, Smith remains complex, garnering 6 assists against a single turnover and blocking two shots. In that respect, Smith's struggles are no different than those recent struggles of Bibby and Johnson. None of the three can play so badly as to be completely worthless even for a single night. What certainly looked different, however, was that whereas Mike Woodson really can't not play either Bibby or Johnson, he can not play Josh Smith without adverse effect.

As if we needed more evidence of the importance of Bibby and Johnson, contrast last night's game: No Horford, off night from Josh Smith, good game from Joe Johnson, three good quarters from Mike Bibby, good night for Flip Murray, and an average Marvin Williams performance equals handy win over the Nets whereas Wednesday night in New York good nights from Smith, Murray, Williams, and Pachulia couldn't make up for both Johnson and Bibby struggling. Of course, the difference between playing at home or on the road and the vastly improved (at least in the second half) team defense on Friday night also make a difference but the primary reason the Hawks win or lose a game comes down to whether or not Johnson and Bibby make their shots.

Johnson's good night had nothing to do with getting any more rest. He played 43:11 despite Acie Law IV getting to play 12:48. The reason: Maurice Evans played just 8:45. Woodson still seems willing to play Evans if he's making shots but on the nights when he does not, the Hawks are now going with essentially a seven-man rotation.

Further down the bench, with both Smith and Pachulia struggling, Solomon Jones got another chance to play extended minutes and used them fairly well though he again demonstrated that, if he's ever to become a consistently useful reserve he'll have to learn to play defense without fouling. That won't be an issue once Horford returns* but it remains a long term concern.

*Once Horford returns, one hopes that Jones will still provide useful and relatively aggressive minutes whenever a big man ahead of him in the rotation picks up two first half fouls.

Joe Johnson:
"I take a lot of the blame for January because I haven't been playing up to par. I think I'm starting to get it back now."
Marvin Williams:
"It's good to have them back. They haven't been shooting the ball well the last few games, but they came back tonight. ... I'll take my backcourt against any backcourt in the league."
Mike Bibby:
"We were making it tough on their top two scorers to get to the basket. Shots come and go when you play 82 games. Tonight we were trying to get on track defensively and try to play together."
Here's a quote that must be chalked up on the "Mike Woodson is largely reticent when speaking publicly" side of the ledger:
"It’s a great win. We’ve really struggled with this team. I don’t know what it is, but they’ve had their way with us. I just thought we made a really great effort to defend. We rebounded the ball, but we really defended. We executed our plan, and it worked."
I don't believe that even the harshest of Woodson's critics could believe that Woodson doesn't know why the Hawks struggled against New Jersey in the first three games. Otherwise, why was Mike Bibby guarding Bobby Simmons or Jarvis Hayes most of the game?

Al Horford could return as soon as Wednesday:
Center Al Horford missed his 11th consecutive game Friday night, recovering from the bone bruise in his right knee injured Jan. 9 at Orlando. He’s on the way back, though. Woodson said that Horford’s return to action could come as soon Wednesday’s game in Minnesota. “We’re going to step it up [Saturday] in terms of running,” Woodson said before Friday’s game against New Jersey at Philips Arena. “Come Monday, and depending how things go on Sunday, he’ll get a chance to go through a full practice. And if not Monday, he’ll for sure be out there Tuesday. A lot of it depends on how he feels the next few days after working out and how he responds to the increased activity.”
Dave D'Alessandro:
At various stages of this half-season, the Hawks seemed to serve as the Nets' best friend and comic foil, a team that showed up just in time to help the Jersey guys feel better about themselves.

That was the case in November, when the Nets' sweep of a home-and-home set was the springboard to a season-best 9-3 run and Devin Harris' official introduction to stardom.

Atlanta also made a timely appearance at the Meadowlands on Jan. 2, when they blew a 20-point lead, hand-delivered the Nets' finest moment (Vince Carter's 33-footer at the buzzer), and created the fantasy that the Nets had the resilience to overcome any obstacle.

Seems like years ago.

The Hawks delivered a powerful payback last night, perpetuating the Nets' downward spiral with a superb defensive performance in the form of a 105-88 rout at Philips Arena.
With only three home games between now and March 1st, it would be most beneficial were the Hawks to reprise last week's dismantling of the (now Michael Redd-less) Bucks.

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