Monday, January 26, 2009

Suns 104 Hawks 99



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
PHX 95.9 1.08 59.2 41.5 9.7 21.9
ATL 95.9 1.03 44.6 28.6 24.5 13.6

With 5:02 left in the game and the Hawks leading 95-94, Josh Smith, matched up against Shaquille O'Neal in the low post had to give up a foul rather than a dunk. In what seemed at the time like a bum break for the Hawks, O'Neal made both free throws to put Phoenix up by a point. In retrospect, Smith's foul was one of the last successful plays a Hawk player would manage the rest of the game.

From the official play-by-play, the next nine Hawks possessions...
  1. Josh Smith missed jump shot (off of one pass with 11 seconds left on the shot clock)
  2. Joe Johnson missed runner
  3. Joe Johnson missed layup
  4. Josh Smith missed jump shot (with 8 seconds left on the shot clock)
  5. Joe Johnson penetrates into the lane, turns the ball over in traffic
  6. Mike Bibby missed three-pointer
  7. Josh Smith travels attempting a post move against Amare Stoudemire
  8. Josh Smith hits a cutting Solomon Jones with a bullet pass, Leandro Barbosa fouls Jones, who makes both free throws
  9. Out of a timeout with 26.2 seconds left, the Hawks struggle to inbound the ball, finally get it to Solomon Jones, who hands off to Joe Johnson. Johnson fails to make any progress toward the basket and takes a guarded, fall-away three-pointer with 18 seconds left. He misses but SOLOMON JONES gets the offensive rebound and the putback.
In a vacuum these possessions are painful enough to recount. Considering that during this stretch Phoenix scored a sum total of 6 points (on a Barbosa three at 3:47 and a Stoudemire layup and one with 26.2 seconds) while turning the ball over three times and the pain of missed opportunities seems more acute.

It's no coincidence that Solomon Jones is the only name to appear in bold type in that list. For a young player of moderate ability and experience who gets little opportunity to play and virtually no opportunity to play in crunch time, Jones was a revelation as his veteran teammates fell apart in the fourth quarter. Jones scored 9 of Atlanta's 19 fourth quarter points. Zaza Pachulia added a bucket and Flip Murray a three-pointer in the final quarter, leaving Joe Johnson (0-7 FGA, 4 assists, 2 turnovers), Mike Bibby (1-3 FGA, 1 assist), Josh Smith (1-5 FGA, 0-3 on jump shots, 2 turnovers), and Marvin Williams (0-1 FGA) to account (or not) for the other five points.

It's a bit unfair to include Bibby in the "fell apart in the fourth quarter" category. Whereas Smith scored 17 points in the first three quarters (while, not coincidentally forgoing the jump shot for the most part) before scoring 2 in the fourth, and Johnson and Williams combined to score 32 points through three quarters before both going scoreless in the fourth, Bibby's fourth quarter three-pointer doubled his made field goals on the day.

In addition to his struggling to make shots, it was (save for a stretch of the third quarter where Matt Barnes and Louis Amundson replaced Grant Hill and O'Neal on the court) difficult for Mike Woodson to find a Sun that wouldn't exploit Bibby's defensive limitations. In the 29:04 that Bibby played, the Hawks were outscored 64-49. In the 18:56 he sat, Atlanta outscored Phoenix 50-40.

That 25 point disparity isn't just down to Bibby having a tough day on both ends of the floor as Flip Murray had another nice game off the bench, scoring 16 points on 9 shots (plus 6 FTA) and chipping in a couple of assists. Murray was 1-4 on three-pointers (and I'm still skeptical that he's been on anything more than hot streak from beyond the arc so far this year) but he's been so effective (and relentless in) backing down opposing backup point guards that I suspect we may see teams make an adjustment to contain Murray by putting a bigger defender on him with the intention of forcing him to shoot more perimeter jumpers.

Mike Woodson:
"We’re playing good basketball. We’re still in the position we need to be, in terms of trying to secure that fourth spot. We’ve just got to go get this one back."
Along with several of my fellow Hawks bloggers, I attended last night's game at the invitation of the Atlanta Hawks* and also attended Woodson's post-game press conference and can offer as a first-hand account that Woodson took what had to have been a frustrating loss (It was certainly frustrating just to watch.) with an admirably equanimity. Something that should not go unremarked even as I still question certain tactical or man management decisions he makes: Mike Woodson appears far more comfortable coaching the Atlanta Hawks than he did last year. Whether this is a cause or a function of the team's success, I know not.

*Thanks to Micah Hart for organizing and hosting and to Rick Sund for taking some questions from the assembled bloggers. With regard to that, it would probably be best if this post were stricken from the record. Sometimes you see them leaving but you don't see the push.

Kelly Dwyer puts the Hawks loss down, in part, to it being one of those days:
Atlanta probably should have won this game, and while I do credit Phoenix's defense to an extent, I think Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby's combined 7-33 shooting had a lot more to do with Johnson and Bibby than the Suns defense.
Michael Schwartz, at Valley of the Suns, recaps the game from the, you guessed it, Suns' perspective and notes Steve Kerr's interesting use of the word "crisis"
First, he’s probably exaggerating with his use of the word “crisis,” but in the scheme of the 2008-09 NBA season, those words couldn’t be more accurate. Losing to the Bobcats by 22 to cap off a run of five losses in six games is a crisis for a team hoping to make the playoffs.

It’s a crisis comparable to six weeks ago when the Suns were embarrassed on the road in consecutive games at New Orleans and Dallas after dropping home games they should have won to Miami and New Jersey. Kerr responded to that “crisis” by sending Raja Bell and Boris Diaw out of town and bringing in Jason Richardson.

I hope this crisis is solved with greater focus and intensity from the players, and as Kerr alluded to, that the Suns find a better place mentally.
And now for what would have led the recap had the Hawks won:

Back with more throughout the day leading up to tonight's game in Miami.

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