Thursday, February 05, 2009

Hawks 94 Timberwolves 86



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 92.9 1.01 52.3 37.9 21.2 19.4
MINN 92.9 0.93 40.9 15.9
38.8 19.4

I don't think I'll ever understand why Joe Johnson's absence inspired Marvin Williams to give the kind of defensive rebounding performance that could elevate him into an inarguably good NBA player but that doesn't prevent me from being thankful for the result. Much as the Hawks must be thankful that Joe Johnson's illness coincided with a trip to visit a team that starts perhaps the one point guard in the NBA who is a worse offensive player than Mike Bibby is a defensive player.

Which isn't to say that the Hawks didn't compensate for Johnson's absence. They played more zone than I can remember them playing in any single game this year. It worked fine for three quarters as Minnesota went 4-18 from beyond the arc. In the final quarter, with Rashad McCants replacing Sebastian Telfair in the lineup and Mike Miller more aggressively looking for his shots the zone was less effective. This was due, partially, to a visibly fatigued Al Horford struggling to close out on shooters due to playing most of the fourth quarter despite Mike Woodson's pre-game insistence (one he held to for three quarters) that he would limit Horford to four stints of approximately five minutes each.

It was a curious decision as there was no pressing need to push Horford's minutes on a night when Zaza Pachulia both stayed out of foul trouble and did a creditable job defending Al Jefferson. That either Telfair or Ryan Gomes was (and sometimes both were) on the court alongside Jefferson made it easier for the Hawks to double Jefferson though, to be fair to the lesser Timberwolves, helping on Al Jefferson really plays to Josh Smith's strengths as a defender.

Guarding Kevin Love, on the other hand, really demonstrated Smith's limitations both as an on-the-ball defender and a defensive rebounder. At 4:22 of the first quarter, Kevin Love caught the ball on the left baseline, approximately 15 feet from the basket, and beat Smith off the dribble, along the baseline, simply because Smith never got in a defensive stance. That shouldn't happen*.

*And I say this as one of the (apparently) few people who recognizes that Kevin Love is a supremely skilled basketball player.

Even though any reasonable person expected Love, an excellent offensive rebounder, to thrive against the Hawks, a poor defensive rebounding team, nine offensive rebounds in 30 minutes is ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous: Kevin McHale's decision to sit Love for the final 5:26 of the game.

But Minnesota* didn't lose this game, Atlanta won it. Marvin Williams, in addition to his good work on the defensive glass, gave a good account of himself as a primary offensive option. Mike Bibby made shots and didn't turn the ball over. Josh Smith attacked the basket, and, even if he was unable to convert the free throw attempts he earned (3-8 FTA) he refrained from taking bad shots** on a night when Atlanta's offensive margin of error was smaller due to Johnson's absence. Al Horford wasn't a revelation on his return (4 points, 6 rebounds) but even at less than full strength and in limited minutes he demonstrated the breadth of his value (3 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks).

*Unless you want to take a macro-view and pin the loss on Minnesota's inability to acquire a competent point guard.

**It must be noted that, in Johnson's absence, there was also an absence of instances where Smith caught the ball 20 feet from the basket with the shot clock dwindling, thus giving him an excuse to take the jump shots he struggles to resist. I don't note this to imply that it's an either/or proposition but rather to highlight (again) the potential value that's typically wasted when Johnson and Smith share the floor.

At Peachtree Hoops, Drew won't go so far as to say the Hawks were better offensively without Joe Johnson but some things were definitely different:
Without Joe last night, Marvin had the mismatch. He could not be guarded. So with the game on the line, the Hawks went to him twice. Once getting two free throws out of him and once getting an assists on a Mike Bibby three pointer.

I can't remember the last time Mike Woodson exploited an offensive match up in the fourth quarter. Heck really any quarter.
The gang at Billy Knight Stole My Lunch Money concur:
It seemed the Hawks were lost on offense in the fourth quarter due to their usual standing around and watching Joe make something happen once the clock starts counting down in the fourth. So when the time came for something to happen and when the Hawks needed baskets they had no one to turn to.
Britt Robson saw the Hawks defend Al Jefferson much as Indiana had the night before, just with personnel better suited to the task. The Wolves' dreadful perimeter shooting helped, too:
Both Indiana and Atlanta fronted him quite a bit, and were relatively effective at it...It so happens that the Hawks are almost perfectly assembled for this type of defense: They've got Josh Smith, who is a pogo stick; Al Horford, who plays intelligently and has a quick second jump if he's faked off his feet the first time; and traditional center Zaza Pachulia and lithe forward Marvin Williams for variety. For many possessions during this game, they used their length and athleticism to play zone while fronting Jefferson, and, as mentioned, dared Foye and Bassy Telfair to knock down some wide open outside shots.

The backcourt (and swingman) shooting was pathetic. Telfair didn't make any of his nine attempts, Foye was 4-19 FG, and Ryan Gomes threw up his 1-10 FG, for a nifty 5-38 FG, with a 2-17 FG cherry on top from the three point line.
Rashad McCants' dervish defensive possession in the fourth quarter wherein he forced a driving Acie Law IV back about 15 feet then blocked Law's desperation jumper caught me by surprise. As it did College Wolf at TWolves Blog:
That defensive stop by McCants like 2 minutes or so into the fourth quarter was probably the best defensive play I've EVER seen him make. He stayed in front of Acie Law by himself out on the perimeter, and then blocked the shot causing a 24 second shot clock violation. It was amazing, especially by McCants standards. The downside is that now we know he has the tools to play good defense, he just has never chosen to do so in the past.


Unknown said...

Yeah I was thinking during the game about just how lucky it was that we face about the only team in the league with a point guard that Bibby could actually defend the night that Joe is out with illness. I also agree with you about Williams: if he could bottle that and play that way consistently, that would take a large amount of the scoring load off of Joe in the halfcourt. We really should run more sets or plays that have him cutting to the basket and taking advantage of his quickness and length: that's what we drafted him for, not just to set up in the corner for three or as an intermediary passer between other players on offense.

I do agree with you in the criticism of Woodson in this case - it was nice to see a mismatch exploited for once...

RivBoatGambler said...

JJ needs his touches in the flow of the offense. Josh and Marvin have shown the ability to score given the opporntunity. The Hawks need to get into their sets faster and rely on ball movement to get effictive oporntunities to the entire team. At times Bibby and JJ can take over games with their shooting skills. But overall their shooting percentage is not high enough. I think if their volume of shots went down and the rest of the team was more involved the Hawks would score at a overall higher shooting percentage.

RivBoatGambler said...

Great ideas. Like a skills challenge format useing all the players. East on one end of the court and the west at the other. Give each player a seed (ranking).