Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nuggets 110 Hawks 109



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 89.7 1.22
53.1 30 31.6 15.6
DEN 89.7 1.23 57.1 39

Two interesting things happened in last night's game. Working backward chronologically, the first occurred after Marvin Williams scored an and one at 9:49 to pull the Hawks within 6 (86-92), George Karl switched JR Smith off Williams (9-12 FGA, 1-2 3PTA, 10-10 FTA in 28:50 to that point) and onto Joe Johnson, putting Carmelo Anthony on Williams. I cannot remember the last time* an opposing coach decided to focus on stopping a Hawk other than Joe Johnson. Now, Karl's decision was made by easier by continuing to have the Nuggets double-team Joe Johnson when he got the ball below the free throw line.

*There may not be a last time.

Even though this decision succeeded in slowing down Williams (1-5 FGA, 0-1 3PTA, 0-0 FTA for the remainder of the game), I can't say it had a great impact on the final result as Johnson picked up the slack scoring 10 of Atlanta's final 23 points (3-3 FGA, 2-2 3PTA, 2-2 FTA) and assisting on Al Horford's bucket that cut the Denver lead to 1 (109-110). Putting a priority on stopping Marvin Williams didn't limit the Nuggets* to two made free throws in the final 3 minutes of the game. It simply serves as another example that Marvin Williams may be developing into the kind of offensive player his potential suggested four years ago.

*Karl's decision to put Anthony Carter back in the game for most of the final two minutes may have. Carter was as bad as Chauncey Billups was good last night.

The other interesting thing occurred in the first half and also involved Marvin Williams, albeit more indirectly. Williams committed his second foul with 7:18 left in the second quarter. The Hawks held a 43-39 lead. Mike Woodson replaced Williams with Mario West, putting a Murray/Johnson/Evans/West/Horford lineup on the floor. One minute and 25 seconds later, Woodson replaced Horford, who had played just 8:31 of the first quarter and, to that point, the entire second quarter, with Pachulia. Williams sat for the rest of the first half and he finished the game with three personal fouls. Horford sat for four minutes and 53 seconds before returning for the final minute of the first half.

Mario West played power forward for six minutes and 17 seconds of the second quarter. I repeat, Mario West played power forward for six minutes and 17 seconds of the second quarter. Compounding that bit of madness he was assigned to guard Chauncey Billups (12 points on 2-3 FGA, 2-2 3PTA, 6-7 FTA plus 2 assists in the second quarter) for much of that time. When he left the game (mercifully), the Hawks trailed 53-57.

West plays hard, yes, but he did not have sufficient offensive skill to play even half of his team's minutes for a mediocre ACC team two years ago. He has not developed any offensive skills in the interregnum. There's no rational argument for an NBA team having him on their roster. Furthermore, unless I greatly underestimate the value of jumping so high in the pursuit of offensive rebounds that you can't land on your feet*, he has no business stepping on the court outside of garbage time.

*Apparently this is "daredevil"-ness. I'm worried Sekou's going stir crazy from the paper not allowing him to do his job.

Yet he played almost seven straight minutes in the second quarter, out of position and charged with guarding the opposition's second-best player, for a team with (one hopes) ambitions to host a first-round playoff series, a team missing two starters thus shrinking their margin of error in a road game against a superior opponent. Why? Because Marvin Williams committed two fouls in the first 17 minutes of the game.

The irrationality of this knee-jerk, reactive, and compulsive behavior is magnified the more you think about it. Woodson doesn't pull a guy for committing two fouls in any 17 minute stretch of game time unless it occurs in the game's first 17 minute stretch. Hell, he doesn't pull his reserves in the first half until they commit their third foul. Williams played 14:37 before committing his second foul. At that rate, he'd play 43:51 before committing his sixth foul. He did play another 24:22 and committed only one foul. He was never in foul trouble.

That's just Williams. Woodson also had Al Horford at his disposal* and chose to play Mario West instead.

*Truly at his disposal, even in Woodson's rigid world; Horford only committed one first half foul.

The mind boggles.

Flip Murray on missing the potential game-winner:
"It was a shot I should have made. I had a chance to win the game with my last shot and I short-armed it. But it was a shot I should have made. Other than that it was a good game."
He shouldn't be faulted for being surprised that putative franchise player Joe Johnson passed up a game-winning shot attempt to flip the ball back to Murray. I think that caught everyone off guard. Murray gave a decent impersonation of a point guard in Mike Bibby's absence.

I've learned in the last few days* that Murray's resurgence has coincided with a significant drop in his assist rate and a concurrent, even more significant, drop in his turnover rate. Whether conscious or not, whether by instruction or not, Flip's been so useful recently because he's not tried to play like a point guard. He struggles with the pass or shoot decision. Eliminate that decision and (at least in the short term) the turnovers have gone down and the quality of his shot attempts have gone up.

*Teasing an upcoming pair of graphs.

Jeremy at Roundabll Mining Company has a typically thorough recap from the Nugget perspective. Here are a couple of gems regarding the fourth quarter:
Denver’s offense ground to a halt in the fourth quarter and due to a combination of the aforementioned turnovers and stagnant uninspired play they only made four field goals in the quarter. All four were jumpers. The Nuggets did not score a point in the paint over the final 13 minutes. Now that is somewhat misleading as Chauncey did get to the line for six free throws on plays where he drove into, or at least in the vicinity of, the lane and was fouled and J.R. earned a pair of free throws, but apart from those four instances the Nuggets were seemingly always scrambling to fire off a jumper with the shot clock winding down. The key to the Hawks fourth quarter comeback was their 14 points in the paint. Fortunately for Denver the Hawks needed 16 in order to pull off the win.


In the fourth quarter, the Hawks ran more isolation sets and had some success early with Marvin Williams. The key to the fourth quarter though was the Hawks desire to have Joe Johnson take the game over contrasted with the Nuggets fear of Johnson taking over. Denver doubled Johnson almost immediately when he caught the ball. The result was they were left scrambling trying to cover either an open shooter or to collapse on the drive. Atlanta did a pretty good job of moving the ball and getting good shots. They had several attempts just rim out and the Nuggets should feel pretty fortunate for that. There were a couple of possessions where the Nuggets chose not to double Johnson and he made them pay with five easy points.
The Hawks are still a game-and-a-half up on the Heat for the fourth seed and play 13 of their next 17 at home. This isn't going to be a 50-win team but they still have an excellent shot at hosting a first-round playoff series.

1 comment:

Craig "Speedy" Ehlo said...

Bret - That was an excellent post on Marvin & Woody's "foul trouble rule". As I was reading I was thinking about how soft I think the Hawks are...and it dawned on me.

I know I'd play soft if after 2 fouls I had to sit. Do you think the team isn't very physical because the starters don't want to pick up a second foul? How can a coach advocate hard, physical defense and then sit his starters when they get a second foul from doing just that?

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that the starters play soft as a result of Woody's rule.