Saturday, March 07, 2009

Bobcats 98 Hawks 91



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 82.7 1.10
50.6 9.7
25 8.5
CHA 82.7 1.18 56.9

The Hawks held their opponent under 100 points! How could such a sound defensive performance result in a loss for this defensive-oriented team that focuses on defending so much with their defense? Probably because the Bobcats scored slightly more efficiently (+1 point per 100 possessions) last night than the Knicks did on Wednesday. The difference? Last night's game had 10.7 fewer estimated possessions. This is a mediocre-at-best defensive team that plays low-possession games. Don't let per game averages* muddy the argument.

*I realize if you're reading this, you probably aren't fooled by per game averages so I implore you, tell a friend who might care. Together, we can replace outmoded and superficial analysis with insight while holding the team responsible for their actions.

It says a lot about both Mike Woodson and Josh Smith that Smith was/got benched for the entire second half last night instead of during any one of recent games where his play was hurting the Hawks. Failing to use his talents to help the team win didn't seriously impact his usage. In took insubordination.

In the first half, Smith scored 13 points on 10 shots*, grabbed four defensive rebounds**, blocked two shots, had an assist, and committed two turnovers. At the end of the first half, he took a wild running hook in the lane with about four seconds left and, rather than get back on defense*** he spent the final seconds of the half pleading his non-existent case for a foul to bail out his ridiculous, failed shot attempt.

*Three were jump shots. Two were terrible shots that he chose to take and missed. The other was created by Joe Johnson dribbling to nowhere against Raja Bell, drawing a double-team from Emeka Okafor 25 feet from the basket with less than five seconds left on shot clock, and then rolling the ball across the court to Smith, who, due to Johnson's interminable failure to beat Bell off the dribble actually had a reason to stand behind the three-point line in the futile hope that Johnson would try and reverse the ball, did well just to get a shot off before the buzzer. That the shot went in was, perhaps, the only moment of good fortune the Hawks enjoyed last night.

**Not great by any means, but a marked improvement.

***It didn't ultimately matter as Raymond Felton didn't get a good look before the halftime buzzer sounded.

And then he and Woodson apparently got into it in the locker room and Smith spent the entire second half on the bench. Sekou Smith reports:
Smith refused to comment after the game, and Woodson said it was a “coach’s decision” and that Smith’s status for tonight’s game against Detroit would be determined later.

“That was coach’s call,” Hawks captain Joe Johnson said. “This is coach’s team. Whoever he wants to play plays, and if he doesn’t want you to play, you don’t play.”

Smith had 13 points, four rebounds and two blocks before leaving the game after playing only 21 minutes. But whatever transpired in the time it took the Hawks to get in and out of the locker room after halftime, changed everything.

“Josh played well in the first half,” Mo Evans said. “It didn’t have nothing to do with his basketball playing abilities. It’s the off-the-court, internal stuff that causes all the drama.”
Smith's absence certainly didn't help the cause in the second half but, without his contributions during the second quarter, the game might have been out of reach at the half.

You'll notice that Mike Woodson isn't quoted at length in Sekou's game story and Mike Bibby not at all. They both must be grateful that Smith's immaturity provides distraction from the ways in which they cost the Hawks the game.

In Bibby's case it's less anything he did than the thing he can't do: guard anyone. Charlotte spent three quarters running the same play over-and-over. Usually Boris Diaw, but occasionally Gerald Wallace, would run screen-and-roll with Raymond Felton or DJ Augustin, the Hawks would switch on the screen, the Charlotte point guard would give the ball to the bigger, faster player now isolated on Bibby, and Charlotte would score.

The 27th-ranked team in the league in offensive efficiency scored 36* of the simplest points you'd ever want to see in the first quarter last night. It was more than enough cushion for Charlotte to survive a more typical succession of 23, 21, and 18 point quarters.

*Facilitated, mind you, to the tune of 9 points and 5 assists by a guy who looked more useless than Solomon Jones and Royal Ivey combined when he played for Mike Woodson. Rick Bonnell, take it away:
Diaw played two seasons for Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson, who tried to make Diaw into a point guard.

Big mistake, Woodson said before Friday's game. He never pictured Diaw as a power forward, where he creates all manner of matchup problems.

Woodson now says if Diaw, who went to Phoenix and then Charlotte, had been forced to continue as a guard, he might have ended up out of the NBA.

Somewhere, Salim Stoudamire nods his head ruefully.

10 of Charlotte's 18 fourth-quarter points came in the final 3:50 of the game, after Mike Woodson went to three guards, replacing the excellent Maurice Evans* with Flip Murray. Murray was assigned to guard Raymond Felton for that final stretch, presumably to hide Mike Bibby on the less active Raja Bell. Unfortunately, this strategy failed to take into account that Flip Murray can't keep quick guards in front of him either. Worse, Murray's presence on the court changed the typical late game Atlanta possession from four guys watching Joe Johnson dribble until he's forced to take a contested shot over two or more defenders only so much as it added the odd possession where four guys watched Flip Murray take a quick, contested shot.

*Here's a thought that occurred to me last night: Does Mike Woodson underrate the solid, thoroughly unspectacular, but certainly assignment-sound Maurice Evans simply because Evans doesn't dribble very much? The Hawks' offensive system certainly seems to equate dribbling with movement and activity (which is absolutely mind-boggling coming from someone who played for Bobby Knight unless this is the manifestation of some long latent rebellion against that tyrant). Woodson immediately took to Flip Murray. He doesn't like/trust Acie Law IV (He played 3:35 alongside Flip Murray last night. Law got to run the offense on one possession. He beat DJ Augustin off the dribble and found Murray for an open three-pointer.) so he often only lets him play with another guard who will dominate the ball. The withholding of the opportunity to dribble being a passive-aggressive punishment in this scenario.

Mike Woodson on whether Josh Smith's punishment will carry over to tonight's game:
"We'll determine that tomorrow."
On the team in general:
"Guys aren't serious about what's at hand. And what's at hand is us winning this fourth spot and holding it down. So we've got to go home now and see what we're made of."
Larry Brown was available for the Hawks to try to hire in the off-season. Let's hear from the Charlotte locker room. First, Gerald Wallace:
"It's starting to come together."
Larry Brown:
"In terms of execution, making the simple pass, that's as good as it gets in this game. Now when you've got Boris and Raymond (17 points, 10 assists) looking for everybody, they work to get open. Gerald (Wallace) works so hard when he knows if he's open, he's going to get it."
The specificity in service of giving credit to his players is certainly a marked contrast to vague deflections of responsibility.

The Human Highlight Blog covers much of this with better humor than I managed. Maybe I shouldn't have looked at this first thing this morning.

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