Monday, March 02, 2009

Cavaliers 88 Hawks 87



Live Blog

Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
CLE 86.7 1.01
43.9 29.7
25.6 16.1
ATL 86.7 1.00 48.6

LeBron James got a couple free trips tot he free throw line over the course of the game and Joe Johnson missed a pretty open 18-footer at the buzzer but the Hawks lost last night's game in the first half, allowing Cleveland to score 1.17 points per possession on the strength of good shooting (52.3 eFG%) and a lot of second chances (35 OR%) when the Cavs missed a shot.

Cleveland, in turn, only almost lost the game with a lackadaisical third quarter. The Hawks defensive resistance was so slight in the first half that the Cavaliers appeared to open the second half operating on the premise that good shots would always be there and thus should not be cherished. The Cavaliers shot selection, coupled with a better defensive effort from the Hawks (especially on the defensive glass) created an opportunity for Atlanta to get back in the game.

On the home team's offensive end of the floor, Joe Johnson took full advantage of that opportunity making 3-4 field goals and 3-4 free throws in the third quarter. Flip Murray and Zaza Pachulia both chipped in five points in the quarter's final five minutes.

Mike Woodson stuck with Murray and Pachulia for almost the entire fourth quarter. I'm not sure he had a choice with regard to Murray. Mike Bibby was still either not fully recovered from his bug or simply couldn't guard Mo Williams regardless of physical health. Leaving Pachulia in the game was a choice, though, and an excellent one* as it allowed the Hawks to maintain control of the defensive glass, improved the offensive rebounding, and kept Marvin Williams guarding LeBron James.

*Albeit one that gave Woodson the opportunity to make a curious substitution in the game's final minute which would adversely effect the final two possessions.

Williams didn't shut James down, but he slowed him in the fourth quarter (3 points on 0-3 FGA, 3-6 FTA, 5 assists vs. 23 points on 8-17 FGA, 5-8 FTA, and 6 assists through three quarters), again proving himself again to be Atlanta's best on-the-ball defender. Williams was, in limited touches, Atlanta's best offensive player in the final quarter as well. He scored just 6 points, but he used only 4 possessions (2 FGA, 2 FTA, 1 turnover) to do so while Johnson used 9 possessions to score his 6 points and Murray used 6 possessions to score 3.

The fourth quarter will likely lead to another round of questions about Josh Smith* and whether the Hawks are better with or without him. It's a complicated question. His poor rebounding** and shot selection are entirely his own fault. His help defense is a great benefit to the team. The deciding factor for me would be one for which (conveniently) I don't have an answer: Does Josh Smith spend possessions on the perimeter guarding the likes of LeBron James (last night) or Brandon Roy (last week) of his own accord (Be it fueled by competitiveness or laziness it's harmful to the team.) or because he's assigned, from time to time, to guard guys he can't guard? If it's the former then Zaza Pachulia and Marvin Williams need to play a lot more at the 4 as matchups dictate. If it's the latter it would be unfair to blame Smith for being put in a position to fail though it still doesn't get the Hawks closer to playing optimal basketball.

*Unless everyone's too busy complaining about the officiating.

**3 rebounds in 34 minutes last night.

That the latter is plausible speaks to a general, genuine concern about the team which manifest itself in the final 40 seconds of last night's game when Mike Woodson undid some of the good will he'd engendered by playing Pachulia for the entire fourth quarter. For the Hawks' final possession, Mike Bibby, on the bench since the 5:05 mark of the third quarter, replaced Pachulia. Woodson's intention, surely, was to get another shooter on the floor. In and of itself this is a defensible decision. I don't however think Woodson thought about the implications of this decision beyond that single aspect.

The Hawks ran a post up for Joe Johnson on the left block. Bibby fed the post then rotated to the weak side to join the familiar clump of Hawks players on the weak side that characterize so many plays in the Atlanta playbook. Despite good defense from multiple Cavaliers, Johnson never looked to pass out the double- (trending toward triple-) team. When Johnson missed his contested runner in the lane, with Pachulia on the bench, the Cavaliers needed only to block out Al Horford to control the defensive rebound.

Having accomplished that Cleveland then took advantage of the small Hawks lineup by isolating James at the top of a 1-4 with Joe Johnson guarding him. Marvin Williams, who had done such an admirable job on James for the rest of the fourth quarter, stood in the corner near Anderson Varejao while James blew past the smaller, slower Johnson, drew the foul, and converted the game-winning free throw.

For perhaps the first time this season, the Hawks lost a game for the reasons they lost so many close games last year: inconsistent quality of play, questionable tactical decisions on key possessions, and undue fealty to the belief that Joe Johnson is as much better than his teammates as he was in 2006.

Joe Johnson:
"This was a great game, a huge game for us, and we should have pulled this game out. I had a great look at the end, and I thought it was going to go in. But, the truth is, we were put in a tough position. At the very least, we should still be out there playing. I mean, that game deserved as much. For the most part we played a great game. We just had a few mistakes that cost us."
The Hawks played one terrible half of defense and scored just 1 point per possession over the course of the game. With the exception of the end of the third quarter I never thought the Hawks were even playing great for a stretch of the game. From the top down this organization has not spent the last five years crippling itself under the weight of high expectations.

Marvin Williams also believes the Hawks played well:
"To play as well as we did and then to lose on a free throw, to lose by one point is hard to swallow."
It's not just my natural inclination towards pessimism, John Krolik supports my assessment:
The defense was definitely there all night for the Cavaliers, with a lot of activity and stuffing of driving lanes, and the Hawks were never really able to get a clean offense going.
Mike Woodson:
"We got a great look at the end of the game but it should not have come down to that. I have to do a better job of managing the game. We made a couple of plays at the end that were costly."
I don't care if he specifies his mistakes in public or not. I just want the faith to believe he has particular mistakes in mind and potential solutions for those mistakes. At this point the history of his public comments compared with his actions during games fails to inspire such.

Brian Windhorst describes how Mike Brown and LeBron James took advantage of Mike Woodson's game-management:
With the score tied, James had the ball at the top of the key as the Cavs were dropped into their standard "1-4 Flat" set. Cavs coach Mike Brown had a timeout but did not use it, and James waved off Mo Williams and Zydrunas Ilgauskas when they wanted to come and set screens.

So they got out of the way, and James drove past Johnson and drew a foul at the rim on Al Horford, which the Hawks protested.
The official scorers screwed up again last night. From the AP recap:
The Hawks scoring crew mistakenly gave West a personal foul on a technical in the first half. The mistake wasn't discovered until the break between the third and fourth quarters - after Cleveland coach Mike Brown pulled West out for the final 2:51 of the third, believing he had four fouls. "Something like that, oh, it just can't happen," said Brown, adding the team may consider a protest.
It's unbelievable to me, too, coach.


Drew Ditzel said...

i am not sure you are giving enough credit to the hawks second half defense.

if the cavs d was there "all night" and only scored one more point, and the hawks played pretty bad defense for a half. something pretty good happened in that second half right?

on the technical, it was announced as such by ryan cameron. maybe he should take on a second job....

Bret LaGree said...

I didn't mean to give the second half defense short shrift. It was good. But it did feed off Cleveland choosing to take a lot of bad shots early in the third quarter (during the live blog I mentioned something about the Hawks D having lulled Cleveland to sleep and perhaps creating an opportunity to get back in the game), before Marvin began giving LeBron fits.

Since the Hawks offense struggled all night so I'll stick with "great" being a stretch.

And are these the same scorers screwing up or is it a endemic, systemic thing?

Drew Ditzel said...

maybe so, but you could easily say the hawks took good shots. flip layups, joe open jumpers, al open 12 footers all within the flow of the offense. they just missed them. What is a more appropriate product of good defense? Missing open, good shots or missing bad shots forced or not.

and that is not to say the cavs did not contest shots. they did. but i can think a laundry list of shots by the hawks that they just missed.

Bret LaGree said...

Fair enough. Perhaps I'm inured to Murray missing layups or Johnson missing open jumpers or I was distracted by running the live blog but I didn't get the impression that the Hawks were missing an unusual number of good shots.

I'm more concerned about the complete lack of defensive competence in the first half. For almost two seasons now this team has proven capable of playing good defense for parts of games but incapable of playing good defense for an entire game. Yet, I get the impression that they don't believe this is a problem.

I'm just glad that anyone who hadn't changed the channel got a good look at your post-game frustration in glorious HD.