Thursday, March 05, 2009

Knicks 109 Hawks 105



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 93.4 1.12
55.4 15.7
27 15
NY 93.4 1.17 51.7

I think last night's loss will prove to make things more difficult. Coupled with Miami's home win over Phoenix, the Hawks' lead for the fourth seed has shrunk to a game-and-a-half, and, though Atlanta plays 11 of their next 14 at home, look at the teams coming to town...

New Orleans
San Antonio
LA Lakers

The Hawks are 20-7 at home. They can beat good teams at home but that slate provides ample opportunity for a team that is 28-27 in its last 55 games, 13-17 in its last 30 games to slip up. As for the road games, if the Hawks can lose comfortably* to a Nate Robinson-less** Knicks team then I see no compelling reason to make any positive assumptions about upcoming games in Charlotte or Philadelphia.

*Despite the best, brief efforts of Acie Law IV.

**Not that Nate's the Knicks' best player just that the Hawks have no one who can plausibly guard him as he amply proved the last time Atlanta was in MSG.

This may not constitute ground-breaking analysis but I think it's inescapable that the Hawks lost because they didn't make shots. Their shot selection may have played a role in that. It wasn't a case of Atlanta getting unduly sped up and taking an amateur's shot at playing seven seconds or less. The game featured more possessions than a typical Hawks game but not as many as a typical Knicks game (97.2 possessions).

Atlanta made 63.8% of their two-point attempts* but just 25% of their three-point attempts** while taking 30% of their field goal attempts from behind the arc. It wasn't Josh Smith's two ill-advised three-point attempts that killed the Hawks. He even made one of them. Rather, it was the guys the Hawks want to have shoot threes--Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, and Marvin Williams--who combined to make 1 of 14 three-point attempts that impeded Atlanta's offensive efficiency. Most curious is that Williams (8-12 2PTA) and Johnson (6-10 2PTA) resisted the temptation of easy points in the point in favor of missing 24-footers.

*Though, typical of a D'Antoni coached team the Knicks did not compound their hospitality inside the arc by also putting the Hawks on the free throw line.

**Half of their three-point makes came in the game's final 93 seconds.

Another point to D'Antoni last night as he got Mike Woodson to match him small for small. On a night when Atlanta missed so many shots* Woodson kept his best offensive rebounder** on the bench for all but 7:40. In that brief time, broken up over two stints, Pachulia managed an offensive rebound, two defensive rebounds, four free throw attempts, and an assist. He was -6 during his time on the floor but they may just have been a function of being on the court at the same time as Josh Smith.

*Not percentage-wise, even though the game totals are perhaps unduly infalted by the 15 points the Hawks scored in the final 2:45 courtesy of Acie Law IV, but in sheer volume.

**Zaza grabs an offensive rebound more than twice as often as any of his teammates. More than twice as often. Even if you discount the number of times he's rebounding his own miss, that's a significant contribution.

Speaking of Smith, that had to be one of the least influential valuable 7-10 FGA, 1-2 3PTA performances ever*. He did nothing to augment his shooting** either offensively or defensively: 1-3 FTA (55.1% on the season now), two defensive rebounds, no assists, no blocks, one steal, and four turnovers. It's not fair for Smith to bear the full brunt of blame. Mike Bibby was ineffective offensively again (11 points on 13 shots, 4 assists) and when he's not contributing offensively he's a serious liability. Flip Murray couldn't cover for Bibby last night. Both of Murray's made threes came during the dervish Acie Law's cameo. Prior to that, Murray was 2-7 FGA, 0-4 3PTA, and turned the ball over three times.

*Courtesy of Posting and Toasting, here's a gem from Kelly Tripucka regarding Smith: "I liken him to a superhero who doesn't know what his superpowers are."

**Which, considering his shot selection, was probably flukily effective anyway.

Law entered the game with 2:45 remaining and the Hawks down 104-90. The Hawks had 8 possessions from then to the end of the game. They scored 15 points on those possessions. Law scored three of those points by making his sixth three-pointer of the season. He created 10 more points, assisting on both of Flip Murray's made three-pointers, a Marvin Williams layup, and an Al Horford dunk. Law's explosion (despite Chris Duhon's brief meltdown in the final 20 seconds) came too late to make a difference in the game but, one hopes, it could point the direction for the Hawks to improve down the stretch were Law to enter the rotation on a regular basis and be allowed to play to his strengths.

Al Horford:
"We really just got away from our game plan. We played well the past three games, even though we lost one of them. But we came out tonight, played well in the first quarter and then tried to outscore them. And that wasn’t our script."
Mike Woodson:
"There’s no excuse. We went up nine and were playing extremely well, and we just got [too] comfortable. We let them get going, and this [Knicks] team is a shot-making team that scores a lot of points here in the Garden. Once they got going we couldn’t stop them."
I guess the off day didn't help.

I may need an off day to parse this quote from the head coach:
"I thought we came out ready to play. First quarter was excellent and then the second and third quarter once we got down we really pushed up in the fourth quarter, but it was just too late."
Leave your suggestions as to the meaning/necessity of the middle of that second sentence in the comments.

Mark Bradley commemorates his 25th anniversary at the AJC (congratulations) by taking the long view regarding this Hawks team:
Are there quibbles? Absolutely. (This wouldn’t be a Bradley column otherwise.) I wish Josh Smith would settle for one jump shot a month. I wish Mike Bibby didn’t play swinging-gate D. I wish Marvin Williams could be assertive every game. I wish they’d run more plays for Al Horford. I wish Mike Woodson would use Acie Law. I wish Josh Childress were here.

But my likes outnumber my dislikes. I love the way these guys pass. (Joe Johnson is terrific at finding Bibby out of double-teams, and nobody reverses the ball like Horford.) I admire their tenacity in big games. (I do wish they were more tenacious against lesser opponents, and so does Woodson.) I’ve even come to appreciate Woodson, who has finally succeeded in getting his men to defend, last night notwithstanding.
I think Woodson's success this year has been in playing at a pace that suits the offensive games of Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby (and, more recently, including Marvin Williams and Al Horford more often in the halfcourt offense) rather than any defensive improvement. The Hawks are 16th in the league in defensive efficiency. They were 18th last year. Now, granted, that's an improvement over the 29th, 27th, and 23rd ranked defenses that the Hawks ran out there during Woodson's first three years in charge, but outside of the 3+ games before Josh Smith sprained his ankle, impressive defensive performances have been the exception not the rule this season.

Of course, they'll probably draw Miami in the first-round of the playoffs, play good defense because they match up well with the Heat, and this fiction will live into next season much like the "scare" the Hawks put into the Celtics during the first round playoff series Boston was never in danger of losing persists to this day.

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