Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hawks 81 Heat 71

Boxscore

Gameflow

Highlights

Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 79.2 1.02
46.2 30.3
29.7 18.9
MIA 79.2
0.89 41
45.9
19.4
17.7

If I didn't have a long-established tradition of titling the game recaps with the final score I might dub this post "An Organized Constriction" in honor of the three (3!) units that played the entire second half for the Hawks, methodically strangling Miami's offense while also making enough shots to a relatively comfortable road playoff victory, the franchise's first, you may have heard, in 12 years.

Through four games, the Hawks have won the fastest and slowest paced games. They've also won the two least efficient offensive games which have both been characterized by poor field goal shooting and lots of turnovers. As much talk as there's been since Game 1 about Miami keeping the Hawks out of transition, both teams are so comfortable taking their time to set up their primary offensive option that if that option is taken away there's little time to find a quality second option within a possession barring an offensive rebound. Factor in the deference to Dwyane Wade and, to a lesser extent, Joe Johnson demonstrated by their teammates and the sharp contrast between good and bad* offense we've seen through four games becomes more understandable at least in a macro- sense.

*Or in Miami's case brilliant and terrible.

In a micro-sense, it's indicative of my lack of understanding* that I can't adequately describe how Atlanta's defense/Miami's offense differs between Games 1 and 4 vs. Games 2 and 3 to the degree represented by the results. Is it simply a matter of making shots compared to not making them? Maybe. The Hawks made a more concerted effort to close out on shooters last night, not always to their benefit, while also controlling the defensive glass** for most of the game. Is it just the difficulty of playing a man/zone hybrid to counter Dwyane Wade that makes striking the balance between aggression and maintaining position difficult? Could be. The Hawks' best defensive stretch of the game came in the first half with Josh Smith (strictly aggression) and Zaza Pachulia (strictly maintaining position) paired in the frontcourt for a little over 12 straight minutes of game action.

*If you're feeling generous I'd be willing to blame a lack of time available for real film study.

**Udonis Haslem grabbed Miami's first offensive rebound of the game 54 seconds into the third quarter.

I'm also tempted to credit Miami's increased FT Rate as a net positive for the Hawks' defense as points added much more slowly one at a time than three at a time. That the accumulation of fouls led to 3:26* of Solomon Jones** during the near-fateful end of the second quarter undermines this hypothesis. That Jones and Mario West shared the court for the better part of a 19-2 Miami run while Zaza Pachulia (who would play 17:23 of the second half and finish the game with four fouls) and Josh Smith (who would play the entire second half and finish the game with three fouls) sat on the bench with just two fouls to their names suggests that the accumulation of fouls served as an opportunity to create a problem*** for the Hawks rather than being a problem in and of themselves.

*2:15 of that time saw Jones paired with West alongside three actual NBA players.

**An entire post could be written about the degree to which Jones was out of position on every single defensive possession during his playing time.

***Lest one worry about the domino effect of Pachulia or Smith picking up a third foul, keep in mind that the Hawks left Mo Evans and Al Horford on the bench for the final 17:23 of the game with four fouls. The Hawks were never short-handed just blissfully content to leave the best players on the floor.

The silver lining of not having a player of Dwyane Wade's caliber is that there's far less ground to make up should he have an off night. Whereas the Hawks weathered Marvin Williams' absence and Al Horford's poor night through the combined efforts of Mo Evans, Flip Murray, and Zaza Pachulia, Miami, despite James Jones' ridiculously efficient 19-point, 5 FGA outburst and Jermaine O'Neal's third consecutive solid offensive game, couldn't overcome Wade's struggles. In part this is because of how much offense he creates for Mario Chalmers and, especially, Daequan Cook. The other part was Michael Beasley's worthless performance.

Joe Johnson:
"Somebody had to step up to get us over the hump, and Zaza did that."
The Human Highlight Blog:
Pachulia pulled down an incredible (18) rebounds, had (12) points on his usual half dozen or so offensive rebounds, and was basically the type of presence that we called out Al Horford to be before the game.

Horford sat for most of the game due to foul trouble and general lack of production when in the game. He might have been too geeked up for the game because he had as many fouls as points (4) and was once again rushing his shots inside, shooting the ball before the apex of his jump as he tends to do when overly excited. He has to step forward for the team to have long term success--this does not mean he should step up into the opposing team and draw quick fouls, however.
Peachtree Hoops:
I yelled "Shrimp Boat" more times in the last four hours than I have yelled in my entire life.
Maurice Evans:
"The way we ended [the first] half was inexcusable. Coach [Mike Woodson] came in here and told us there was no excuse for us to be in this position. That we had to get off our [backsides] and make up for the position we put ourselves in. That there was a game to win. I spoke up. Josh Smith spoke up. The rest of the guys responded with good defense, key stops and some offense when we needed it most. Thank goodness."
If Woodson had coached the last three-and-a-half minutes as deftly as he deflected blame (at least according to Evans' account) for those three-and-a-half minutes onto his players, the Hawks might have won by 20.

Braves and Birds:
Someone should put the fourth quarter into a time capsule so future generations will know the Platonic ideal of a Josh Smith performance. One minute, he's hoisting up a 22-footer with 18 seconds left on the shot clock when the Heat had narrowed the deficit to nine points. The next minute, he's flying after an offensive rebound and then hitting a cutting Flip Murray as Smith is falling out of bounds. The former play is easily correctable and obviously dumb, yet Smith keeps making it. The latter play involved athleticism, hustle, and terrific basketball smarts to know exactly where his teammate was. They were made by the same player.
Sekou Smith lists the bumps and bruises the Hawks have accumulated to this point.

Kelly Dwyer:
Dwyane Wade may have been gimpy, but he made a point from the beginning to try and flop his way into all sorts of whistles, whether it gave him free throws, or whether it merely earned the Hawks a loose ball foul. The gambit failed, but that didn't stop Wade. While he glared at the refs, his young teammates weren't really doing much with the possessions they were using up. Apologies for being crass, but it was just dumb basketball on Miami's side.

Not Wade, mind you. He tried something, knowing that his body was hurting, and it didn't work. It's the teammates. They're just not there. I'm not going kill them too much, because these are a lot of second round picks we're talking about. But that doesn't excuse some odd, unfortunate, decisions on either end of the court.

1 comment:

Bronn said...

Good restraint to avoid mentioning the officiating in this contest.

There's no secret to Dwayne Wade's poor performance. I remember two specific instances-and I'm sure there more-in which Zaza got switched onto Wade on the perimeter and Wade elected to shoot over him rather than drive past him. Wade is not a good enough jumpshooter to win more than a couple of isolated games that way.

And what's more, Wade needed to drive past Zaza to limit the impact Pachulia could have rebounding. Zaza's domination of the boards is what ultimately decided this game.