Monday, April 20, 2009

Hawks 90 Heat 64



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
MIA 88
39.4 11.3
12.2 21.6
ATL 90
1.00 48.7

(NOTE: Those are not estimated possessions. Miami's short two possessions as I don't count either Daequan Cook's heave at the end of the first quarter or the Heat dribbling out the final 6.4 seconds as offensive possessions for them.)

Following two meaningless games to end the regular season and three poor defensive efforts prior to that, last night's defensive performance provided a welcome relief to Hawks fans who'd spent the past week entertaining reasonable worries about this series. Being said, it's one game. The series isn't over especially not for a team with a 31/16 home/road victory split during the regular season. However, those same reasonable Hawks fans must feel more confident this morning than they did yesterday.

Miami is not going to be that bad in that many offensive areas game in, game out for the duration of this series. But how are they going to get enough better* to close the gap? Dwyane Wade will almost certainly have better games but the Hawks forced him to take 6 of his 21 field goal attempts from beyond the three-point line and limited him to four free throw attempts (FT Rate: 9.5) and forced him into committing eight turnovers. Furthermore, the Hawks can likely continue to give Wade the degree of attention he drew last night as it's difficult to imagine a scenario wherein both Josh Smith and Al Horford will have a primary defensive responsibility more worthy of their attention than Wade. The inability of Jermaine O'Neal** and Udonis Haslem to make help defense a risk/reward proposition for Smith and Horford suffocated the greatest part of Miami's offense. That O'Neal and Haslem were also such non-factors on the offensive glass*** has to be doubly frustrating for the Heat. That neither O'Neal nor Haslem can keep up with Smith and Horford on the transition from offense to defense engenders sympathy for Erik Spoelstra. It's not like there's an obvious fix to the cascading problems described in this paragraph.

*Keeping in mind that the final stats are deflated by the 21-point fourth quarter. The efficiency margin was slightly narrower through three quarters (ATL: 1.07, MIA: 0.83) though less encouraging for Miami as it showed both a near-average offensive competence by the Hawks and excellent defense.

**Whose first stint lasted just 5:01 and didn't reappear until he could match up against Zaza Pachulia rather than Horford.

***Two of Miami's five offensive rebounds were courtesy of Mario Chalmers for crying out loud. Given the Hawks 82-game defensive rebounding rate, and average opponent would have been expected to grab 12 offensive rebounds given that many opportunities.

I don't think Miami will shoot that badly again* but because at least one of Smith or Horford can guard the rim with impunity on almost every possession** the open perimeter jump shots Miami took were shots Atlanta wanted them to take. There is no doubt in my mind that the Hawks will be content to let Miami take 32.3% of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc regardless of how many turnovers the Hawks force or how well they refrain from fouling.

*Beasley, in particular, could occupy Josh Smith better in future games assuming he got most of the quick 18-20' jump shots out of his system during his wretched first half performance. On the other hand, CoCo thinks Josh "could make this an absolutely humiliating series for young Michael Beasley." I'd be fine with that, myself.

**They also made life miserable for Mario Chalmers when he beat Mike Bibby off the dribble.

If the prospect of Atlanta providing a similarly effective defensive performance in future games wasn't dispiriting enough for the Heat to consider, I'll now delineate the ways in which the Hawks can hope to be more productive offensively: make more threes, turn the ball over less often, and get more minutes from Marvin Williams.

Atlanta ran relatively few isolations* which made both spreading the floor and moving the ball easier. As a team, the Hawks took just 17.9% of their field goal attempts from beyond the three-point line. That includes two terrible Josh Smith misses. The Atlanta players who should be taking three-point shots made 4 of 12 attempts. Should Miami figure out a way to limit Atlanta's transition opportunities it may only serve to increase the importance of the best part of the Hawks' half-court offense.

*And ran very few wing isolations that began below the elbow.

As for Marvin Williams, in his five-minute stint to open the game he was more productive (3-3 FGA, 1-1 3PTA, 1 rebound) than the entirety of last season's first-round series. The nature of the game allowed Mike Woodson to limit Williams' minutes* even without either Maurice Evans or Flip Murray providing outstanding production in Marvin's stead. Other than turning the ball over on 20% of their possessions**, the game really couldn't have gone better had the Hawks been allowed to plan it in its entirety.

*He played the first 6:52 of the second quarter and the first 5:15 of the third.

**And even there, the Hawks made up for the cost of many of those turnovers by dominating the offensive glass.

Mike Woodson:
"I didn’t know it would turn out this way. But I just thought our guys were just so focused coming into tonight’s game. Sometimes you can be so focused that you end up being too anxious and things don’t turn out the way you drew it up. Tonight I just thought our focus was there from beginning to the end. Our defensive schemes were right on the money in terms of how we wanted to defend. And I thought we did a fairly good job, especially in the first half, of sharing the basketball and making shots."
Al Horford:
"This is just one game, we realize that. There’s still a lot of basketball to play. But that’s the reason we wanted to start here, in front of our fans. And we wanted to make sure we did it right."
Marvin Williams:
"Josh Smith is a problem, man. That’s the best way I can put it. He’s a problem for a lot of people in this league, and when he comes to play like he did tonight, there isn’t a whole lot anybody can really do to stop him."
Josh Smith beat Mario West to the arena yesterday.

Dwyane Wade:
"Josh Smith got a lot of lobs and fast-break dunks that helped with the energy in the building. When that happens, the game can get away from you pretty fast. When you miss as many shots as we did tonight, the game can get away from you pretty quickly."
"I'm criticized if I take all the shots. I'm criticized if I don't. We had some careless turnovers. I had a lot of them."
Erik Spoelstra:
"It seemed like we were slow in the mind. They came out with a great intensity and we just have to match that."
Daye Hyde,
This night made everyone look worse than they are, and that included Michael Beasley. Listen. I'm as big a fan of his as anybody. But when Wade and others say 20-year-old rookie needs to grow up before this team can, Sunday provided a picture.

In warmups before the season's biggest game, the rest of the Heat players worked on game-situation shots. Not Beasley. He stood in the corner and lofted circus shots that ballooned toward the ceiling before falling toward the basket.

Now, it's true, if the Heat wins he's a picture of looseness. But the point is a couple teammates said something to him and he went back to shooting game shots.
The Human Highlight Blog takes a well-earned opportunity to remind readers of its series pick:
We predicted sweep because we feel strongly that ---when the Hawks play together on both sides of the floor, the Heat can’t beat them. The Heat cannot execute as a team as good as the Hawks—therefore the favorable matchup.

We have long contended that the Birds are better when they trust each other on both ends of the court. The Hawks value is when they are playing together, not as a bunch of individuals, but together as a team. One could make the argument that this has been the case with any successful team.

In Game 1, the Hawks did that over and over again, and while there were times when the offense stalled because the ball did, there were more than enough times when they moved the ball and got a good shot and basket.
Kelly Dwyer:
Atlanta underachieves defensively more so than just about any team in the NBA. It's not really close. Chicago might come the closest, but with an undersized shooting guard and a rookie at the point, you can at least toss a few excuses out there.

And while Atlanta isn't lousy with seven-footers patrolling the lane, and they do have to give Mike Bibby about 35 minutes a night, the team still mails it in on the defensive end all the time. We know this, because we've seen them play hot, hot defense. At the start of this season. At the start of last season. At about the 50-game mark of 2008-09. And Sunday night.

They can do it. I'd start by asking them to stop switching on everything, but as with most things, it comes down to effort.

Atlanta just destroyed the Heat, who had no answers for the Hawk defense. And, because he's an NBA head coach, Erik Spoelstra could only criticize the Miami defense after the game. Ridiculous.
I believe I've read every Miami-centric report, column, and blog post about last night's game. Number of mentions of the Heat's horrific offensive rebounding: 0.

DolPhanDave of Peninsula Is Mightier wants more Jamario Moon in Game 2:
Moon spent way too much time on the bench tonight. He played a little more then 2 minutes in the 1st half, then was left on the bench for a couple hours before finally coming back in with 4:43 left in the game and the Heat down 23. He’d then hit his two shot attempts, one from beyond. I think Moon is the best candidate to play against the athletic Hawks because he is fast and has those long limbs which get in passing lanes and can slow guys up that all-important split-second.


jrauch said...

Probably the best I've seen the Hawks play in my three years as a season ticket holder.

This is the first time I can remember when the team came out and punched their opponent in the mouth, and generally didn't let up until it was essentially over.

I never thought I'd say this about this Hawks team, but I have to give some credence to the argument their playoff experience last year helped in this game.

The Hawks came out ready to play. The Heat (aside from Wade) looked like a pick-up team.

rbubp said...

There's no doubt this team has learned that they can take things to a different level with the right mind set.

I have contended all along that they do not play hard in most games in the regular season; one playoff game does not prove that thesis, but it sure didn't hurt it.

But we also know that the team that can ratchet things up does not travel well. While I believe there is no way the Heat will win this series, I am skeptical this same Hawks team will show up in Miami. I hope I'm proved wrong.

And if that same team does show up in Miami, and the Birds take a 3-0 lead and win in 5 or so, I am quite confident we will see a hellacious series with Cleveland. We might even see it anyway.

Rock on Hawks!!! The pain of 82 freakin' games just makes it all the more worthwhile to finally be here.