Monday, May 11, 2009

Cavaliers 84 Hawks 74




Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
CLE 82.9 1.01
50 20
ATL 82.9
0.89 32.9

Two things kept last night's game competitive. For the first time in the series the Atlanta Hawks got to the free throw line more often than the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Cavaliers missed almost half of the free throws they took. Had Cleveland made free throws at the same rate they did through the first three games of the series (which was roughly their season average as well), they would have made another five of their 26 attempts and pushed the margin of victory into more familiar territory for everything else was the same in Game 4. Cleveland made a higher percentage of their field goals than the Hawks and rebounded far more of their misses than did Atlanta. The Hawks fouled a lot, too, which further negated their sole advantage: forcing more turnovers than they committed.

Being able to play Marvin Williams for 29:53 improved the Hawks defense as did Mike Woodson's decision to sit an offensively ineffective Mike Bibby for much of the second half. Flip Murray (14 points on 15 FGA plus 5 FTA, 2 assists, 2 turnovers) wasn't especially productive but he was less of a defensive liability. Of Atlanta's other seven rotation players, only Marvin Williams and Al Horford finished the night with a negative plus/minus for their time on the court without Mike Bibby. Josh Smith (without Bibby) was +9. Murray, Joe Johnson, and Mo Evans were all +6 without Bibby on the floor. Zaza Pachulia was +5.

This lesson may have been lost on the participants in the heat of the moment. Or, they're just being nice in public. Either way, I hope Rick Sund is looking more forward than backward when thinking about re-signing the aging point guard.

"If I do anything more than what I did tonight, we win this game. I didn’t shoot the ball well. I do anything and there is a good chance we come out on top."
Mike Woodson fears the unknown:
"I would love to have him back next year. Mike Bibby is a big part of what we did this season. He came over last year and we don’t make the playoffs without Mike. We don’t win 47 games this year and sew up the fourth spot and host the first round at Philips Arena without Mike. I would love to have Mike back."
Joe Johnson thinks it's "very important" to bring Bibby back. He and Woodson are simpatico in a lot of ways:
"We went to the playoffs two years in a row together. We won a series. I’m looking forward to having him back."
Josh Smith's night was a mixed blessing. He was far and away the Hawks' best offensive player, scoring 26 points on 16 FGA and 12 FTA while turning the ball over just twice. He also chose to use half of his field goal attempts on jump shots* (2-8), grabbed just eight rebounds (two offensive) in 45:04, picked up another technical foul, and played hard only intermittently. Smith provided the season's final hint of how good he could be were he to commit himself to excelling while, at the same time, sowing the season's final seeds of doubt that he'll ever feel like doing that.

*Smith attempted 68 jump shots in 11 playoff games. He made 15 of them.

Maurice Evans:
"You show up to the fight like that and who knows, this series goes six or seven games. It’s going to be hard not to wonder what might have been."
I disagree with Evans in that I've come to believe that talking about lack of effort has almost entirely precluded talking about lack of talent and lack of tactical acumen. Josh Smith is the only player who visibly dogs it from time to time. I don't believe for a second that it's a lack of effort that keeps Joe Johnson from beating guys off the dribble or Mike Bibby from playing good defense. They simply aren't capable of doing those things. Combine that with a refusal or inability to put the talented young players in positions to succeed (keeping Josh Smith in the low- or high-post, using Al Horford's quickness against bigger, slower centers, taking full advantage of Marvin Williams' inside/outside offensive game, letting Acie Law IV play pick-and-roll for 12 minutes a night, etc.) and you're asking effort to make up for a lot of failings which take place before anyone sets foot on the court.

The Human Highlight Blog:
Game Four once again showed that a team can not live by jump shots and one-on-one moves. Inside presence is needed, in the post, on the drive/penetration, and then back out. Breaking down your opponents on the majority of possession works when you face lesser competition---but playing that way in the playoffs makes you the inferior team.

We will hear about the injuries, but as we have shown, even when healthy this pattern has held true, resonating in both the road record and the record against the top teams in the league.

Losing Al Horford hurts on the defensive glass, but that argument doesn't hold even a drop of water on the offensive end, where the Hawks routinely chose to avoid Horford in favor of the isolation game--and as such have relegated the former #3 pick in the draft to towel boy status on that end in most games. There wasn't even a consistent effort this season to zip the ball up the court to the often sprinting Horford when healthy, so we're not optimistic the spinner would have landed on The Godfather's number at all even if he had been (100) percent for Game Four.
Cavs: The Blog:
Defense will always be there. When the jumpers aren’t falling, the whistles aren’t making a symphony, and the ball isn’t moving and the bench isn’t stepping up, defense will always be there. Give effort and make rotations, and if you have the talent defense will be there. And in what was, in a lot of ways, a let-down game for the team, the defense was there, keeping all penetration out, not giving up open looks from three, absolutely suffocating Joe Johnson every time he put the ball on the floor, and destroying every Hawk except for Josh Smith.
Of course, the opposite of that first sentence is true as well.

Brian Windhorst:
The Cavs had periods of terrible offense, turned the ball over way too much, and missed way too many free throws. But they defended relentlessly and put the game in the hands of their star and his well-armed teammates. Or exactly the way the team was drawn up.

The Hawks got almost nothing easy and were held to just 32 percent shooting, which set a franchise record for lowest field goal percentage allowed in a playoff game. It permitted the Cavs to overcome the subpar offense as LeBron James scored 27 points with eight rebounds and eight assists.

"My belief is you have to defend to win on the road, especially in the playoffs," coach Mike Brown said. "Our group understands that and respects it and embraces it."
John Hollinger:
This went in the books as a double-figure win, too, but it wasn't decided until Mo Williams hit a 3-pointer with 52.1 seconds left to put the Cavs up by eight.

That shot ended a fateful 63-second Cleveland trip that featured two of the defining elements of this series -- the Cavs owning the boards, and Cleveland attacking the defense of Atlanta's Mike Bibby. The possession began with 1:55 left and the home crowd in full lather after the Hawks cut the deficit to 79-74, but Anderson Varejao and Ilgauskas each rebounded James misses to keep the possession alive for more than a minute.

Then, after a foul on Joe Johnson created a dead ball, the Hawks failed to go offense-defense and take Bibby out of the game. Cleveland created a switch that left Bibby guarding James in the post, Atlanta doubled, and when the next-closest defender, Josh Smith, turned his head to call out a rotation behind him, James snapped a pass out top to Williams -- who took advantage of the extra split second it took Smith to react to nail a backbreaking triple.


Unknown said...

Only one comment - effort will not overcome all those things you mentioned. I do believe that that is the only thing that is unacceptable in sports though - to not bring your best effort. Think about what Josh does on less than 100% - I cringe at thinking about what he'd do if he ONLY had 100% effort. Now, add a coach who took him and put in positions to succeed - the sky's the limit. But with just 100% effort - he can STILL win b-ball games for us.

Anyway, I agree with everything else. I have seen enough to know that leadership and tactical acumen isn't coming from this coaching staff or team, so I have no problem with blowing it up right now. I hate saying that, but I feel much better about watching a team that I KNOW is on the right path, even if it's 2-3 years away than watching a team that I KNOW will go no further than it already has. And as constituted - we are barely a first round survivor for the next 3-4 years.

jrauch said...

If this team comes back next year without any major changes, I see it being a 35-40 win team that barely scrapes into the playoffs.
Chicago, Miami, Philly and Milwaukee are all going to be better next year, and if we bring back the aging wonder at point and the wooden coach at, well, coach, this team gets stuck at mediocre.

I hope we can put to rest the idea Joe Johnson will ever be a "great" player. Good yes, but never great. As Jeff Schultz pointed out, in two years, he's had two good playoff games. Otherwise, he's averaging 16-18 points.

I think if Sund (and ownership) can see that drastic measures need to be made (hello big trade/coach firing) then I've got some hope.

Otherwise it'll be a long year in section 317.

rbubp said...

The thing I find most insultingly ironic about all of this--and perhaps most telling about Woodson's inadequacies and the team's difficulties with "identity" (compare how Mike Brown treated that in Games 3 and 4; in 3, give the ball to LeBron and get out of the way, but everyone else defend and rebound; in Game 4, defend and rebound, defend and rebound)--is Woodson's apparent love for Bibby despite his obvious significant defensive shortcomings. Woodson says all this crap about defense, but then he praises to the sky a guy who can't play any and severely limits the rest of the team's ability to play any. A guy who effectively makes it 5 on 4 in the half-court.

Bibby has value in ways that can't be seen--HE is the true leader of this team, not Joe Johnson. That's why Woodson wants him around, I think, plus he shares the ball and can make threes. But Woodson's own inability to reconcile talking about defense while tolerating Josh Smith's and Mike Bibby's extreme lack therein demonstrates why this team does not know its strengths and must always respond to the other team's identity: THE COACH DON'T KNOW EITHER, STUPID. Do we run? Do we play trapping defensive pressure? Are we a half-court team? When we get to a point where we need to make something happen, what do we rely on?

Who the hell knows? Not Mike Woodson.

Bret LaGree said...


There's no doubt that Mike Bibby improved the half-court offense but then the Hawks play so much in the half-court rather than transition because of Bibby and Joe Johnson, the benefits of transition basketball to Horford, Smith, and Marvin be damned.

You're also right that Woodson's never going to have a firm hand with this group. Whether that's because he fears a player uprising or he doesn't have it in him, I don't know but he appears to be fine with catering to the players to their own detriment (in the case of switching every screen because it's easier than playing good defense) or the team's detriment (making everyone else scrap for Joe Johnson's leftover touches on offense).

rbubp said...

"Josh Smith is the only player who visibly dogs it from time to time. I don't believe for a second that it's a lack of effort that keeps Joe Johnson from beating guys off the dribble or Mike Bibby from playing good defense."

While I agree about JJ and Bibby and the majority of the sentiment here, I don't think the lack of effort comments are wrong on their face; it's just that "effort" is a different animal than can be easily seen sometimes and is way more complex than just dogging it.

For example, did it look like the Hawks were dogging it while getting hammered the first two games? How did they improve to only 15 and 10 points worse than the Cavs? (They didn't make more shots, that's for sure.) Maybe the NBA referees helped some.

But the biggest difference that I think Evans and all NBA players are talking about is having will, and discipline, in more subtle ways: putting the ball in the right place at the right time to exploit a match-up; rotating to cover Mo Williams with extreme urgency at all times in the game; passing out of double-teams at the right time, and moving without the ball to a place where LeBron cannot step in your way and intercept the pass out of the double-team. Effort in the NBA is about these little subtleties at least as much as the obvious stupidity of a poor shooter launching a jump shot from 20 feet with 15 seconds left on the shot clock.

And the Hawks have only done those things sometimes through the entire year. That they are undisciplined, unwillful, and unwilling to follow their own game plan (even if inadequate) has been pretty obvious.

Bret LaGree said...

Now I certainly I'd thought to examine the dual nature of effort--physical and mental--in the post.

Nice work, rbubp, and I agree with your point of view in general though I would also suggest that some of the lack of mental discipline comes from the core knowledge that, if the game plan (which may be fundamentally flawed to begin with) doesn't work, there isn't an adjustment waiting to be made. I suspect it's draining to carry that knowledge for 93 games.

rbubp said...

BTW, Bret, thanks for all of your sterling contributions this year. I have been a casual Hawks fan but have gained in interest as they have improved, and have been looking for more insightful and focused contributions for some time, so you've helped crystallize my fandom (Drew too, I have to add; with you, the yin and yang of Hawks bloggers, IMO). Your analysis is thorough and your writing is out of the park. So nice to find a humanities guy that can use his talents here too--beat back those sportswriter cliches, my friend.

Thanks. Hope you're here in the some in the off-season and for sure next year; I look forward to it.

Bret LaGree said...


I'll probably put up an open thread tomorrow with a list of ideas I have for off-season content and a call for ideas to gauge what other people are interested in.

CoCo said...

I just wanna say I think for the Atlanta Hawks to be who they are and considering what they've been for a long stretch of time, they have the best bloggers. I'm totally unbiased in this assessment. I will be doing a season recap at some point. This series has left us with an equal amount of questions and answers about this team. Spoiler alert: I think they need a new coach. It could almost instantaneously solve half of their problems.

Bret LaGree said...

The problem (in the first 15 hours since the season ended) I'm having about writing about next year is that we don't even know for sure what the problems are going to be.

With no PG, backup C, or veteran backup PG (a necessity with Woodson coaching) under contract, the rights to Childress and Andersen having an undefined value to the team at this point, and the question of extending Marvin and possibly (please God, no, to be sure but it's a real possibility I fear) Joe Johnson complicating the real amount of cap space.

CoCo said...

Well Bret all we can do is address the problems we know are there for sure like Coaching................ There's enough material where he's concerned to write a rather lengthy post. Lord knows I hate to call for someone to be unemployed in this economy, but he makes like $4 million per year. He surely won't or at least shouldn't miss any meals.

Bret LaGree said...

On the evidence of his coaching I wouldn't be so sure that Woodson's planned ahead w/r/t money.

CoCo said...

Larry has led me to believe Woodson will be back next year. He said he heard it on the radio during one of the games. If that's the case then I have nothing to write about.

Unknown said...

Gonna be an interesting offseason. As much as I've loved watching Bibby throughout his career, and cannot deny his role in improving the Hawks, that ceiling has been reached. Watching the Cavs attack whoever he was guarding was extremely painful. And unless he's putting in 20 points a game, overall Bibby was a drag.

The Hawks will have to get younger at PG, if only to avoid the defensive liability. Bibby's main contributions were the three pointer and a playoff presence, which the rest of the team's starters shouldn't need after two years in the playoffs. Milwaukee can't afford to pay everyone, which means Ramon Sessions is in play. Raymond Felton is also an option. In a weak draft, PG is one area where a gem might be found. Not that it will matter, since Woodson refuses to develop point guards.

It would be a painful move, but its time to thank Bibby for helping this team to mature and then let him move on.