Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cavaliers 97 Hawks 82



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
CLE 80.3 1.21
55.1 30.4
ATL 80.3
1.02 49.3

The Hawks were down one point, 66-65, when Zaza Pachulia attempted to take a Joe Smith charge. Both of Pachulia's feet were in the restricted area. He was called for a block. Then he flipped out to the point that Josh Smith tried to calm him down. Yes, Josh Smith counseled someone to dial down the complaints directed toward an NBA referee. It didn't work. Pachulia was lived on the ground, flailed in making himself upright, and looked on the precipice of rampage once he got to his feet. This earned Pachulia two technical fouls to augment his personal foul.

Cleveland only made two of the four foul shots Pachulia's play plus outburst granted them but the consequences of his ejection were felt beyond that lone possession. Al Horford had to return to the game after resting for just two minutes of game time. Even hampered (and he clearly was) by his ankle injury, Horford, up to that point, had been a marked improvement over the limited and inexperienced Solomon Jones. In Pachulia's absence, Horford wilted under the increased workload. In the subsequent 11:47 he played, Al Horford committed five fouls, missed a jump shot, and launched a desperation 27-footer to stave off a shot clock violation. He didn't grab a single rebound or register a single assist during that stretch as the Hawks were outscored 28-14.

Pachulia's ejection and Horford's limited mobility aren't the sole reasons the Hawks lost. LeBron James certainly looms large in that respect. Nor were they the sole reasons the Hawks squandered a good effort with inconsistent execution.
  • Mike Bibby's eight points and five assists weren't enough to offset his defensive limitations.
  • Josh Smith made three of his first four jump shots. Rather than count his blessings for that statistical anomaly, he attempted four more jump shots, making just one. He also grabbed just two defensive rebounds in 37 minutes as the Hawks continued to fail by any reasonable standard to rebound Cleveland's missed shots adequately.
  • Maurice Evans still can't guard LeBron James by himself. Nor should he be expected to.
  • Marvin Williams missed three of his five field goal attempts, but that he could attempt five shots is a small victory.
  • Joe Johnson looked far healthier than I feared but he's incapable of breaking down a defense of Cleveland's caliber or match a LeBron James score for score much less accomplish both things on the same night on a sore ankle.
  • Flip Murray gave Johnson great support in both the second and third quarters but didn't attempt a shot after his layup that gave Atlanta a 63-62 lead with 4:18 left in the third.
I suspect last night was Atlanta's best chance to win a game in this series. They kept Cleveland off the offensive glass for a half. Cavaliers not named LeBron James made just 1-12 three-point attempts. Ben Wallace's eight-minute stint in the first half aided the Hawks' cause greatly. The Hawks didn't turn the ball over very often and they were healthier than they've been in several games.

Unfortunately the last of those is the element I'm most confident the Hawks can replicate in Game 4. At this writing, none of the Hawks' starters are thought to have aggravated their respective injuries. Any improvement to their health may boost the team's spirits but it won't make up for both the fundamental defensive weaknesses repeatedly mentioned in this space which Cleveland has proven capable of exploiting and the Cavaliers' penchant for shutting Atlanta's offense down for long stretches of each of the three games. The better team is winning and the injuries may be all that are sparing the Hawks' blushes.

Zaza Pachulia:
"I tried to do my best to help the team. Maybe I overreacted."
Mike Woodson:
"I haven’t had a chance to look at the tape, but from what I’ve heard, it was clearly a [foul on Pachulia], and Zaza just overreacted. We just have to keep playing in that situation, and we didn’t do that."
The foul occurred in front of the Hawks' bench. Whether it was the right call or not Pachulia's reaction was completely uncalled for. Saying the right things after the game does not have anywhere near the equivalent value of doing those things during the game. Failing to "keep playing" after a referee calls a foul on of one your guys and ejects him when he, while in the wrong, flips out is a rather fundamental and inexcusable error. There's little credit earned for recognizing this after the fact. You get credit for keeping a calm, firm hand on proceedings in the heat of the moment but that's hard to do when you spend the game constantly reacting to events.

Joe Johnson:
"There’s no way you can tell me this team is 20 points better than we are. There’s no way."
Later, in the same story, Johnson reveals the way the Hawks are 20 points worse than the Cavaliers:
"You just never know what Hawks team is going to show up. We’ll see Monday night."
Mike Woodson on planning how to defend LeBron:
"There’s just not a whole lot you can do with him. Everyone says to double him, but he hit about eight or nine shots where we couldn’t even get double-teams to him; they were way beyond the 3-point line."
Brian Windhorst on Pachulia's ejection:
Joe Smith crashed into him with force but Pachulia was in the no-charge zone, which made the call automatic. But Pachulia, who has broken Sasha Pavlovic's nose and taken Delonte West out of the game with a smack to the eye, went after official Monty McCutchen for making the call.

McCutchen had made several questionable calls in the quarter but they had benefited both sides, once hitting James with an out-of-flow offensive foul call. Still the reaction seemed out of place.

As Pachulia stormed toward McCutchen, he ran right into Anderson Varejao and screamed obscenities at McCutchen. Official Bill Spooner stepped in to protect his fellow official and gave Pachulia a technical but it didn't calm the big man down. A few seconds later he earned a second and was ejected.

The Human Highlight Blog:
A player like James is like a very bright light---they expose every one of the flaws on the face of your team. He takes advantage of not being able to keep him outside by driving to the hoop. Once he beats you off the dribble, he makes you pay by over-committing to him by making great passes. Don't want to over-commit? Then he finishes strong or gets to the line. Make him shoot the "3"? He made 5-10 on the Hawks in Game Three---how many of those would you like him to take?

In this series James has has exposed the Hawks lack of defensive rotation, their lack of strong perimeter D, and Mike Woodson's stubborn reluctance to force someone else to shoot the last shots of quarters for the Cavs.
John Hollinger:
No, the Cavs weren't surprised by what LeBron James did. So accustomed are they to his exploits that they barely batted an eyelash at his 47-point, 12-rebound explosion in a 97-82 cakewalk that put them up 3-0 on the Hawks in their best-of-seven series.

But the rebounding margin? Yes, that raised a few eyebrows. The Cavs outrebounded Atlanta 46-23, providing ample support for James en route to a seventh consecutive playoff rout.

"Is that what it was?" said Cavs forward Joe Smith. "Wow."

And on a night where Atlanta's walking wounded summoned enough strength to all take the court and play reasonably well, the Cavs' dirty work on the boards proved just as important as James's 3-point shooting exploits to the victory.

Cleveland regained position 16 times off its missed shots, which is pretty amazing when you consider they hardly missed any shots -- the Cavs shot 50.7 percent. The Hawks finished with a piddling 20 defensive rebounds, including five team boards, while at the other end the Cavs grabbed 34 of the 43 Hawks' misses.

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