Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Cavaliers 99 Hawks 72

Boxscore

Gameflow

Highlights

Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 80.7 0.89
49.2 14.1
18.8
21.1
CLE 80.7
1.23 51.9
30.4
35.7
8.7

I don't think anyone would argue that the Cavaliers have a gear beyond the Hawks' capabilities of matching. For one half (let's hope it's not the only half this series) the Hawks were almost able to score as often as the Cavaliers. For one half there were not able to keep up at all. What makes Game 1 so discouraging for Hawks fans is that the Atlanta defense wasn't able to take anything away from Cleveland's offense. Sure, Zydrunas Ilgauskas missed seven of his nine field goal attempts* but LeBron James got to the rim (and the line) at will, Mo Williams scored 21 points on 12 shots, Delonte West chipped in with 13 points and nine assists, Atlanta couldn't force turnovers, and the Hawks got destroyed on the defensive glass.

*Not that I expect him to get an earful regarding shot selection anytime today. His shots just didn't go down.

I guess the upshot is that things can't get any worse though I'm struggling to find a reason to believe things will get better. Marvin Williams* clearly isn't healthy. I suspect his wrist is a greater concern than his back (though he clutched at both during the 12:52 he played last night) but his wrist didn't seem to limit him defensively even as he appeared unable or unwilling to shoot a jump shot. Using Williams more on James, at this point, will only further disable the Hawks' offense, probably more than it will aid the defense.

*Williams: "It’s going to be what it is. I can play through it, though. So I’m not stressing it. I think the days I spent not shooting at all really helped me. Like I told coach, it’s not going to get completely better in the playoffs, so I can just play like this and hopefully, help out as best I can."

Mike Bibby poses a greater problem. His 14 point (six shots), five assist first half went a long way toward the Hawks scoring 1.1 points per possession during the first 24 minutes. His defense, though, had a lot to do with Cleveland scoring 1.22 points per possession. The Hawks (to put it mildly) could not sustain their offensive success in the second half. Cleveland could, in large part because they made a concerted effort to run their offense at Mike Bibby to such a degree that, at times, it appeared that the newly crowned MVP was their second option, the first being "whoever Mike Bibby is guarding."

Cleveland ran screen-and-roll with Bibby's man setting the screen. Cleveland ran screen-and-roll for Bibby's man to force him to switch onto the big man cutting to the basket. Cleveland ran isolations for Mo Williams on the rare possessions where Bibby attempted to guard him. Cleveland ran multiple post-ups for Delonte West. Cleveland ran a post-up for Sasha Pavlovic soon after he entered the game in the fourth quarter. All of these worked leaving such mismatches as LeBron James v. Maurice Evans, LeBron James v. Josh Smith, or Mo Williams v. Joe Johnson as, essentially, a bonus.

Mike Bibby is central to the offensive success of both teams. This is obviously a troubling state of affairs. Based on his performance in Game 1 (and his playoff history), it's not wise to increase Flip Murray's involvement in the proceedings. It wouldn't matter anyway. There isn't a Cavalier that won't exploit Bibby's defensive limitations. Perhaps the answer is just to put Bibby on Williams and take that medicine rather than create a third reliable offensive option for Cleveland.

Beyond Bibby and Josh Smith, who had a nice offensive game despite taking some unnecessary jump shots (redundant, true) and converting just 6 of his 10 free throw attempts, Atlanta's offense struggled. Al Horford either showed the lingering effects of his ankle injury or has lost all confidence in his ability to score, getting just four shots up in 25:33. Maurice Evans failed to convert his few open looks. The Cavaliers kept Zaza Pachulia off the offensive glass and off the line, limiting his effectiveness. Most importantly, Cleveland successfully bottled up Joe Johnson, holding him to 11 points (on 10 shots) in 39:08. Johnson did get credit for six assists but at the cost of five turnovers, two of which were crippling in the third quarter.

After a rare excellent defensive possession with the Hawks still down only five (46-51), Johnson didn't just waste a LeBron James turnover but, in throwing the ball away to Mo Williams, created an open-court opportunity for Cleveland that resulted in a Williams three-pointer. Two minutes later Johnson sabotaged a fast break* that would have resulted in a Josh Smith alley-oop dunk by bizarrely launching himself toward the stationary LeBron James after Johnson passed the ball. It's far from my favorite call--the charge against the passer who no longer has the ball--but the play looked so odd I can't fault the officials for making the call in this case.

LeBron James:
"They had a high flyer, Josh Smith, on the wing, and Joe Johnson is a ballhandler. It looked like Joe was going to be aggressive and not slow down, so I stepped in. It was a good momentum play for us."
*Off a Delonte West turnover. Cleveland only turned the ball over seven times and Johnson wasted two of those that led to clear transition opportunities. The Hawks can't waste any chance to score before Cleveland's defense gets set.

Josh Smith:
"We can’t let a team like Cleveland jump on us early like that in the third quarter. They know how to put teams away. That’s why they are the best team in the NBA. We played as good as we could in the first half, and we should have converted that momentum into the second half and played the same way."
Peachtree Hoops:
During the "Inside Trax" was Mike Woodson's offensive game plan to "shoot free throws"?
Mike Woodson:
"[Johnson] didn’t any free throws. Bibby didn’t shoot any free throws. Al didn’t shoot any free throws. Josh was the only guy we had out there playing aggressive and trying to force the action. We can’t be passive against this team."
Mark Bradley:
On the night David Stern handed James a big trophy, LBJ the MVP scored 34 points in the game’s first 36 minutes and made the Hawks realize — if they hadn’t already — that they’re in against bigger and better now. Dwyane Wade is a great player, but he’s not LeBron. Miami is a decent team, but it’s not LeBron’s team.

And once again Joe Johnson’s team went off and left Joe Johnson. Or, more precisely, he let it leave without him. He’d scored 27 points in the final three quarters of Game 7 against the Heat, but he took four first-half shots (none the second quarter) and scored four first-half points. “I wasn’t trying to force it,” he said afterward. “I wanted to let the game come to me. And they did a good job with their defense and double-teams.”
The Human Highlight Blog:
Marvin Williams would normally do yeoman's work on LeBron defensively, but Williams is clearly a couple steps behind after missing so many games with his back injury and then all the recent ones with the injured wrist. Even his first free throw was ugly and his infamous moustache lacked presence. It was like watching someone who won a "Look Like Marvin, Play For Marvin" contest before the game.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog:
Best stat of the night: The Cavs won by 27, but were only +13 with LeBron on the court. This supporting cast is ready to play.
and
Josh Smith was agressive and playing the right way tonight. For reference, it is ALWAYS a bad idea for him to take a jumper. Does anyone actually believe he’s more intense for the playoffs, or it was just that his spirit animals told him to go inside tonight? I think Josh Smith is too talented to actually game-plan or care about basketball. If LeBron is Infinite Jest, then Josh Smith is definitely Brief Interviews with Hideous Men - for every great story, there’s a “screw you, I’m doing the second half of my story as a schema because I am that freaking talented” play. I honestly think basketball bores Josh Smith.
Kelly Dwyer:
I'm not going to excuse the Hawks in the same way I excused the Mavericks, because while they are the inferior team going up against a squad with the best player in the universe, they didn't play nearly as smart or sound a game as the Mavericks did.

The Cavs exude greatness, they are talented beyond LeBron, but they win games like this by 27 points because they play smart, consistent basketball. You can't say the same for Atlanta. Not at any point in this entire season have they been consistent, week-to-week, game-to-game, quarter-to-quarter. Atlanta is 90 games in, and they're still flailing.

This team isn't underachieving its way out of the playoffs, they wouldn't have a chance against Cleveland even with some perfect, robot-play, but the lack of focus on both ends is the reason this game was over with 11 minutes to go. And the credit for that is team-wide, while not falling squarely on the coaching staff. The coaching staff isn't turning the ball over on 21 percent of their possessions.

3 comments:

jrauch said...

At least the beating will be over in 4.

Bronn said...

I'd love for the Hawks to actually make one of these games in Cleveland competitive. You know, when it gets down to 5 minutes left, have the deficit within 10 and maybe a chance at pulling one out.

Is that too much to ask?

jrauch said...

As long as Joe continues to play with both hands firmly around his throat, then yes.