Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Hawks 97 Trailblazers 91




Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 87.7
49.4 22.5
29.7 13.7
POR 87.7 1.038 45.9

Just as in Los Angeles on Sunday, the first quarter last night was an aberration. This time, though, a productive plan of attack formed rather than fell apart before our eyes. Let it not be lost in celebrating the win and the final three quarters of wildly encouraging basketball just how poor the Hawks were in the first quarter: 5-19 from the field, 3 turnovers, and 15 points scored--team totals that would have been much worse had Mike Woodson not turned to his bench relatively early.

Jamal Crawford will (rightfully) earn plaudits for carrying the offense for much of the first half and freeing Joe Johnson from the Portland defense' full attention in the second half but it was Zaza Pachulia who provided the initial spark off the bench, coming in after Josh Smith's second personal foul 6 minutes and 20 seconds into the first quarter and scoring 6 points (on 1 FGA and 4 FTA), grabbing 2 rebounds, and finding Crawford on a back-door cut for the first two of the guard's 27 points.

Pachulia would be similarly effective in his two subsequent stints but by the the second half it was the Jamal Crawford show. If, in the first half, Crawford demonstrated how, at his best, he can be a devastating scorer (17 points on 8 first half shots), his six second half* assists showcased his ability to play well with others.

*during which he scored 10 more points, again on 8 shots

Joe Johnson took full advantage of Crawford drawing extra attention (and, frankly, took advantage of Crawford dominating the ball early in possessions so that Johnson could not) in the second half, busting out of the 2-16 shooting slump that lasted from the second quarter Sunday night through halftime last night to make 8 of 11 second half field goal attempts. Johnson is simply a different and more effective offensive player when he does not try to take on the entire opposition defense.

That's a lesson Brandon Roy and/or Nate McMillan might take away from last night's game. Roy struggled to initiate the Portland offense for much of the second half nor could LaMarcus Aldridge match his 14 point first half. It fell to Travis Outlaw to carry Portland offensively in the fourth quarter. Outlaw took advantage of Josh Smith's wandering eye on more than one occassion but because, unlike in the first half, Smith wasn't occupied with LaMarcus Aldridge in the low post he was free to help defensively. It looked a fair trade for the Hawks. Smith ended the night with two blocks to his credit but he altered many more shots than that.

Had the Hawks' strong second-half defensive performance ended (as it sometimes does) once a Portland shot went up, their effort might have been valiant but futile. Holding the opposition to 16-44 from the field (5-12 3PTA, that's a 42 eFG%) is nice but it doesn't complete the work of getting the ball back. The Hawks won the rebounding battle for the fourth time in four games and are, on the year, grabbing 78% of possible defensive rebounds (3rd in the league). It's early, but that's up from 71.6% last year (24th in the league). None of Al Horford, Josh Smith, or Marvin Williams especially distinguished himself offensively last night but their effort on the defensive glass secured the victory.

Al Horford:
"We definitely have learned out lesson and having a guy like Jamal made the big difference. But the key was Joe stepping up his defense on Brandon Roy in the second half. He took that challenge after halftime and we all followed his lead on that end of the floor and we took care of business."
Josh Smith:
"Jamal had a hell of a game. He can lead the league in scoring off the bench if we do it right. I don't think there's any doubt he's got to be the favorite to be sixth-man of the year."
Mike Woodson:
"Things didn’t go our way early. But trying to get a quality win against a top notch team on the road is what's important. Our defense really picked up in the third and fourth quarter. And Jamal was huge. He's a shot-maker. We haven’t had a big time guy like that off the bench that make things happen the way he did."
If you're wondering, no, I'm not entirely comfortable being the lone voice remembering what Flip Murray did last season.

It's no surprise that Peachtree Hoops has a far better appreciation of Zaza Pachulia's first good performance of the season than do I:
Welcome back my cuddly Eastern European bruiser of unathleticism awesomeness. At one point in the first half, Zaza was the offense. Seriously. And his defense keyed the whole thing. Zaza can't be your offensive leader if your not getting defensive stops too. Zaza blocked two shots. He played good man to man defense. Protected the rim. Basically, Zaza did what he does best, make me happy.
Kelly Dwyer goes Behind the Boxscore:
I haven't seen Atlanta play this hard since, well, the team's hot start to 2008-09. Oh, I'm sure they brought the effort during last year's postseason, but man, Atlanta really wanted this one.
Blazersedge wonders if averaging more than one lineup per minute in the final six minutes of a close game hurt the Blazers' comeback chances.

Congratulations to anyone who bet under 4.5 games on when my more thorough two-part game recap streak would end. These West Coast games are tough on the semi-professional scribe (citizen analyst?) . Consider today's late, single missive an interruption rather than an abandonment of the new model.

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