Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hawks 96 Jazz 83




Entire game...

Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
UTAH 95.3
44.3 47.1
21.1 25.2
ATL 95.3 1.007 48.2

Through 3 quarters...

Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
36.4 30.9
17.1 25.2
71.5 1.133 53.8

Now is the time to be excited. Yes, the excitement may be brief what with the next four games and six of the next eight to be played on the road but last night's defeat of Utah was the most thorough and impressive entry in the Hawks' current six-game winning streak. Most impressive because the Hawks integrated* their offense and their defense to beat a good team.

*Through three quarters, the meaningless fourth destroyed the full measure of the home team's statistical, box score dominance as demonstrated above.

Utah's probably not quite as good as Dallas and this game was played at home rather than on the road but we've seen the Hawks win a game as they did in Dallas in seasons past. A jump shooting team had a cold night and Joe Johnson single-handedly carried the Hawks not-especially-impressive offense on the strength of contested runners and fall-away jumpers.

Utah's offense, in the past, has bedeviled Atlanta's defense. The volume of off-the-ball screens and screens for screeners that Utah sets has thrown the switch-happy Hawks into defensive disarray. Add the absence of anyone who can consistently keep Deron Williams in front of him on the roster and the ability of both Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer to pull Al Horford and Josh Smith away from the basket and out of their preferred (and often necessary) help positions and you've got a recipe for negating Atlanta's athletic advantage through scheme and skill.

With rare exception, none of that bothered the Hawks last night. Switching or not switching, Hawk defenders stayed between the Jazz and the basket. Granted, Atlanta was somewhat fortunate with regard to the volume of jump shots that Utah missed in the first half but it's what they did with those misses and the huge number of turnovers they forced that decided the game long before the third quarter buzzer sounded.

Through three quarters, Utah made just 20 off 55 field goals. Atlanta grabbed 29 of 35 (82.8%) possible defensive rebounds, forced 18 turnovers (10 off steals), and relentlessly pushed the ball up the court off of both. The result: 26 assists on 37 made field goals (24 on 32 through three quarters) and 29 fast break points.

The Hawks attacked off of their defense. If Boozer and Okur possess the skills to limit Al Horford and Josh Smith's defensive impact, Smith and Horford (with the necessary help of their smaller teammates) possess the skills to create offense before Okur and Boozer get back past half-court.

Josh Smith:
"We were making it hard for them to catch, playing passing lanes. We're still a little raw at it, but if we keep doing what we know we're supposed to do, we'll be fine. We just got up and made it hard for them to run their plays. We clogged the paint, and got out and got some easy points."
Too often in the past, Atlanta has allowed their opponents to dictate the style of play in any given game. Last night, they attacked to their advantage and forced their opponent to try to adapt. Even in the low-scoring, not especially well-played first half, Atlanta's offensive tactics were sound. They pounded the ball into Joe Johnson, mostly on the block, against rookie Wes Matthews. Johnson (and his teammates) recognized that Utah would have to send Matthews help. Johnson waited for the help to show (but didn't wait so long that the help arrived) and found the open man. It might have taken a second or third pass to get the open shot, and several of those open shots were missed, but the ball movement and team concept were both sound. More importantly, the Hawks didn't go away from it.

Come the New Year, this approaching spate of road games may remind us that Utah is, after all, a terrible team on the road and make this morning's missive look irrationally exuberant in retrospect. Today, though, we've catalogued another example of Atlanta's improvement--the head coach's improvement, the players' individual and collective improvement--and, for one day, at least, the question shifts from Will they really win 50 games? to Could they win 60?

Mike Woodson:
"Tonight, it was beautiful to watch."
Marvin Williams:
"That was fun.

We got every stop and made every shot for I don't know how long."
Al Horford:
"We're starting to develop that killer instinct."
Peachtree Hoops:
I hope you watched this game because I cannot describe how well Josh Smith played. He took charges, poked steals, skied for rebounds, block shots, and dunked. And that was on consecutive possessions. You can't expect Josh to get as lucky as he did tonight. The ball certainly bounced right. Still, games like this make it clear how far he has come. The man can take over games. Shoot, he can turn the tide with one shot and defense.

And I don't mean to beat a dead horse that has been dead since the mid way through the third, but I can't remember a player performing that well against a good team in a long time. Josh Smith was that good.
Deron Williams:
"We apologize to all the fans. We played like crap. I played like crap. I think more than anything, their length hurt us."
Jerry Sloan:
"They were terrific. They did everything they had to do. We got caught up in wanting to score. We had eight assists the first half. We couldn't shoot it fast enough. And far enough. They just kicked our butts from the jump."
The Human Highlight Blog:
We didn't check, but we're pretty sure the Jazz lose all games where Deron and Boozer combine for less than (10) points total. Ok, make that very sure.
SLC Dunk:
One night after appearing on national television and hearing Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley call him the best point guard in the NBA. Deron Williams put up this line: 2 points on 1-8 shooting, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 4 turnovers and a +/- rating of -36 in 21 minutes. If he's ever had a worse game as a professional, I can't remember it.
At Crashing the Glass, Brian Anderson leads off the game recap with a(nother) wildly inaccurate prediction of mine. That an entire is blog is not dedicated to just that premise is down only to my unimportance and the good and generous nature of those of you who read this regularly.


Eric said...

Bret, would love to see an article on whether you think Woodson's coaching style has changed. For the first few years as head coach, Woodson looked like he tried to really put a harness on the team's athleticism. We would run the fast break occasionally and destroy other teams, but Woodson never seemed fully comfortable unleashing the reigns. This year, it seems a little different. He's OK with Horford / J. Smoove lead the break half the time, and he's more than OK with this team consistently running. Another Woody observation: he's playing a rookie PG after he single handedly destroyed Acie Law's confidence. Perhaps Woody learned from the Law experience and realizes now he has to give Teague some run? Or is Teague just better than Law and thus deserves more PT. Probably both. Finally, how about Woody trusting his reserves? Yes, its true, he didn't have much depth in years past. But this year, Woody is OK letting the second team play together for long periods of time, even when the opposition is making a run. These are all subtle coaching changes, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say they have had an impact on the 19-6 start.

Bret LaGree said...

Eric --

I think both Woodson, as a coach, and the quality of player he's coaching have improved and the improvements are related. The players thrive as greater trust is placed in them and, in repaying the trust, Woodson feels more comfortable letting them play. I think Bibby's had a big influence in Woodson trusting the players more.

Woodson's biggest weakness used to be having to make choices. Often, due to the lack of talent at his disposal, he didn't have an obvious good option. On the other hand, his underutilization of Josh Childress in 07-08 cost the Hawks a few games, and, ultimately Childress. Woodson has really benefited from the team acquiring good (or at least useful) players who fill distinct roles for each spot 1 through 10 in the rotation.

The better working relationship between Woodson and Sund than existed between Woodson and Billy Knight should not be discounted either. Sund has encouraged Woodson to embrace the three-point shot as an offensive weapon and acquired players that Woodson wants to use rather than foisting a player Woodson doesn't want (and in Acie Law's case, one also ill-suited for Woodson's offense) onto him.

Woodson is still no tactical genius and is unlikely to make impressive in-game adjustments but he has a distinct Plan A for this team that the players buy into and, for the most part, execute well.

Eric said...

Agreed for the most part. Don't get me started on the Childress fiasco.

One thing I'm in 100% agreement with is the tactical genius of Woodson...meaning, he's not one. If you flip back to the final 3-4 minutes of Game 6 (it may have been Game 4, my memory is fading) of the 2007 playoffs vs. Boston, it offers a peak into what little creativity Woodson offers to the offense. With the game close and the issue in doubt, Woodson resorted to a Johnson/Bibby pick in roll for the final 5-6 plays of the game. We won, but man that was horrendous.