Let's get this out of the way first: the clock operator screwed up in a manner I, even as one who has watched countless games in Philips Arena*, have never before witnessed. Said screw up put the Hawks at an unfair disadvantage for one key possession. There does not appear to be a rule covering this particular screw up and I cannot recall a precedent that would encourage the referees grasp the power to turn back time to the point of the screw up, thus nullifying a Cleveland basket, and replay the game from there.
*The suspicion that this screw up might be karmic is not mine alone.
"We've got a one-point lead with the ball going the other way, and we're rushing to get a shot because the clock is not in our favor."Thing is, they're not really rushing. They're taking the usual six or eight seconds before initiating an offensive set. From that point they're rushed. On one hand, the Hawks' behavior on this possession is fairly typical of their second half possessions as a whole. That the Hawks were initiating their halfcourt offense relatively late in the shot clock was not, in and of itself, unusual. None of which negates the fact that the officials should have noticed a ten-second discrepancy on the shot clock, that the shot clock should have reset, or that the Hawks should have noticed and said something (or called a timeout) at the time rather than one possession later.
On the other hand, that what the Hawks attempted to run on this incomplete possession was a Mike Bibby/Josh Smith screen-and-roll rather than another isolation for Joe Johnson or something initiated (and completed) by Jamal Crawford magnifies the sadness of the false circumstances surrounding the possession.
Joe Johnson took 16 of Atlanta's 39 second half field goal attempts and two of the team's four free throw attempts. LeBron James took 12 of Cleveland's 40 field goal attempts and 11 of the team's 17 free throw attempts. Both players committed a turnover in the second half. James was credited with five assists. Johnson was credited with one. The difference in ability between James and Johnson is greater than the difference in quality between these two teams. By choosing to make the second half a referendum on the relative ability of the two to create offense* on their own, the Hawks put the lead they worked so hard and so well as a team to build unnecessarily at risk.
The Hawks must build a lead against teams of comparable talent because, on key possessions down the stretch, both offensively and defensively, they will operate at a disadvantage. The other team knows what the Hawks are going to do. When the Hawks have the ball Joe Johnson will begin to try to create a shot for himself, or, as a last result** a teammate, after milking six to ten seconds on the front end of the shot clock. When the other team has the ball, the Hawks will switch every screen and, in doing so, allow the opposition to pick the matchup they want. As Bronn points out at Peachtree Hoops, with Marvin Williams*** on the bench for the final 6:50 of the game, that meant the Cavs could pick whether he wanted Mike Bibby or Jamal Crawford or Josh Smith guarding LeBron on any particular possession.
*Relying on James to create offense on his own is hardly a foolproof strategy as the majority of words written about Mike Brown in his career would attest.
**See the Josh Smith baseline jumper just before the shot clock expires on the first Atlanta possession (coming out of a timeout, no less) after the shot clock fiasco.
***It's not like Marvin was a liability offensively (8 points on 5 shots) or on the glass (7 rebounds, 6 defensive) that necessitated Bibby and Crawford (a combined 2-10 from the floor in the second half, both makes courtesy of Bibby) being on the floor.
Without the shot clock fiasco, we'd be arguing this morning over which was more unlikely: Anderson Varejao's first career three-pointer or the 4 minutes and 49 seconds of the second quarter during which Jason Collins was the most effective player on the floor. We'd be arguing about a free throw differential that was a determining factor in the game's outcome but not, actually, all that unusual for the Hawks. We'd be praising Joe Johnson for again demonstrating his remarkable ability* to make difficult shots. We'd be praising the team's offensive performance in the first half which lead to the Hawks scoring 17 more points than they did Tuesday night in a game featuring three fewer possessions. We'd be applauding the coaching staff and players for making and ably carrying out the adjustments (early, at least) they failed to make during Tuesday night's game. We'd be applauding the improved performance on the defensive glass. And, we'd still be cursing the Hawks blowing a 17-point lead, losing again to one of the top 3 teams in the East, falling to 1-3 against those teams this season, and questioning again how much, if any, these Hawks can expect to improve on last season's 2-10 record against those teams.
*We, well I, would also be pointing out, in the interests of the team's long-term offensive consistency, that Josh Smith (5 assists) and Al Horford (3 assists) did a fine job themselves of creating offense in a team context despite playing less and receiving significantly fewer touches than Johnson.