Thursday, January 28, 2010

Spurs 105 Hawks 90


Hoopdata Boxscore



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 90.2
42.6 17.0
22.6 7.8
SA 90.2 1.164 45.7

Is that how you beat the Hawks? It is if you have multiple perimeter players who can attack off the dribble, at least one of whom can join the ranks of shooters spotting up for the corner three, and two excellent offensive rebounders, one of whom must also draw significant defensive attention whenever he catches (or even threatens to catch) the ball.

San Antonio put on a clinic as to how to take advantage of Atlanta's weaknesses in the first half. Not that many teams could contend with so precise and high-tempo a display of dribble penetration, spacing, and ball movement. The Hawks, more than most teams, must engage in complex risk-reward strategies to cope with quick ball-handlers. In the first half (when San Antonio's guards didn't simply use speed to beat the Hawks down the court) the Hawks went with their normal approach and tried to use the length and quickness of Josh Smith and Al Horford to contain Tony Parker, George Hill, or Manu Ginobili. The problem with this was twofold: San Antonio wasn't isolating their guards so the additional help defense couldn't leave other Spurs unattended without consequence and drawing Smith and Horford away from the basket defensively allowed Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair to run rampant on the offensive glass.

The cumulative result: 66 points, 55.8 eFG%, 41.7 OR%, 2.1 TO%

To their credit, the Hawks adjusted and got back in the game. Though the nature of their adjustments could be what caused their rally to run out of steam in the fourth quarter. Most importantly, Joe Johnson switched onto Tony Parker. The Hawks could do this in no small part because Gregg Popovich opened the second half with Keith Bogans alongside Parker rather than George Hill. The decision surprised me as Bogans is exactly the sort of player against whom Mike Woodson can hide Mike Bibby defensively with the least damage done to his team. Unlike his teammates (both larger and smaller) Johnson proved capable of keeping Parker in front of him. With Bogans and Antonio McDyess functioning as relatively stationary spot-up shooters in this lineup, Johnson had more help defense than anyone attempting to check Parker in the first half received and successfully bottled him up, holding Parker scoreless until his premature exit late in the third quarter due to an ankle injury.

And, for a quarter, Johnson combined effective defense with great shot-making. He scored 25 points on 20 shots through three quarters before appearing, understandably, to tire in the fourth and could only manage 6 points on 6 shots, committed one of his two turnovers, and earned no assists.

Similarly, Johnson's frontcourt counterpart in excellence, Josh Smith, put in three quarters of outstanding and productive work which left little in reserve for the game's close. I contend, that without Smith's defensive effort in the first half Atlanta never would have had the chance to get the game within single digits in the second half. San Antonio's 66 first half points came despite Smith, not because of him. He showed hard when defending the pick-and-roll, protected the basket area, helped on Duncan (either as a second defender or as a primary defender when Horford sat due to foul trouble), and closed out on shooters. In the third quarter, he matched his defensive effort on the offensive end. He scored only a single point in the quarter but he assisted on half of Atlanta's field goals and grabbed three offensive rebounds. The latter lead a team-wide effort on the opening glass that discouraged San Antonio from running out on misses as they had to such devastating effect in the first half.

In the end, the lead San Antonio built was too great to overcome, especially on a night where Mike Bibby went scoreless and Al Horford both struggled (offensively) against Duncan and failed to take advantage of DeJuan Blair in the post in the second quarter when the Hawks made a concerted effort to get Horford the ball. Jamal Crawford's 25 points (on 19 shots) were a worthy contribution but it's no coincidence he was on the court while San Antonio scored 43 of their 66 first half points.

Mike Woodson:
"We gave up so many layups to start the game it was like a track meet. We are supposed to be the team to get up and down the court and get layups. Parker really pushed the tempo."
Joe Johnson:
"We just didn’t come out and match their intensity. They were more hungry."
Josh Smith:
"We love that kind of tempo, but I guess we weren’t ready to play."
Now's the time to remind everyone that the Hawks are 25th in the league in possessions per game. That's somewhat deceptive in terms of tempo because the Hawks are eighth-best in the league in rebounding their own misses and eighth-worst at keeping their opponents from rebounding their own misses but it's also indicative of the fact that, though the Hawks are at their best when pushing the ball up the court quickly, they don't really do so most of the time.

Al Horford:
"I haven’t had a night like that this year. Unfortunately, I had it tonight."
The Human Highlight Blog:
The Hawks actually seemed interested in going into the post, at least early on, but couldn't generate any positive effects. Horford was particularly bad, as he fell into his habit of wilting against longer opponents, something he needs to resolve before facing Kendrick Perkins and Dwight Howard over the next couple of games.
Peachtree Hoops on Tim Duncan:
The man is a machine. He is crafty, hard working, and did I mention a machine? He is a machine. 27 rebounds is good by yourself against 30 shots. We just watched one of the best ever and didn't even care. Impressive.
Tim Duncan on Tim Duncan:
"I mostly rebounded my own shots and that helps. Helps a whole lot, so I can just get that out of the way."
Mike Woodson stumped for his players in the coaches' portion of the All-Star voting:
"You just send the letters out and hope like hell they do the right thing. Bottom line, I look at it based on what your team has done. That’s how I’ve always based the All-Star team."
Who doesn't remember the controversy surrounding Mike Woodson's criticism of the coaches for voting a player from a 21-31 team into the 2006-07 All-Star Game?

Sarcasm aside, there's absolutely nothing wrong with supporting your guys to participate the All-Star Game. Trying to couch the common decency and got-your-backness in some sort of principle inherent in a frivolity is comical.

Don't forget: the All-Star reserves will be announced tonight starting at 7pm (EST) on TNT's hour-long pre-game show.

Also check out Lang Whitaker's guest spot on the Blogs With Balls podcast. There's anecdotes, a discussion of the future of sports media, and mention of Lang's upcoming book about which I'm most excited to read the chapter about the universal utility of the suffix -y in creating nicknames.

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