Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hawks 112 Pistons 99




Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
DET 85.8
52.7 26.7
42.1 21
ATL 85.8 1.306 67.8

Lots of things have to go right to score 69 points in a half. You have to play well. Your opponents need to play less well. You have to create a lot of good shots. You have to make those shots and some of the less good shots you create. You have to score in transition and in the half-court. Your opponents have to be somewhat complicit in your doing both. It doesn't hurt if one of the referees compounds a missed call by calling two technical fouls on your opponents. Once you get far enough down the list of things that must go right to reach Zaza Pachulia making a behind-the-back pass to set up a Joe Smith lay-in, I think it becomes unrealistic to expect the second half to match the first.

To their credit, the Pistons were competitive in the second half and their effort gave us an object lesson in the difference between what the Hawks can be and what they too often are. In the first half, especially in the first quarter, whichever five Hawks were on the court played defense as a unit until the team regained possession of the ball. If they regained the ball through a defensive rebound or a live-ball turnover, they pushed the ball up the court as quickly as possible. It was a joy to watch the united effort in service of simplicity.

True, they couldn't have done it without Detroit's cooperation. Josh Smith and Al Horford could help off of Jonas Jerebko and Jason Maxiell without much risk (especially with Marvin Williams committing himself fully to the defensive glass) and the Atlanta guards rewarded their larger teammates for their defensive help with easy transition buckets.

In the second half Detroit made a higher percentage of their shots, turned the ball over less often, and dominated the offensive glass. Transition offense necessitates gaining possession of a live ball. The Hawks rarely managed to accomplish that in the second half. Any commitment to pushing the tempo begins with solid defense and competent defensive rebounding. Both are realistic goals for this team.

The Pistons failed to take full advantage of their strong offensive play because they never really kept the Hawks from scoring in the half-court. Anytime Detroit threatened to make a real game of it, Atlanta got the ball to Josh Smith or Al Horford in the mid- or high-post and let them create a good shot for themselves or a teammate.

It takes a team effort to shoot 67.8% from the floor and to earn assists on 35 of 46 made field goals. When the Hawks put all five offensive players in positions where they must be guarded it's very difficult to keep them from scoring. Every Atlanta offensive possession that culminates rather than begins with a player isolated against a defender increases the team's likelihood of winning. As does every Atlanta defensive possession that ends with a quick transition from defense to offense. The degree of difficulty will be greater in future nights but that doesn't diminish the potential lessons learned.

Mike Woodson:
"Our defense, we did everything that we set out to do from shootaround this morning."
I presume that's a reference just to the first quarter defense. Allowing Detroit 1.15 points per possession and 42.1% of their offensive rebound opportunities can't have been part of the gameplan.

Jamal Crawford:
"There's good wins and bad wins. We won the game [in Washington], but it wasn't the way we wanted to win. … This was a good one."
John Kuester:
"They know how to turn it on when they have to, and that’s going to be important, because as time goes on and you get ready for the playoffs, you have to be prepared to turn it for 48 minutes."
Will Bynum:
"I think their switching defense gave us a problem early on in the game. It made it difficult for us in our offense, especially on the wings."
The switching defense really bottles things up when the Hawks don't actually have to switch. It's not a problem in and of itself. That it's the only defensive gambit the Hawks have dilutes its effectiveness.


Unknown said...

Do many teams only play one type of defense like the hawks? Do the Hawks ever try zone?

Bret LaGree said...

Andrew --

I'd say other teams similar in quality to the Hawks don't necessarily play different types of defense so much as they mix-and-match personnel or make adjustments with the timing of double teams, the rotations off a double team, or the location of their help line.

The underlying problem with the Hawks is a lack of good defensive players. The team compounds that problem by being predictable in switching every screen and letting opponents set up exactly the mis-match they desire.