Sunday, April 25, 2010

On Effort and Execution

Joe Johnson:
"It’s unacceptable to get blown out like this. We’ll look at the tape and correct our mistakes, but more than anything it’s about coming out and playing with more effort."
Lack of effort is and has been the go-to excuse for almost every bad loss the Hawks have suffered for the last three years. Sometimes it's a valid excuse. There's no simply no way (or need) to give 100% effort for the entirety of an NBA season. Sometimes it's, if not a red herring, a stand-in for the team's limitations of talent (especially defensive talent) and/or tactics. This team has one way to play defensively and tends to catch-as-catch-can in terms of the offensive point of attack. If either fails them, a deflated feeling may arise but that's due more to a lack of confidence in their own ability to adjust than a lack of effort.

I re-watched and detailed the first 31 possessions from Game 3--from 0-0 to 29-13 Milwaukee. I saw few instances of poor effort and many instances of the things the Hawks typically do (switching screens, asking Joe Johnson to mark the opposing point guard, converting transition opportunities) not working.

UPDATE (9:08 AM): Kris has posted video of three of these possessions as part of a longer discussion of the Hawks' poor defense in Game 3 over at Soaring Down South.

MIL (poss 1):
Salmons beats Williams off the dribble. Horford and Smith help in the lane. Salmons finds Delfino in corner for open 3 (over Bibby), which he misses.
ATL (poss 1):
Johnson gets the ball at the elbow on a curl. Jennings shows at elbow upon receipt. The ball swings to Bibby, then Williams, who gets open pull-up jumper at 14' on baseline, which he misses.
MIL (poss 2):
Delfino dribble-drive v. Bibby leads to missed scoop at rim.
ATL (poss 2):
Williams kicks defensive rebound ahead to Smith who is fouled on fast break layup attempt. He makes 1 of 2 free throws.
1-0 ATL

MIL (poss 3):
Mbah a Moute dribble-drive from right baseline v. Smith. Scores on up-and-under in lane.
2-1 MIL

ATL (poss 3):
Horford gets ball at right elbow. Nothing doing. Kicks it back out to Johnson. Smith sets baseline screen for Bibby. Jennings really overplays the curl so flares to the corner. Johnson finds him for wide-open 21-footer, which he makes.
3-2 ATL

MIL (poss 4):
Salmons beats Williams off dribble for uncontested lay-in. No help from Smith. Horford was covering Thomas who went to set ball-screen for Salmons as Salmons went to basket without.
4-3 MIL

ATL (poss 4):
Before first pass, Bibby takes contested 18-footer with no teammates within 20 feet of the basket. He misses.
MIL (poss 5):
Johnson gets caught under Thomas moving screen. Jennings pulls up for three in transition. He makes it.
7-3 MIL

ATL (poss 5):
Johnson posts up Salmons high on left wing. He makes a step-back jumper.
7-5 MIL

MIL (poss 6):
Smith switches onto Salmons on off-ball screen. Horford switches onto Salmons on a ball-screen. Salmons attacks Horford off dribble. Horford cuts him off as Salmons gets first foot in lane, but he makes a fall-away on the baseline.
9-5 MIL

ATL (poss 6):
Williams tries to feed Horford in post v. Thomas but can't. Reverses ball to Smith in high post for high-low action, Thomas called for holding foul on Horford. After in-bounds, Johnson looks for ball while posting up Salmons high on right wing. Smith doesn't feed post, takes Mbah a Moute off the dribble. Johnson moves out of mid-post late so Salmons is waiting there to strip Smith. Turnover.
MIL (poss 7):
Thomas sets ball-screen in transition. Johnson goes under screen/just stops. Jennings hits the three.
12-5 MIL

ATL (poss 7):
On 2/5 screen-and-roll, Jennings leaves Bibby completely to cut off Johnson's penetration. Johnson keeps dribble alive, back up as team assumes classic iso-Joe positions. Johnson works from the top of the right side of the key down to the wing and puts up a contested 16-footer. He misses.
MIL (poss 8):
Smith picks up Jennings in transition (all guards got back on D). Horford switches onto Jennings on ball-screen and prevents Jennings from getting anywhere on the bounce so he gives the ball to Salmons who runs a side screen-and-roll on the left with Thomas. Hawks switch on the screen, then Smith forces Salmons to the baseline help (Johnson). Salmons finds Thomas at 19-feet. Thomas makes the set shot.
14-5 MIL / Hawks call timeout at 7:40 of 1Q

ATL (poss 8):
Horford at right elbow finds Johnson on a tight curl in the paint. Johnson floats pass to Smith who makes a good catch but misses the contested layup.
MIL (poss 9):
Horford picks up Mbah a Moute and Williams picks up Jennings in transition. On a 1/4 ball-screen, the Hawks switch. Horford forces Jennings high, beyond the three-point line. Johnson gets caught on Thomas screen for a Salmons curl, then fouls Salmons from behind as Salmons makes open jumper at left elbow. Salmons makes the free throw.
17-5 MIL

ATL (poss 9):
1/5 ball-screen at 28 feet. Bibby hits Horford on move at 22 feet. Horford kicks it out to Johnson and sets a second ball-screen (Kurt Thomas is essentially unmoved at the free throw line) at the three-point line. Johnson declines screen and works toward the right baseline. Cut off, he finds Horford at the top of the key. Horford dribbles once, spins on right shoulder, and makes a 13-foot fall-away.
17-7 MIL

MIL (poss 10):
Salmons throws pass to Bibby. It defies explanation and more elaborate description.
ATL (poss 10):
Williams misses fast break layup. Smith needs two tries to convert the follow.
17-9 MIL

MIL (poss 11):
The Hawks switch a 2/5 ball-screen. Bibby had previously switched onto Thomas on weak side off-the-ball screen. Salmons backs Bibby down, makes 8-foot turnaround.
19-9 MIL

ATL (poss 11):
Smith, from the high post, finds Johnson on curl at left block. Johnson makes a good catch, then overpowers Salmons, makes a semi-hook in the lane, and gets fouled. He misses the free throw.
19-11 MIL

MIL (poss 12):
3/5 ball-screen. Hawks don't switch. Nothing doing. Johnson (after switching an off-the-ball screen) breaks up reversal intended for Mbah a Moute.
ATL (poss 12):
Smith stops short on 1-on-3 fast break and lays the ball off to the trailing Horford who misses a runner in the lane.
MIL (poss 13):
Bibby picks up Jennings in transition. On a 1/5 ball-screen, Horford helps but doesn't switch then closes out on Thomas to prevent the shot on the pick-and-pop. Thomas returns the ball to Jennings and sets another ball-screen. Horford traps with Bibby which fores Jennings baseline. He fins Delfino in the corner. Johnson forces Delfino baseline and into Horford. Mbah a Moute cuts down the center of the lane with four Hawks now on the strong side. Delfino finds him. Smith provides help from weak side but at a poor angle and Mbah a Moute lays it in just before the shot clock expires.
21-11 MIL

ATL (poss 13):
1/4 ball-screen on right side. Might have been intended as a screen-and-roll but Smith stands on three-point line after Bibby passes. Bibby tries to find Williams cutting through lane from the weak side but Salmons breaks up the pass. Turnover.
MIL (poss 14):
Smith chases down and blocks Delfino dunk attempt in transition. After in-bounds, Stackhouse posts up Crawford. Johnson shows help but doesn't go. Stackhouse passes out of post to Jennings at the top of the key. Johnson doesn't close out. Jennings makes the 3.
24-11 MIL

ATL (poss 14):
From 30 feet, Smith forces pass to Johnson on back cut in lane. Pass deflected to Williams who misses open (but off-balance) 18-footer on wing.
MIL (poss 15):
Salmons to Stackhouse for corner 3 in transition. Smith is back but can't close out that far.
27-11 MIL

ATL (poss 15):
1/5 ball-screen at 26 feet. Crawford pulls up for 20-footer which he makes.
27-13 MIL

MIL (poss 16):
Stackhouse iso v. Crawford on left wing. Johnson again shows but doesn't help. This time, though, he loses Jennings. Stackhouse sees Smith waiting to help in lane and passes out to Jennings on what is essentially a back cut. With one dribble, Jennings is past Johnson. Jennings takes off early in the lane, foiling the timing of Smith's help, and makes his scoop shot.
29-13 MIL

There was better play (and worse) that followed this stretch but it was during the first 31 possessions that Milwaukee dug the hole into which they pushed the Hawks. In their 15 possessions, the Hawks created a handful of open shots and had three fast break opportunities. They only got three points from those fast break opportunities. They made just one of three free throws. Those were errors of execution not a failure to try.

On the other end, Milwaukee executed very well and converted an unsustainable percentage of the opportunities they created. Their effort was obvious but it does not necessarily follow that their success is due to inferior effort from the Hawks. Josh Smith's spectacular block of Carlos Delfino's dunk attempt exemplifies the marriage of effort and talent. Al Horford's repeated efforts to stay in front of Brandon Jennings were impressive (and, in and of themselves, remarkably successful) but, ultimately, that effort failed to prevent Milwaukee from scoring. Milwaukee deserves credit for that. Even Joe Johnson, who does not cover himself in defensive glory on a second viewing of the first quarter, looks less apathetic than overmatched both by the speed of Brandon Jennings and the solidity of Kurt Thomas's screens.

Effort wasn't an obvious problem early in the game certainly not as obvious as a good offensive team failing to convert chances with its usual frequency and a mediocre defensive team suffering from the opposition's hot shooting. The Hawks capitulated late. They had chance to do so not because the Milwaukee Bucks out-worked them earlier but because the Bucks out-played them.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Here's hoping the Hawks show up tonight. I still think they are going to pull this out, but how many more awful road losses can the team sustain heading into Orlando? We had awesome momentum coming into this series, having won several in a row. If this team has matured--as Woody repeatedly tells us after every "good" game--they should be able to at least hang with the Bucks.