Saturday, November 27, 2010

Atlanta Hawks 99 New York Knicks 90


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
49.4 12.4
NY 88
1.023 50

Was that the passing of the guard we witnessed in the fourth quarter? An on-court acknowledgment of whose hands hold the future of franchise regardless of the allocation financial resorces? Joe Johnson isn't in a shooting slump. Joe Johnson can't create good shots for himself and he's either incapable of or unwilling to move the ball quickly in the half-court offense. Some hot jump shooting from his teammates overcame this personal failure in the first quarter as the Hawks took control of the game and some good work on the offensive glass from Mo Evans and Al Horford held off both the Knicks and the inadequacies of isolation basketball as practiced by an inefficient scorer in the late third and early fourth quarter .

Larry Drew then largely took the ball out of his highest paid player's hands and made Al Horford, the team's best player, central to almost every offensive possession from the 10-minute to the 3-minute mark of the fourth quarter. Horford scored eight points, grabbed two offensive rebounds, and earned two assists in the fourth quarter. He set countless ball-screens to free ball-handlers. He made strong, purposeful cuts to create space for himself or his teammates. He scored in the post. He drew, then passed out of, a double-team in the post. Neither Horford nor the ball rested in the heart of the fourth quarter as the Hawks finished off the Knicks.

Not that Horford papered over all the team's inadequacies. Jamal Crawford is by far the Atlanta guard most adept at running screen-and-roll or pick-and-pop with Horford but he had to share the ball-handling opportunities with Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby. Johnson moves laterally across the floor, rather than turn the corner and attack, when using a ball-screen and, as mentioned above, does nothing quickly. Mike Bibby has to play at the very limit of control both to turn the corner and to hit Horford on the move. Crawford, though, is given the freedom to take advantage of his one great skill within a team context. It's the latter that helps minimize Crawford's offensive weaknesses.

Running the screen-and-roll with Horford gives Crawford two options: take the first available shot or pass the ball to Horford. He doesn't have to move without the ball. He doesn't have to anticipate what his teammates will do. He doesn't have to work through the full set of options available to a point guard. Furthermore, the difficulty he and Horford cause defenses opens up offensive rebounding avenues should Crawford choose to take a bad shot. Crawford scored 10 points while making 4 of 6 shots (not counting his shot-clock violation avoidance heave with 5 seconds left in the game). One of those misses was rebounded and put back by Horford.

The Hawks also witnessed the value of the symbiotic defensive relationship between Horford and Josh Smith as Smith sat much of the second half due to (real) foul trouble. Horford, playing alongside Marvin Williams, or Zaza Pachulia, or four guards had responsibility both for Amar'e Stoudemire and cleaning up after whichever Knick guards penetrated the first line of Atlanta defense. There is no most important Atlanta defender, there is only the importance, the necessity, of Smith and Horford.

Add in the first, simultaneous evidence of good health from Mo Evans (10 points on 9 shots in 25:24) and Marvin Williams (13 points on 7 shots, 8 rebounds, 3 of them on the offensive end, and...THIS) and the outlook appears far brighter than it did earlier in the week.