Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dallas Mavericks 98 Atlanta Hawks 93



Hoopdata boxscore


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
51.2 17.1
ATL 91
1.022 52.5

The Dallas Mavericks couldn't stop the Atlanta Hawks in transition. 30 of Atlanta's 93 points came on the fast break. The Hawks, in turn, struggled mightily against Dallas's zone defense, scoring just 53 points on their initial half-court offense. Were it not for the 8 points Al Horford created (2 for himself, 6 for Mike Bibby) and the 2 points Josh Smith scored off of offensive rebounds, the near-comeback, predicated on a brief burst of effective Atlanta defense (helped by Dallas's decision to go away from making Josh Smith try and stop the ball-handler without losing contact with Dirk Nowitzki when defending the pick-and-roll) in the final four minutes, would not have been possible.

Dallas deserves ample credit for the quality of their 2-3 zone which extended out to the three-point line without opening up easy and obvious passing lanes between the two bands of defenders. It was a great example of coaching, execution, and effort. That last quality is especially impressive as the Mavericks were playing on the road, on the second night of back-to-back games. Rick Carlisle recognized how the Hawks could hurt the Mavericks and did his best to minimize his team's exposure. The Maverick players ably implemented their coach's in-game adjustments.

Atlanta's zone offense appeared a bit behind the team's man-to-man offense. The ball stayed on the perimeter too long and the guards too infrequently made cuts off of the three-point line diminishing the team's effectiveness when it attacked the zone. With Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford both uncharacteristically reluctant to shoot it fell to Josh Smith and Jordan Crawford to try and shoot Dallas out of the zone. Smith took five of his nine jump shots in the second quarter and Crawford the younger got up six shots during his 12-minute second half stint. I suspect Dallas was quite content to let Smith go 3-9 on jumpers and even to let Jordan Crawford score 10 points on those 6 shots in return for forcing Jamal Crawford to miss all seven shots he took away from the rim and Joe Johnson to go 2-12 from outside of 10 feet. Jamal Crawford was the more willing and/or able of the two tenured guards to attack the zone off the dribble (as his six free throw attempts and seven assists demonstrate) but even that came at the cost of five turnovers.

Neither Johnson nor Jamal Crawford could keep the quick Dallas guards in front of them and in this they were joined by their offensively effective peers Mike Bibby and Jordan Crawford. The rookie can be forgiven for his struggles to defend Jason Terry as a pick-and-roll ball-handler in just his sixth professional appearance. There should be no forgiveness for how Bibby and Jamal Crawford turned DeShawn Stevenson (13 points on 4 shots in 18 minutes) into a useful offensive option nor for Johnson's minimal effort to fight through screens most of the night. Johnson is capable of better, as he showed against Deron Williams last week, and the Hawks desperately need better defensive performances from Johnson* as long as Larry Drew insists on playing Jamal Crawford and Mike Bibby regardless of the quality of their play on a given night.

*Especially if Al Horford and Josh Smith are going to relegate him to being a relatively inefficient third option offensively.

As encouraging as this game was for Jordan Crawford's future with the Atlanta Hawks it was at least as discouraging for Jeff Teague's present and, possibly, his future with the team. That Larry Drew watched Bibby and Jamal Crawford repeatedly get torched defensively while also committing careless turnovers and did not believe Teague could do better speaks volumes about the coach's evaluation of Teague's current ability (if not necessarily his potential). Teague got three minutes and fifty-three seconds on the court despite two teammates playing poorly against small, quick guards for much of the last three quarters.

Not that Drew lacks for weaknesses to claim his attention. It's fairly amazing the Hawks managed to score 30 fast break points with the Mavericks turning the ball over less often than they had on the season and only two* Hawks (Horford and Smith) showing the slightest ability to rebound the opposition's misses. Marvin Williams (6-9, 230) grabbed one defensive rebound in twenty-six-and-a-half minutes. Joe Johnson** (6-8, 225) grabbed three defensive rebounds in just over 39 minutes. Zaza Pachulia (6-10, 240) did not grab a single defensive rebound in just under 11 minutes of playing time.

*I suppose Mo Evans should receive at least a passing grade for his three defensive rebounds in just under 17 minutes.

**Johnson's DR% is down to 9.1% on the season, less than 80% of his 2009-10 rate.

It's not Drew's fault that the front office once again ignored the team's long-standing deficiencies on the defensive glass during the off-season. It's not like Drew has better options at his disposal if Williams and Pachulia have uncharacteristically and simultaneously poor rebounding nights. The team's lack of quality perimeter defenders and quality defensive rebounders will continue to put tremendous pressure on the team's offense to win games. The team's lack of depth puts tremendous pressure on the first eight never to have an off night in any facet of their games just to win at home against a quality opponent playing on the second night of a back-to-back.

This Atlanta Hawks team can be quite good. It has two of the 15 best players in the Eastern Conference. It's margin for error, though, is slim.

Joe Johnson:
"We didn't come out with the energy we needed but we were able to get back in it."
Dirk Nowitzki:
"It was a tough back-to-back for us, coming in late at night. We responded to a tough loss yesterday. We kind of made it a little hard on ourselves there in the second half. I felt like that was a good win against a good team at home."
Larry Drew on his team's zone offense:
"We settled. That’s way, way too many 3-point shots for us. They zoned us and we lost discipline. We settled for perimeter shots. Our movement was slow. We looked unsure. We started holding the ball. We fell prey to exactly what they wanted us to do."
Drew on defensive rebounding:
"We did a poor job of boxing out."
That's the tip of the iceberg as far as I'm concerned. It's not like the Hawks other than Horford and Smith were making an effort on the defensive glass but demonstrating an inattention to detail. Too often, there were just two Hawks interested in rebounding the ball.

Drew on Jordan Crawford:
"Jordan gave us some really good minutes."
Jordan Crawford:
"It felt good to get out there and play. I’m just excited that I got the opportunity and I just tried to take advantage of it."
The Human Highlight Blog asks why the Hawks treat Al Horford "like a cherry on a jump shot sundae."

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