Friday, November 12, 2010

Utah Jazz 90 Atlanta Hawks 86


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
45.2 16.7
33.3 10.7
ATL 84 1.024 52.8

The 17 points scored and the 11-point lead blown in the fourth quarter are sure to raise familiar questions about the Hawks. Those questions won't be entirely fair. The Hawks didn't lose the game because the offense got static down the stretch (save for the possession that ended with Joe Johnson's turnover with 58 seconds left). Nor did they lose the game because of a failure to stop dribble penetration. The Hawks lost because Larry Drew stuck with his reserves (plus Joe Johnson) until that 11-point fourth quarter lead had shrunk to 4 points, because Al Horford missed all four of his fourth quarter free throw attempts (including those earned on the dynamite possession coming out of a time out with 14.7 seconds and the Hawks down 2), and because the Hawks couldn't grab enough defensive rebounds in the final three-and-a-half minutes.

Larry Drew could get away with letting his second unit oversee diminishing leads against Philadelphia or Washington but Utah proved to be a different kettle of fish. Drew may have to abandon his apparent desire to use Zaza Pachulia and Josh Powell together. The easiest solution would be to reduce Powell's minutes (the Hawks were -10 in the 11:25 he played tonight, they were outscored by 8.5 points per 100 possessions he was on the court this season entering the game) to something approaching zero. The difference between Powell and Pachulia is significant, the difference between Powell and both Horford and Smith is vast and such differences become more stark in games (such as three of Atlanta's four losses) that go down to their final possessions.

The four missed free throws from Horford were a painful improbability. He's made 75.7% of his free throws over his career, and nearly 80% of his free throws over the last season-plus. Good team play got him the free throws. More often than not he makes at least three of the four charities. The misses contributed materially to this loss, but it's fair not to get too results-oriented on this issue.

The Hawks have ranked 24th or worse in the NBA in defensive rebounding each of the last five seasons. They ranked 16th entering the game but were trending in the wrong direction. Four of Atlanta's last five opponents had grabbed at least 28.9% of all possible offensive rebounds. Utah made it five of six. Once again, it came down to too little support on the defensive glass for Horford, Smith, and Marvin Williams. The starting frontcourt combined for 20 defensive rebounds (led by Smith's 10) but the rest of the team grabbed just 10 between them. Joe Johnson, though he did a surprisingly decent job defending Deron Williams, managed not to grab a single defensive rebound in 38 minutes and 3 seconds. The Hawks went scoreless over the final 3:33 but that was in large part due to them getting only five offensive possessions over that stretch.

Ten games into the season, the Hawks have displayed both what their greatest champions and their sharpest critics expected--an aesthetically pleasing (albeit turnover prone thus far) and efficient offense paired with mediocre-to-poor defense. It's difficult to improve weaknesses without either acknowledging or addressing them and the Hawks, from a personnel standpoint, did neither this off-season.

The Hawks were not as good as their 6-0 start indicated nor are they as bad as they've looked in losing their last four games. Winning six of every ten games, though, will get you 49 wins over an 82-game season and that's a pace that shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with this team.

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