Saturday, December 18, 2010

Atlanta Hawks 90 Charlotte Bobcats 85




Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 85
1.059 50

The Horford Treatment: dead? I saw it with my own eyes. Al Horford committed two first quarter fouls, but there he was starting the second quarter, playing 9:47 of the period, and helping the Hawks consolidate the lead they would never (quite) relinquish. Kudos to Larry Drew for his tactical flexibility and many thanks to Horford for not committing a third foul when given the rare chance for reasonable first half playing time.

Joe Johnson made a surprise return, too. It was inauspicious at first. Johnson failed to get back on defense following the game's opening possession and only Marvin Williams's hustle from the left corner prevented an opening Dominic McGuire layup for Charlotte. Stephen Jackson beat Johnson badly off the dribble inside the first two minutes. Johnson's first field goal attempt in the half-court offense upon his return involved him catching the ball at the free throw line, sizing up the defense, slowly backing up on his dribble until he got behind the three-point line, then launching a long jumper which missed.

Given the organization's relationship with Johnson, it should come as no surprise that, after missing two-and-a-half weeks he immediately returned to play the second-most minutes on the team and attempt more shots than any of his teammates. It was what has become a fairly representative performance for Johnson, he scored 16 points but needed 14 shots (and a couple of intentional foul free throws) to score them. He also earned 8 assists against a single turnover and grabbed 5 defensive rebounds to mitigate his inefficient scoring.

So what are reasonable expectations for Johnson going forward: He should be expected to convert more than half of the good looks he'll get (both going to the basket and spotting up) from the combination of Larry Drew's offensive system and the quality of passers with which he plays. He should be expected to make good passes out of double-teams for however long teams continue to double him when he holds the ball inside of 15 feet. He should not be expected to create good shots for himself off the dribble with any regularity and he should not be expected to have a positive defensive impact, at least prior to a shot going up.

It's fine that Joe Johnson isn't going to win many games by himself. Neither are Josh Smith or Al Horford. The team has too many inherent flaws for one player to overcome. Even against the short-handed Bobcats, the Hawks needed a team performance--solid* defensively and balanced offensively--to win.

*I'd normally use a stronger adjective when the Hawks hold the opposition to a point per possession. That's a fine performance by almost any standard but against the Bobcats, who scored 0.845 points per possession against Memphis in their previous game without Gerald Wallace , 0.704 points per possession against Boston and 0.964 points per possession against Indiana (with Wallace in both those games) in the last week are not a standard NBA offense.

Al Horford (on 12 shots) and Marvin Williams (on 11 shots) both matched Johnson's 16 points, with Horford adding 9 rebounds (3 offensive), 3 assists, 3 blocks, and, handling the ball less on the perimeter upon Johnson's return, committing no turnovers. Williams, thankfully preferred over Damien Wilkins and Mo Evans again, added 8 rebounds of his own. Josh Smith struggled from the perimeter (0-5 on jump shots) and turned the ball over five times but converted his attempts in the paint (6-8), grabbed 11 rebounds, earned 3 assists, and matched Horford's 3 blocks. Mike Bibby and Jeff Teague proved a solid point guard tandem, combining for 15 points on 13 shots, 8 assists, and 4 turnovers. Teague continued to make impressive defensive plays (if not always to play impressive defense) and picked up two more blocked shots.

Joe Johnson on his early return from elbow surgery:
"The therapy just went great, the swelling’s gone down. We’ve just been shooting (with) no pain. It’s just feeling great, so I just didn’t feel like it was necessary to wait another two weeks and leave the guys hanging out there like that when I can really get out there and give ‘em everything I got."
Johnson on the game itself:
"It felt great just to be back out there with the guys, interacting and being a part of everything."
Mike Bibby on Johnson:
"We definitely need him. He's one of the top players in the NBA. He draws a lot of attention, and that opens up stuff for everybody else."
Marvin Williams on his bucket (and the Al Horford assist) that put the Hawks up 84-79 with 1:15 left in the game and a single tick left on the shot clock:
"I cut when Joe had the ball, but then Joe passed the ball to Al. I was surprised to get so open. I don't know where my guy went. Al is a great passer and he never panics. He was able to find me."
Kris Willis on Johnson's re-integration with the team:
Johnson led the way with eight assists. Joe finished the night 5-14 from the floor and only he really knows if he is rushing back or not. I commented in the game thread that every time he missed I wondered if it was because of the elbow. It is something to watch going forward but you can't deny the lift he gave the team in tonight's game. Lets just hope that it was the correct decision to return this fast.

There was much talk while Johnson was out as to how he would fit in once he returned to the lineup. It is a small sample size but I saw the Hawks go to him in some iso situations early in the fourth quarter but they were running the motion at crunch time with Marvin Williams getting two key baskets down the stretch.
Jason Walker adds his voice to what should be a chorus of praise for Larry Drew:
With 7:18 left in the first quarter, Al Horford picked up his second foul. Normally, this is the kiss of first half death for Al, and we were starting down the barrel of almost 19 minutes without the big fella. So imagine our surprise when the second quarter started and Horford was back on the floor. Drew played him (37) minutes and the Hawks needed every second of him to win tonight. Drew's reward? Not just the win, but the knowledge that Al ended the game with a total of (3) fouls. It's not hard, LD. Give in. Trust. It made you a winner tonight.

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