Friday, December 17, 2010

Boston Celtics 102 Atlanta Hawks 90



Hoopdata boxscore


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
BOS 86
1.186 56.6

The Horford Treatment must be abandoned. The Hawks had a chance to win this game.

The Hawks had a chance to win this game despite the absence of Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, despite possessing the bench that comes from spending $26 million on semi-redundant, largely one-dimensional shooting guards, despite failing to prepare young players for nights when they're needed, despite Josh Smith missing all eight of his field goal attempts, one of his two free throw attempts, and grabbing just four rebounds in 34:11, despite 15 empty minutes from starting center Jason Collins, despite nine, frankly, sad and empty minutes from the spent Mo Evans, and despite favoring the limited and passive Josh Powell to the productive and aggressive Zaza Pachulia in the frontcourt rotation.

The Hawks had a chance because Mike Bibby (11 points on 9 shots, 8 assists, no turnovers) did what he could do. Because Pachulia played that aggressive basketball (10 points on 3 shots and 6 free throw attempts, 4 rebounds, 3 of them offensive, and 2 steals in just 18:25). Because Marvin Williams (26 points on 15 shots) and Jeff Teague (18 points on 11 shots, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals) took full advantage of a rare opportunity, in the former's case, to be a significant part of the offense and, in the latter's case, simply to play.

The Hawks didn't win for two reasons. First, despite missing five rotation players, the Boston Celtics* remain a really good basketball team. Second, the Atlanta Hawks don't act like they know who there best player is.

*The manner in which they coolly and thoroughly dismissed the Hawks in the fourth quarter despite being at less than full strength was reminiscent of the loss in San Antonio. There's a lesson to be learned from these organizations that prize talent, both acquiring it and developing it.

Al Horford picked up his second foul with 4:24 left in the first quarter. He sat for the final 16:24 of the first half. When he left the game, the Hawks trailed by three points. At halftime, the Hawks trailed by one point. So, yes, in the short term, Horford's absence did not destroy the team's chances of winning but surely those chances of winning increase of it's Horford playing 16 first half minutes and Josh Powell playing 7 first half minutes rather than the opposite.

Horford committed his third foul 22 seconds into the second half. He didn't commit another foul in the game.

Thus, he was never actually in foul trouble. So why did Horford play less than 26 minutes in the game? There's no good answer to that question. Horford played less than 26 minutes in the game because Larry Drew prioritizes Al Horford not committing three fouls in the first half ahead of winning basketball games. But, if you're going to rest Horford for almost six minutes across the third and fourth quarters, when is he going to commit these potentially disqualifying fouls?

As in the first half, the Hawks weren't killed in Horford's absence: they trailed by eight when he left late in the third quarter and were down nine when he returned in the fourth. Again, though, wouldn't the Hawks be better served by trying to catch up to rather than just keeping pace with the opposition? And, if the purported plan is to get the team "right there" (see Larry Drew quote below) in the fourth quarter or some similar claptrap, why then does Horford, once the team is in an alleged position to win in the fourth quarter, get, for the second consecutive game, just one field goal attempt in the final quarter.

Horford didn't play a great game (8 points on 7 shots, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover) but don't the chances that Horford plays well increase the more he, you know, plays? Furthermore, part of the reason Horford struggled is that Larry Drew made a concerted effort to match Horford up against the game's premier frontcourt defender, Kevin Garnett. Why did Drew so choose to blunt the impact of his best player?

Semih Erden, of course.

Larry Drew:
"I want to play Al at the four. The rookie is real long. I like the matchup better moving Smoove to three and Marvin to two; it gives us an advantage on the offensive end. We will match up Smoove on Pierce [to] put a little length on him to see if that bothers him. We will try to do some thing offensively with Allen having to defend Marvin. See if we can create an advantage size-wise with that."
Drew did create an advantage for Marvin (how much of that was simply down to running plays for Marvin is a fair question) but Josh Smith's length didn't especially bother Paul Pierce (15 points on 15 shots but 10 assists against a single turnover), Kevin Garnett's length kept Horford away from the basket (Just two of Horford's seven field goal attempts came inside the paint. He missed both.), and Semih Erden's length and athleticism* allowed him to light up the bulky and immobile Jason Collins to the tune of 10 points on 6 shots.

*To be fair, Erden did not record a rebound, giving Jason Collins a one (1) rebound advantage over him in the game.

Despite being something of a debacle, some real good could come out of this game. There should be less of a question that Marvin Williams and Jeff Teague, given the chance, can produce. There's another data point for the argument against The Horford Treatment. There's another data point for the argument for Zaza Pachulia to play more than Josh Powell. Larry Drew struggles with many of the same roster limitations as his predecessor. All he has to do to improve on his predecessor's work is refrain from stubbornly creating additional limitations in reaction to the inescapable ones he's been handed.

Publicly, Drew is not engaging in any self-examination:
"I am going to maintain my patience. The encouraging thing is we can look at a game against Miami on the road, San Antonio on the road, even Orlando the first time on the road, and now here we are against Boston on the road we are right there in the fourth quarter. We just can’t get over the hump. I am glad that we are right there but we’ve got to mentally learn how to get over the hump."
That's certainly putting a brave face on repeatedly getting blown out on the road (Detroit not included) in the fourth quarter. I don't expect or need Drew to make a public mea culpa for any mistakes he may have made in his young head coaching career but it would be terribly disappointing if he is not, privately, examining his own role in these losses. Putting your best player in the game and getting him the damn ball is not a group mental hump. Playing bad defensive guards together (or, in last night's case playing two small guards together) down the stretch* is not a group mental hump.

*After surrendering 39 points on 25 fourth quarter possessions in Detroit on Tuesday, the Hawks allowed 58 points on 40 second half possessions last night in Boston.

Marvin Williams:
"They made plays and they tried to exploit our mismatches all night."
Al Horford:
"They are an experienced team. They just know how to play."
Drew on Teague:
"He came out that first half, really really aggressive on the floor. That’s what he has to do every time he steps on the floor. That’s what I am looking for. I need that."
So now we know. As long as Teague gets a couple of steals, three dunks, and an and-1 in his first few minutes on the floor, he'll get to play. Seems fair.

"Coaches told us to go out there and push the ball and be aggressive and play. Turnovers are going to happen but you just have to keep playing. I just wanted to make an impact on the game. Me and Jordan at the beginning of the game, we had to make an impact, and hopefully get some stops on the defensive end and make some plays out there."
Jordan Crawford:
"I hadn’t played since the last few minutes against Toronto. I just wanted to get back in the flow but my timing was off. It was little mistakes I shouldn’t make regardless if you don’t play or not. That’s all on me."
Drew on The Horford Treatment:
"That’s happened to him before and he has come back and bounced back in the second half. But he just never got into an Al Horford rhythm. But again, there are going be games where there are nights like this."
Less than 26 minutes, man, less than 26 minutes.

Michael Cunningham reports that Horford was icing both of his hands in the locker room after the game.

"I hurt it against Indiana. My shooting has been like this for a couple games. It is really swollen so I have to make sure I ice it to keep it down. But it’s nothing serious."
A difference between Horford and Joe Johnson: Horford has been visibly reluctant to shoot when hampered by injury.

Josh Smith:
"What you have got to understand is we don’t have all our weapons. I don’t think you can really measure where we are at as a team like those teams that you are naming unless we have all our horses running."
Choose your preferred retort here:

A) Among the missing weapons last night: Josh Smith.
B) Ladies and gentlemen, the Atlanta Hawks' version of "Commitment to Excellence."

Compare and contrast Smith with Paul Pierce:
"We feel we should win the game. On most nights we're playing three or four All-Stars."
Doc Rivers on his team's injuries:
"What are you going to do? Quit. Put your clothes on and go home? That's not what we do here."
Rivers on the adjustment that led to Ray Allen scoring 17 second half points:
"[W]e couldn't get Ray going in the first half, and so we just changed the passer and made it Paul. Because they were stunting so hard off of Nate, and Nate's passes were off the mark early, Paul basically became the point forward in the second half. It really worked out for us. I don't know if we stumbled on it, or if we were kind of forced to do it. But it was terrific. Paul enjoyed it, which is even better. Then our defense kicked in, too."
At Celtics Hub, Hayes Davenport appreciates the reminder of why Boston's Big 3 are so dubbed.

At Peachtree Hoops, Kris Willis offers a mild defense of The Horford Treatment:
Al Horford was saddled with two fouls early and sat out much of the first half of the game. Critics are going to bash that strategy but once again I will say that I understand the thinking even though I don't necessarily agree with it. The Hawks were leading late in the first half before a late 6-0 spurt by the Celtics put them ahead at the intermission. The thinking there by Drew was just to by time with Horford on the bench and not let him pick up that third if he didn't have to in the first half. Some will say perhaps the Celtics don't take the momentum headed into the locker room if Horford is on the floor at the end. Maybe they would be right. The hurtful part is when you look at the final box score and see that Horford only played 26 minutes and only attempted seven shots. The Hawks needed more from him on this night particularly with the struggles of Josh Smith.


Bret LaGree said...

Apologies for the delay in getting this up, but I think I've licked this cold after a good, long night's sleep. And the evening of December 16th draft of this post would have been more solipsistic than normal.

Unknown said...

First, tell 'em why you why mad, Bret. :) I will be blogging about the last few games, but last night is a perfect example of why I can't do game recaps anymore - it becomes to repetitive. If we had hired another coach, I'd probably have fodder for each one, but not now...

There were lots of things like - when you remove the other 3-4 best options, Marvin Williams can produce (hence, the reason we need to trade Jamal and move Marvin to the 6th man - shooter off the bench, defensive presence role) or the If You Just Commit 20-30 minutes to Jeff Teague every game, no matter the mistakes or caliber of team, HE JUST MIGHT BE WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR. I completely envy how the Celtics run their team and organization.

Anonymous said...

i didn't get a chance to watch the game, but i looked up the game shot chart, it seems that half of jsmoove's shot attempts were outside the paint, has that been his normal shot distribution throughout the season?

we were 75-77 w/ 10 mins left in the 4th...on surface, i sympathize, its a tough call to bring your second unit in when they've been instrumental in bringing you back in the game (we were down 71-77 less than a min into the 4th) u have to ride your hot hand(s) right?

but on a closer look, only teague and marvin were hot; zaza got one rebound, powell didn't do anything so by the time we make a sub for horford and smoove with 7:41 to go in the 4th, it was too late already (down 75-84)

oh and boston recorded 6 steals in the 4th, two of which resulted in 3pt makes on the other end...bret, do you think our turnovers have lowered as the season has progressed? as in, are we committing fewer turnovers when running LD's offense over the course of the season (when we don't revert to the old iso approach)

Bret LaGree said...

lazybum --

39.2% of Smith's fiels goal attempts this season have been outside of 15 feet.

Turnover rate is the same as when Joe Johnson got hurt. It bottomed out after the Philadelphia game and his risen back to 15.1%. To my eye it's a combination of Johnson being a really low turnover guy relative to the amount of touches he gets, Horford and Smith handling the ball more plus getting more defensive attention, Horford and Smith handling the ball more on the perimeter as they play the 4 and the 3, respectively, and Mo Evans and Damien Wilkins being unable to space the floor and exacerbating the attention Horford and Smith are drawing.

Playing Miami, Orlando, San Antonio, and Boston on the road in the last seven games shouldn't be discounted, either.

Anonymous said...

In grading an offseason, the fundamental question that needs to be asked is, did the team improve? Obviously the Cavaliers had a tough offseason…it would be very difficult to support and borderline unrealistic to say that the Cavaliers improved.
The Knicks, on the other hand, landed a very talented Amar’e Stoudemire who could bring some status to New York basketball