Thursday, January 13, 2011

Atlanta Hawks 104 Toronto Raptors 101



Hoopdata boxscore


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 91
49.4 31.3
25.6 15.4
TOR 92 1.098 56.8

The Atlanta Hawks were extremely fortunate to win this game. Without any of 1) Jamal Crawford's 30-footer at the culmination of yet another stagnant offensive possession* against Toronto's 2-3 zone with 1:45 left in the game, 2) DeMar DeRozan's willingness to foul three-point shooters, or 3) Al Horford, on Toronto's penultimate possession, demonstrating, once again, that he's Atlanta's best perimeter defender the Hawks would have lost to a very bad basketball team.

*If the technology were available, one could automate an accurate game recap based almost entirely on the opposite of 'Nique's in-game analysis.

Why were the Hawks in such a precarious position? Let's start with Crawford, rightly lauded for his tremendous offensive performance but also the focal point of Toronto's potent offensive attack. It would be difficult to imagine a superior offensive performance than Crawford's turnover-free 36 points on 23 shots and 8 free throw attempts in just under 34 minutes of playing time. It's equally difficult to imagine such bountiful and concentrated offensive production being necessary for your team just to break even with you on the court. Before Joe Johnson made his two free throws with one second left in the game, the Hawks and Raptors were dead even during the time Crawford spent on the floor.

Atlanta's poor performance was hardly the sole fault of Crawford's defensive faults. The entire Atlanta backcourt struggles to defend in both the half-court and transition. Nor did Crawford make Larry Drew sit his best defender for the final six minutes of the first half to stave off foul trouble which would never come (despite Horford playing all but 11 seconds of the second half), or make Horford (10 points on 7 shots) so reluctant to shoot, or make Josh Smith so willing to shoot jump shots (1-8 for the game), or make Joe Johnson hold the ball on one side of the floor against Toronto's zone, or make Drew play Mo Evans, Zaza Pachulia, and Damien Wilkins at the same time against Toronto's zone, or make Jeff Teague carelessly give the ball away while trying to call a timeout.

Atlanta's deficiencies were multiple and manifest. So was their talent. Joe Johnson provided a reasonably efficient (26 points on 20 shots and 7 free throw attempts, 5 turnovers) second offensive option. Al Horford played just enough defense to keep Toronto from literally scoring at will. Horford, Smith, and Pachulia almost out-rebounded Toronto by themselves. Make no mistake, the Atlanta Hawks are a good basketball team. One bad performance on the road does not change that. Eventually, though, the schedule will get more difficult and it will no longer be possible just to outscore teams, to play one solid defensive quarter and coast home. When tougher conditions exist, the Atlanta Hawks will receive a test commensurate with their talent. The frequency with which they pass that test, far more than their performance in a January road game against a team that wins 35% of the time, will ultimately define them.

Larry Drew:
"I was a little concerned going into this game after what we’ve gone through in the last couple days in Atlanta with the snow and the ice of not being able to get the players on the floor and get some time in and get some shots up. I was a little concerned that we would be a little rusty. Jamal, he came in that first half and really did a great job of getting us going and keeping us in it. Our defense I thought was really as low-energy as it’s been all year. But we were able to stay in it offensively because he made some shots."
Kris Willis on Atlanta's zone offense:
One reason the Hawks struggle so much against the zone is that many times the ball fails to penetrate the zone in any way. Atlanta is prone to just swinging the ball around the perimeter which hardly forces the zone defense to move and usually leads to a long semi contested shot at the shot shot clock buzzer.

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