Saturday, February 05, 2011

Atlanta Hawks 101 Los Angeles Clippers 100



Hoopdata boxscore


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
LAC 91
28.2 16.5
ATL 92 1.098 47.3

NOTE: Those efficiency numbers are correct. The Hawks got an extra possession by having both the first and last possessions of the second quarter.

I picked a good game to attend as a fan, a roller-coaster affair that saw Josh Smith spectacularly crash Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan's alley-oop party in the third quarter, saw Jamal Crawford almost single-handedly put the game away late in the third quarter by scoring or assisting on 20 of Atlanta's last 22 points over the final 5:05 of the quarter, saw the Hawks blow a 14-point lead to fall behind by four with two minutes left, saw the lead change hands five times in the final 42.2 seconds, saw the last lead change occur as a result of a full-speed collision of All-Stars at the rim, saw Al Horford peel himself off the floor to hit the clinching free throws, and saw it all as part of a loud, packed Philips Arena crowd.

Though the night ended successfully* and a good time was had by all, the standard doubts about this team linger in the wake of the victory. The Hawks needed a spectacular second half from Crawford, a typically strong night (plus clutch heroics) from Al Horford, and a highly productive (if not efficient in its scoring) night from Joe Johnson to beat the short-handed Clippers at home.

*A loss at home to the Clippers might have clinched the fifth seed for the Hawks for all practical purposes what with the toughest stretch of their schedule beginning in 10 days and lasting almost a month.

The book on the Hawks must surely be considered common knowledge when Vinny Del Negro successfully exploits the team's weaknesses. The Hawks still look awful against a zone defense. Note that 11 of Atlanta's 24 fourth quarter field goal attempts were from beyond the arc and that the Hawks didn't really score against the Clipper zone in coming back from the 96-92 deficit.

Marvin Williams's three-pointer that cut the Clipper lead to one came as a result of Al Horford's offensive rebound rather than a quality initial possession. The initial possession culminated, in fact, with Josh Smith missing a three-pointer late in the shot clock. Atlanta's two subsequent possessions saw them take the lead through Joe Johnson finding Jamal Crawford in transition (Excellent basketball to be sure, but not a successful possession against a zone.) and Josh Smith tipping in a missed Crawford three-pointer. Then, for reasons* best known to Del Negro, the Clippers played man-to-man (badly) on the game's final possession.

*if applicable

At the other end, Baron Davis, Eric Bledsoe, and (briefly) Randy Foye relentlessly attacked Mike Bibby or Crawford off the dribble during the Clipper comeback, combining for 16 of Los Angeles's 33 fourth quarter points and assisting on 14 of the other 17 points. Furthermore, because Los Angeles could play zone and didn't have to match up defensively with Atlanta's frontcourt, Del Negro could get away with using Brian Cook to spread the floor (and increase the distance from which Smith or Horford would have to travel to help on dribble penetration) and Ike Diogu as a designated rebounder/finisher for much of the fourth quarter.

It was a mixed bag for Larry Drew, as well. He deserves full credit for his role in securing the win by dissolving the Bibby/Crawford backcourt partnership with 4:09 left in the fourth quarter by putting two-way player Marvin Williams in the game for Bibby and for drawing up another beautiful play for the game's final possession.

He deserves questions about the team's ineptitude* against the zone and the unsuccessful expansion of the rotation after the perfectly competent performance of a tight, nine-man rotation on Wednesday against the Raptors. None of the extra guys Drew used added any apparent value. Jason Collins looked off-the-pace matched up against DeAndre Jordan. Mo Evans (deemed extra considering the return of Marvin Williams to active duty and his absence from the first three quarters of the game) looked similarly sluggish during his two-and-a-half minute fourth quarter cameo. Josh Powell gave up seven points to Ike Diogu in less than three second quarter minutes, plus an offensive rebound to Al-Farouq Aminu on a missed Diogu free throw, and continued to be the horrible, horrible NBA player he's so predictably been for the Hawks whenever Drew does the team the disservice of putting Powell in a game.

This futzing around on the back end of the rotation contributed to Zaza Pachulia playing just 9:36 (but grabbing five rebounds and converting his lone field goal attempt) and Jeff Teague being knocked back down to a lone six-minute first-half stint despite Mike Bibby's poor night (0-6, 3 assists, 1 turnover in 25:42) and, in Eric Gordon's absence, the increased playing time for Clipper rookie Eric Bledsoe.

*And a carefully worded question about Atlanta's best possession against the zone, the back-screen set for Josh Smith on the wing to clear his path for an alley-oop from Jamal Crawford, a play that comes (marginally ironically) straight out of the Roy Williams playbook.

Al Horford on his game-winning free throws:
"I was kind of limited there, but I was able to shake it off. I kind of took my time to gather myself. Once I got up, I was fine."
Horford on his health following the collision:
"I'm OK. We checked everything and everything seems to be fine."
Larry Drew on Horford:
"He wasn't going to signal to come out in that situation. ... You're practically going to have to wheel him off the floor for him not to shoot the free throws, and he stepped up and nailed them both."
Vinny Del Negro on Griffin's foul being deemed flagrant:
"It wasn't a flagrant foul. He was going for the basketball. It was not a flagrant foul. It should not have been called.

He blocked the ball. He wasn't going for his body."
Blake Griffin:
"I wasn't trying to hurt him at all. I was just going for the ball. It was a last-second shot, he had a wide-open dunk. I feel like I went straight up. They thought otherwise."
At ClipperBlog, Charles Widdoes has no truck with the referees over the game's outcome:
The flagrant call was close – as was the one that preceded it when replay was insufficient in determining possession with 4.2 seconds left in the game –but make no mistake, it was not the referees but the Clippers themselves who lost the game, and you have to look no further than the final play to see why: Down one, the Hawks take the ball out on the sideline, in front of the Clippers bench. 6’10” Al Horford flashes to the top of the key, where he gets the ball and finds himself isolated one on one with 7’0” DeAndre Jordan. Without a hint of deception, Horford puts the ball on the floor and drives right past his defender, as if DeAndre wasn’t even there, and then powers up to finish strong against Blake coming to help from the far block.
Steve Perrin takes a similar tack at Clips Nation:
So in those final 134 seconds, by my count, the Clippers missed one free throw, gave up two offensive rebounds (or technically three, since the jump ball counts as a team offensive rebound for the Hawks, but that one was not a mistake of any sort), committed one silly foul, and made three bad defensive blunders. Proper execution on almost any one of those seven plays might easily have changed the outcome of this game.
At Eye on Basketball (the former "NBA Facts & Rumors"), Matt Moore breaks down the severity of Blake Griffin's foul though I think the second option in the poll gives Vinny Del Negro's 0.6 second offense a tad too much credit.

Josh Smith:
"I think that we keep making games more exciting than they have to be."

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