Thursday, February 17, 2011

New York Knicks 102 Atlanta Hawks 90



Hoopdata boxscore


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 91
13.6 13.2
NY 92 1.109 53.8

It would be unfair to blame this loss entirely on Mike Bibby's defensive shortcomings as he's not to blame for the Hawks missing plenty of good shots while falling behind in the first quarter, Josh Smith taking nine more jump shots (making three), or Smith and Joe Johnson throwing the ball away on three successive fourth quarter possessions, effectively eliminating any question about which team would win the game but New York scored 102 points on just 92 possessions with the vast majority of those points coming from attacking Bibby or attacking the weaknesses created through the machinations involved in attempting to hide Bibby's defensive liabilities.

Primarily, the Knicks attacked Bibby on the pick-and-roll. Bibby's lack of mobility forced whichever player guarded the screener into double-duty: slow the ball-handler and recover quickly onto his man. Because, if the Hawks switched on the ball-screen, the screener could either roll Bibby into the deep post or pop and shoot over Bibby. Most often, Bibby went under the ball-screen, his help defender showed on the ball-handler, then quickly retreated to his man. This gave the ball-handler two options: 1) take an uncontested jumper or 2) attack Bibby off the dribble again in the hopes of drawing another help defender. And that second option created two avenues of attack for the ball-handler. He could attack in the hopes of either again drawing help off the initial screener or from off of one of New York's spot-up shooters.

When Larry Drew attempted to remove Bibby from the screen-and-roll defense he did so by keeping Bibby on the court but assigning Joe Johnson to guard the ball-handler. Joe Johnson struggles mightily dealing with off-the-ball screens and had little success* dealing with the combination of Raymond Felton's speed and the ball-screens inherent in the design of New York's offense.

*Nor should he have been expected to have success in that situation.

Finally, as has been tried so often this season as the Hawks have been attempting futile comebacks or busy blowing leads in the fourth quarter, Larry Drew responded to the inherent defensive problems of playing a Bibby/Jamal Crawford backcourt not by removing one from the game in favor of a two-way player but by playing a 2-3 zone that roots Bibby and Crawford in space on the perimeter and drags at least one of Josh Smith or Al Horford away from the basket to deal with spot-up shooters.

One hopes that the All-Star break provides Larry Drew and the Hawks with the time to reflect on whether or not it is worth it, even given the limited options at his disposal, to work so hard to find a way to keep Mike Bibby on the floor for 30 or more minutes a night. It wasn't worth it in New York and that on a night when Bibby shot the ball well (15 points on 8 shots), providing more of an offensive contribution than can be reasonably expected on a regular basis.

Larry Drew:
"They run a ton of pick-and-rolls and we were trying to figure out the best coverages for it. They do a great job in the pick-and-roll with Felton and then they have a guy who is a forceful roller with Stoudemire. You have to defend the guard, you have to defend the big guy on the roll and then they spread out with shooters. It makes it tough for us."
Josh Smith:
"It’s kind of hard to really help, especially when they are knocking down the jump shot like tonight. We gave up too much dribble penetration and then we helped and were scrambling from that point on."
Al Horford:
"Every time we tried to [rally], they made a big three or a big basket. It was a little demoralizing. We stayed with it, but we just didn’t have enough tonight."
Overheard at Madison Square Garden with Michael Cunningham:
At one point, a New York hack sitting next to me asked: “So, basically, whomever Bibby is guarding scores?” Me: “Not always. Sometimes his man passes to open shooters when everything breaks down, and they score.”

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