Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Phoenix Suns 105 Atlanta Hawks 97


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 86
25.6 14
PHX 86 1.221 61.2

Nothing good came of the first half, unless one counts the reminder that Atlanta's defensive problems do not begin and end with Mike Bibby.

It's almost as hard to find positives in the spirited comeback that tied the game at 92-92 with five minutes. Some of the difficulty is due to the surrounding context, both the terrible first half and the ineffectual final five minutes. Some is due to the nature of the comeback, specifically the four consecutive Josh Smith made jump shots across the third and fourth quarters and the three jumpers Jamal Crawford made in the the fourth. No one denies the Hawks are an effective team when the jump shots go in, it's the sustainability of that approach people fairly question, especially against better defenses. Which the Phoenix Suns are not. Nor are the Suns a good rebounding team (25th in offensive rebound rate, 28th in defensive rebound rate entering the game) which throws into question how much credit the Hawks truly deserve for their good work on the glass in the second half.

Questions of sustainability must be asked of the improved Atlanta defense in the first half of the fourth quarter just as the defensive ineptitude of the first half and the final 5:22 mark the first half of the fourth quarter as an outlier of competence. The Hawks forced five Phoenix turnovers in the first 6:02 of the fourth quarter but then allowed the Suns to score on six of their final seven possessions (eight of nine of you wish to include the possessions on which Atlanta fouled intentionally). Damien Wilkins led an active, disruptive defensive effort from the Hawks but those disruptive efforts became predictable, exploitable. It took Steve Nash about three minutes of game time to figure out how to handle Wilkins's initial defense and how to take advantage of the Hawks switching every single ball-screen.

Once the Suns solved that puzzle, that Hawks had no counter-move. They ceased to cause turnovers, they got just the one step, and those defensive failures led, in turn, to a more stagnant offense against a set Phoenix defense. Josh Smith and Joe Johnson and Wilkins each missed a long jumper. Johnson turned the ball over twice. The Hawks scored just two points and didn't score once in the half-court between the 5:00 and 0:29.7 marks of the fourth quarter. The hole they dug early was too deep for such late struggles.

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