Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Atlanta Hawks 110 Milwaukee Bucks 85


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
MIL 91
23.4 14.3
ATL 91 1.209 70.5

Allow me to leverage my March 8th recap of the Atlanta Hawks' 101-87 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers:
The Atlanta Hawks can compete with any team in the league as long as their jump shots go in. When they don't, they can't because they aren't, as a team, especially good at anything. Against lesser teams, the Hawks can take advantage of being not bad in a number of areas and punish the inferior team for its mistakes.
Tonight, we saw that. When Joe Johnson and Josh Smith make their jump shots, when they work through the post (against limited* resistance in this case), and when they control** the defensive glass , the Hawks are a very successful basketball team. Not entirely coincidentally, this happens most often against bad basketball teams.

*Bucks-ologists may refer to Keyon Dooling repeatedly defending Marvin Williams in the post in their upcoming "When Did Scott Skiles Lose This Team?" pieces.

There, too, it appeared, more than once during the first three quarters, that there were zero Bucks inside the three-point line as the Hawks corralled a Milwaukee miss.

The Milwaukee Bucks are a bad basketball team. Despite the presence of Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings on the roster, they've taken on the identity of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: so bad offensively that high-level defensive aptitude becomes almost meaningless. And, as the season slips away, it's only natural for that defensive performance to slip as the lost nature of their cause reveals itself more fully.

So, impressive as Joe Johnson (36 points on 19 shots, 6-9 3PTFGA) was shooting the ball, he'll have to demonstrate a renewed ability to make shots against Denver and Miami and Chicago over the next seven days to provide true encouragement because his familiar defensive deficiencies, the inability to get through screens and keep even a modest and similarly-aged talent like John Salmons in front of him, were apparent concurrent with his offensive explosion.

Joe Johnson, even in this, the most trying individual season he's had in Atlanta, scored 30 points six times* prior to tonight: at home against the Raptors, the Kings, the Knicks, the Suns, and the Rockets
, and at the Bobcats.

*If you think I'm having fun with endpoints, Johnson has five more games of 26 to 29 points and they all occurred on the road. The Kings and Raptors appear on that list also, along with the Clippers, Jazz, and Mavericks.

The Hawks, as a whole, were not so different tonight. Even in that 55-point, 43-possession first half (i.e., the competitive portion of the game), the Hawks attempted just 5 free throws (one of those courtesy of a John Salmons technical foul) while 18 of their 36 field goal attempts came outside of 16 feet. Against better teams, against teams that are playing for something, those jumpers won't be as open nor will better opponents permit two-thirds of those jumpers to be taken from beyond the three-point line.

Every win's a good win. Orlando are clearly the fourth-best team in the East and, thanks to Larry Drew's re-appraisal of how to defend Orlando and, presumably, the addition of Kirk Hinrich to defend Jameer Nelson, the Magic clearly provide the best possible first-round matchup for the Hawks. With eight or nine (depending on whether or not the April 11th game against Miami is a dead rubber for the Heat) difficult games remaining on the schedule, the Hawks must take advantage of every opportunity to maintain or extend their lead on the Knicks and 76ers.

Every win's a good win and not every performance, no matter how good or how bad, redefines a team. And, yes, seeing the recently arrested Josh Powell (Though, to be fair, the arrest did not appear to affect Powell's performance. The Hawks were a rather typical -3 in Powell's 6:06 of one rebound, two turnovers, no points court time.) rather than Pape Sy get those garbage time minutes does disappoint to an absurd degree.

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