Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Atlanta Hawks 83 Chicago Bulls 80

Boxscore

Team
Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
CHI 84
0.952
45.9
17.8
40 20.2
ATL 84 0.988 43.3
14.6
32.5
15.5

It's customary, and often accurate, to discuss offense and defense as two discrete aspects of basketball. With the respect to this game, the two cannot be separated.

In the first half, the Hawks had little success dealing with the intense strong-side help defense Chicago used to keep the ball on one side of the floor. The Hawks got stagnant and their ball-handlers, Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson* primarily, took it upon themselves to dribble into traffic before creating a difficult, contested shot or turning the ball over. The Hawks scored just 33 first-half points. That 10 of Atlanta' 33 first-half points came as a direct result of offensive rebounds further indicates the impotence of their initial offensive approach.

*I'm not sure that any of Johnson's five made shots in the game came as a result of him taking a single dribble in the half-court.

All those missed shots the Hawks didn't turn into points and all the turnovers they committed created either transition scoring chances for the Bulls or just the opportunity to attack a defense that was not completely set.

It's here that it should be noted that, great and important an impact as he's made on the defensive end, Tom Thibadeau coaches a mediocre offensive team and, in the midst of Atlanta's six-minute, 57-second scoreless stretch in the second quarter, the Bulls went scoreless for four minutes and 36 seconds themselves. Four minutes and 36 seconds they probably regret now.

Clearly Larry Drew used halftime to impart the importance of ball and player movement in attacking the excellent (but extreme) Chicago defense. The Hawks were far less stagnant after the break. They attacked Chicago off the pass rather than off the dribble. They also made a much higher percentage of the open shots they created than they had in the first half. The Hawks also never played a frontline of Damien Wilkins, Josh Powell, and Hilton Armstrong* in the second half though, to be fair, Jason Collins played 10 minutes of the team's 25-point third quarter.

*Jeff Teague got into the lane repeatedly in the second quarter only to find multiple Chicago defenders waiting for him and failing to get a positive result. This was mostly because multiple Hawks on the floor did not require defensive attention.

Making buckets on a regular basis, the Hawks slowed the Chicago offensive both figuratively (30 second half points don't lie) and literally (transition opportunities nearly vanished after the half). By making it more difficult for Chicago to get the ball back, the Hawks made it easier on themselves defensively.

Trading for Kirk Hinrich made things easier on the Hawks defensively, as well. Hinrich doesn't deserve sole credit for Derrick Rose's 5-21 shooting and 6 turnover (balanced against 12 assists) performance but Atlanta surely benefited from having a competent defender at the point of attack for most of the night. Hinrich's work eased Joe Johnson's defensive workload, which didn't pay off for the Hawks at the offensive end (12 points on 20 shots, 7 assists for Johnson) but did pay off for the home team on Chicago's penultimate possession where Johnson looked as spry defensively as he had in weeks in denying Rose the ball and forcing the turnover that led to his dunk which finished the game's scoring.

Al Horford.

31 points (on 20 shots). 16 rebounds (7 offensive).

Without the aid of Josh Smith's presence, Horford, in 41:19, out-scored (31 to 24) and nearly equaled the rebounding total (16 to 19) of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, who combined to play 67 minutes and 16 seconds. Horford scored on put-backs, on spot-up jumpers, on a corner 3, attacking the basket as both a cutter and ball-handler, and from the free throw line. He made 13 of 20 shots. His teammates made 20 of 62 shots. It's not that the Hawks wouldn't have won this game without Al Horford playing so well, it's that the Hawks wouldn't have scored 70 points without Al Horford playing so well.

In their performance over the first three quarters in Portland and in the second half against the Bulls tonight, the Hawks have likely assured* themselves of finishing no worse than fifth in the East, a result that looked far from assured as recently as Saturday.

*The severity of Josh Smith's injury deserving a caveat. Did you see Powell and Armstrong and Collins out there?

10 comments:

Kahlarious said...

Thanks for the hard work, Bret!

Lenymo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lenymo said...

Al Horford - take a bow. I saw Josh Powell airball two jumpers in quick succession to end the first quarter.

As a side note: I almost cringe more when Marvin Williams has the ball and launches a jumpshot than Josh Smith these days. Also, I don't know if it's just me, but Marvin seems to get his shot blocked a lot when he attacks the basket.

Pearson said...

The defense has been noticeably better since Hinrich got here and, perhaps more importantly, Bibby left. In the 3 games he's played, the Hawks have allowed less than a point per possession in all 3. The sample size is still very small, but lets hope it continues to be a trend.

Props to Al, he was fantastic all night against a great defensive team. Also, Marvin made a couple of big plays down the stretch. Hopefully that will jump start his confidence and get him shooting the ball better than he has recently. Good to get a win to start a tough homestand.

lukas said...

Hinrich for MVP(!). Or: Bibby (RIP) for LVP.

p.s. -- Up with Al.

nolan said...

Maybe you guys didn't know this, but Mike Bibby is actually an AVERAGE defender, and the Heat will be UNSTOPPABLE now:

http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/miamiheat/post/_/id/4916/defending-mike-bibbys-defense

Also, Al Horford = a lion?

jrauch said...

Bret,
I'd be curious your thoughts on how Josh's absence may have allowed more touches/reliance on Horford?

One game is hardly a sample size, but I wonder if you strip out those 5-10 wasted possessions a game from a long two point jumper from Josh, and reallocate those shots to, say, Horford, how that changes the complexion of this offense.

Because Al was just freakin' everywhere.

Derek said...

Nolan,

On/off numbers don’t tell the story of Bibby's defensive limitations. If you ever read this blog or watch the Hawks, you would notice:

1)Bibby plays the majority of his minutes alongside Al, Josh, Marvin, and Joe with Jamal occasionally at the end of games.

2)Bibby, for the most part always guards the teams worst offensive player - guard/wing.

3)It’s pretty obvious that Mike Bibby is an extremely poor defender.

Eliot Johnson said...

That ESPN Heat blog post is ridiculous. Obviously the Hawks being better defensively with Bibby on the floor is a result of his playing with the first team. Also, the guy often replacing him, Jamal Crawford, is just as bad defensively.

Andrew said...

Haha, I love that Bibby article. Let's go through Tom Haberstroh's "facts" one-by-one.

* The Hawks are ranked 13th in defensive efficiency this season (above-average with Bibby playing all but three games).
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I will give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume he's saying that Bibby can't be *that* bad if the team manages a decent rating. See: Help Defense. Then see: Horford, Al & Smith, Josh.


* The Hawks were tied for 13th in defensive efficiency last season (above-average).
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As above.


* This season, the Hawks were better defensively with Bibby on the floor than when he sat on the bench. The Hawks allowed 105.4 points per 100 possessions with him and 106.6 points with him riding pine.
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This discrepancy is just an indication of how poor the defenders are that replace Bibby. Take out Bibby, put in Jamal and no wonder things still look bad. I actually find this an incredibly useful statistic...for evaluating the defensive ineptitude of the reserve guards Drew chooses to play.


* He grades out as an "average" defender this season according to data from Synergy Sports.
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I know nothing about Synergy...I'll defer here.