Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Denver Nuggets 102 Atlanta Hawks 87


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
DEN 88
20.6 13.6
ATL 89 0.978 44.5

Last season, the Atlanta Hawks were an offensive team playing for a defensive coach. This season, at least since Rick Sund swapped Mike Bibby for Kirk Hinrich, the Hawks are a defensive team playing for an offensive coach.

Case in point: the fourth quarter of this game. With 7:52 left and the Hawks down eight, Larry Drew went with a big lineup: Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson in the backcourt and Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Zaza Pachulia in the frontcourt. The express purpose of this lineup was to get the ball to Josh Smith, in an advantageous matchup against JR Smith, in the post. Granted, this effort to get the ball to Smith (13 points on 16 shots, 7 of them jumpers, all 7 of them missed, 1 assist against 2 turnovers) in the post came approximately 40 minutes and 8 seconds (of game time) too late but, theoretically, it's sound.

Theoretically* sound offensively.

*Practically, the Hawks suffered both from Smith's inability to finish in the paint and Joe Johnson's willingness to stop the ball when Smith drew, then appropriately passed out of, double-teams.

Defensively, the lineup was a disaster. Defensively, Josh Smith is at his worst when he has to close out on shooters. On the second and third Denver possessions following Larry Drew's decision to go big, JR Smith caught a simple, direct, initial pass and made three-point baskets over the sagging Smith. On the next three possessions, the Nuggets played 1/5 pick-and-roll with Raymond Felton and Nene against Jamal Crawford and Zaza Pachulia. Nene scored twice, then Felton made an uncontested layup.

For the sixth straight possession on which the Nuggets scored, JR Smith broke Josh Smith down off the dribble before pulling up for an essentially uncontested 13-footer. On the seventh straight scoring possession, Smith made a long three-pointer as the shot clock expired. On the eighth straight scoring possession for the Nuggets, Felton made another layup. At that point the Hawks were down 16, Drew pulled the passive (just five shots in 33:47, plus, granted, six assists) and possibly still-injured Al Horford and the game was over with 2:47 left, just five minutes after Drew made his bold tactical choice.

Bold and different, yes, but essentially the same choice that Drew made so often earlier this season when he left Crawford and Johnson and Bibby on the floor in an effort to catch up on offense, not acknowledging that such a perimeter troika would do little to stop the other team from scoring. One might argue that tonight's fourth quarter lineup was actually worse as it invited Denver to attack Josh Smith's greatest defensive weakness and allowed the Nuggets to make Al Horford a non-factor. After the Nuggets scored on three straight Felton/Nene pick-and-rolls, Horford switched onto Nene. The Nuggets then used Kenyon Martin (now matched up against Pachulia) to set ball-screens.

To be fair, Larry Drew doesn't have a lot of options from which to choose. Then again, if the Atlanta Hawks had been in the market for a coach who accounted for as many contingencies as possible, he probably wouldn't have his job.

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