Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Jose Calderon Game

Whether seen again or not, this weekend's version of the Atlanta Hawks, the one that shoots threes better and turns the ball over less often their opponents, provided pure basketball pleasure. Or at least pleasure as pure as possible over 2 games that featured 90 personal fouls and approximately 80 post-foul discussions between various combinations of referees, players, and coaches.

The Hawks paired typically stout defense with shot-making and ball protection. They got (Brandon Jennings 20-foot step-backs, excepted) what you want from surrendering mid-range opportunities. John Wall was 1-7 in Game 4 from between 14 and 21 feet. Markieff Morris was 3-7 (and only one 3PTA). Otto Porter, Jr. was 1-4. Kelly Oubre, Jr. and Bojan Bogdanovic both went 0-1. Bradley Beal was 3-5, but 6 points on 5 shots was less damaging than the 26 points he got on his other 18 FGAs.

Dwight Howard was excellent in Game 4, lending further credence to the idea that he and Thabo Sefolosha were redundant, but having one defensive-oriented role player on the floor is valuable. On the offensive end, Howard's presence complicates using Millsap as the screener in pick-and-rolls because of the extra defender Washington gets to leave in the paint. But, in the second quarter, Kent Bazemore showed, on consecutive possessions, it is still possible to get into the lane and drop off a lob for Howard to finish.

Given my pre-series focus on how the Hawks could connive to get Paul Millsap matched up against Jason Smith, it's a bit embarrassing to recognize that I overlooked the simplest path: get Markieff Morris in foul trouble and trust Scott Brooks to make a puzzling rotation decision in a playoff game. Going big against the Hawks isn't as big a risk as resting Wall and Beal simultaneously, but I don't see how it helps his team.

One of my main worries* going into Game 4 was who the Hawks' third scorer would be. Of course, the Hawks had scorers third through seventh contribute, including two I'd given up on: Kent Bazemore (truly excellent) and Tim Hardaway, Jr., who showed signs of offensive life early in the fourth quarter against Washington's second unit (hint hint, Bud). 

*Worrying about what happens if Millsap or Schröder has a bad offensive game is at the forefront of my thoughts about the decisive three games ahead.

Then there was Jose Calderon. In the kind of performance that can have a massive impact on winning a short series, he did the things you can fairly expect of him in his 36th year: make 40% of his threes, keep Bazemore and Hardaway, Jr. from playing out of position as the backup point guard...that's about it, actually. He also did things nearly unfathomable even as you witnessed them: a key fourth quarter tip-in in transition, confound the Wizards' attempt to get easy points by running him off of screens or posting him up with bigger shooters, raise the specter of a Jose Calderon/Brandon Jennings fight in a playoff game in the Year Of Our Lord 2017, and retroactively justify sitting Dennis Schröder for the last 14:28 of the first half because he had three fouls...in a game Schröder finished with three fouls after scoring 18 points in 18:49 of second half playing time.

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