Sunday, April 23, 2017

What Does It Mean?

There's nothing better than making shots. Pair it with the Hawks typically stout defense and the result is an insurmountable 25-point lead less than 11 minutes into a playoff game. Is it a one-off event, just something that happened or something portentous?

The first quarter saw a second consecutive positive stint for Atlanta's starting lineup (they couldn't repeat the feat at the start of the third) which saw useful defensive activity from Dwight Howard despite his extremely limited offensive involvement (he didn't attempt a field goal or free throw from 2:55 left in the first quarter until 5:39 left in the fourth quarter) and the rare sight of good Atlanta three-point shooting. With Thabo Sefolosha out of the rotation, the Hawks need more quality defensive role player minutes from Howard than I suspected before the series started. It appears Budenholzer has gotten to a point where he's working to get those and willing to go small.

The Hawks made 5-9 threes in the first quarter but, by the end of the game, they stand 15-61 from deep in the series' other 11 quarters. I lean toward putting "making a high percentage of threes" in "just something that happened" column. However, the Hawks got a lot of high-percentage two-point shots in the first three quarters which should be more replicable, especially if the non-John Wall Wizards give another low-energy performance (just 6 offensive rebounds, only 11 forced turnovers, 28 more fouls). Taurean Prince offered a vital third scoring option, getting 14 points on 7 shots through three quarters, outplaying Otto Porter, Jr. almost as badly as Paul Millsap did Markieff Morris (in a less obviously psychically scarring manner).

Though Dennis Schröder is clearly the second-best point guard in this series, he's playing at the top of his ability to score 25 efficient points per game and earn 24 assists against just 6 turnovers. Schröder's defense is never going to be of "stop John Wall" quality, it might never be good, even, but it's a better workplace when he's giving visible effort on that end. Nor should Schröder's best self overshadow Paul Millsap's continued two-way excellence, which is unique across both rosters in this series so far.

A blessedly quick turnaround for Game 4 should offer more information as to where the series stands. I'm not entirely clear on whether, in Millsap's framework, a third successive win for the home team means the series is still 0-0 or not.

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