Thursday, November 13, 2008

Five Thoughts on the Hawks' First Loss

1. As first losses of the season go, a one-point loss on the road against the defending champions with Paul Pierce winning the game on a tough shot with Al Horford right in his face is about as good as it gets. We should also add in the facts that: (1) the Hawks were without Josh Smith; (2) the Celtics were undoubtedly paying attention in light of the teams' contentious tussle last April and the Hawks 6-0 start; and (3) the Hawks were playing the second leg of road games in different time zones on consecutive nights. If there is such thing as a moral victory, this was certainly it. It's too bad that most of the country was subjected to the Heat and Blazers on ESPN.

2. Two aspects of the game frustrated me last night. The first was that Al Horford looked out of sorts. It's probably too much to expect a young player to dominate two nights in a row, but after Horford's piece de resistance in Chicago on Tuesday night, I was let down by five points and five rebounds. On a related note, the second aspect that frustrated me was the fact that the Hawks allowed the Celtics to get all over the offensive glass to the tune of 15 offensive rebounds. The team played some solid defensive possessions and then let their work go for naught when they could not corral rebounds.

3. One aspect of the game that I loved: the Hawks' possession to take the lead with seven seconds left. Last year, it was painful to watch the Hawks in late game situations because they would inevitably give the ball to Joe Johnson and watch him hoist a bad shot with the game clock dwindling. Last night, Johnson had the ball in his hands with the Hawks down two inside of 30 seconds, he drove the left baseline and drew the defense before kicking the ball to Marvin Williams in the corner. I'm going to give Mike Woodson the benefit of the doubt and assume that the play was designed that way. If so, it was a major step up. It also benefited from Ray Allen taking the bait and leaving Williams. Speaking of which...

4. I'm digging Dominique Wilkins as the color guy. 'Nique could burp Le Marseillaise for an entire broadcast and I, like most Hawks fans, would enjoy it thoroughly. Being the best player in franchise history will give a guy that status. That said, his insights on the game are quite sharp. My concern about 'Nique calling games is that he is an executive with the Hawks, so he might be reticent to criticize the players or coaches. That hasn't been the case. For instance, he gently chided Woodson by expressing surprise that he did not bring Horford back in the game late in the second quarter. 'Nique noticed Allen's defensive miscue to free Williams for the go-ahead shot, after which I said to myself "so that's what a color guy is supposed to do." Football season has really lowered my expectations for analysts.

5. Next to better defense, the biggest change for the Hawks through seven games has been their vastly improved three-point shooting. The Hawks are second in the NBA in threes made per game and first in three-point percentage. This is a 180 from last year when the Hawks were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league. Adding Flip Murray and Maurice Evans has given the team two more outside threats. Having Mike Bibby for a full year helps. Marvin Williams' time in the gym in the summer obviously paid off because he has been lethal behind the arc. In the back of my mind, the pessimist is saying that the Hawks have gotten off to a hot shooting start that they can't sustain. Still, even if they fall to a more reasonable level, this is a better shooting team and that will make life better for the primary offensive threats because defenders will be a little less willing to leave their men.

4 comments:

AuditDawg said...

That game last night created my new least favorite player in the NBA, Paul Pierce. No doubt he is a great player and a great athlete. But his whole Rasheed Wallace "Not Me" response to the last foul called on him was ridiculous. 'Nique hit it on the head when he said "With the calls he's been getting on the other end of the floor, he's going to complain about that?". I counted no less than three of Pierce's trip to the stripe last night were for questionable calls at best. I hate that about the NBA that as the offensive player you can drive to the hoop out of control only seeking to create contact, and be rewarded with free throws. Paul Pierce embodies everything that is wrong about that offensive philosophy. It also didn't help that he hit a ridiculous shot to win the game that was pretty well-defended.

jjwalker said...

Some comments/questions:

1. Why is their defense so good all of a sudden? I don't get that. Maybe Josh Smith is turning into even more of a defensive force and it's not really resulting in more blocks, but who do they have besides Smith who's playing great D? I like Al Horford, I think he's an underrated position defender, and now--so far--he's even blocking shots, so I guess he's probably part of the reason. But Bibby, Johnson, Marvin Williams, Zaza, Flip Murray? I don't get it.

2. What's going on with Marvin Williams? All of a sudden he can shoot the 3 but he can't get to the basket & draw fouls anymore? He's at an age where his game could really improve, but developing a 3 point shot is almost a mixed blessing, you don't want him jacking it up 5 times a game. Take the three when it's *wide open*, but otherwise going to the bucket is king.

3. Like you, I wonder if their hot shooting can keep up. But I wondered that about the Lakers last year when all their scrubs--Farmar, Vujacic, Fisher, Radmanovic--were hitting threes left and right in the early season, and they never really cooled off. Sometimes guys just get better. But beware Flip Murray and Mo Evans, they've both had great streches where they were kicking ass and everyone loved them, then they go 10 games where they can't hit shit.

Michael said...

Audit, I also hate Pierce. He whines constantly. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him foul out in one of the playoff games in Atlanta and then pout his way to the bench.

JJ, on your thoughts:

1. I think the defensive improvement can be attributed to a couple factors. For the first three games, it was Josh Smith playing at a very high level. The other factors are: (1) Maurice Evans is a defensive upgrade over Josh Childress and gives the Hawks a better defensive option against opposing small forwards; (2) the team collectively maturing and listening to Mike Woodson's instructions on defense. The second factor is especially important. Woodson came to the Hawks with a reputation as a good defensive coach. The opposing team scout quoted in SI's preview said he would like to see Woodson get a chance to coach a veteran team that would listen to him. It's possible that the Hawks have now grown up and are paying attention.

2. Williams spent all off-season working on his range. With the number of scorers on this team, he needs to be able to hit threes when opponents leave him. I can't see better range hurting his game. In the long run, it will help him get to the basket because defenders are going to have to get closer to him.

3. I'm mentally preparing myself for Evans and Murray not playing at the same level. I'd be living in fantasy world to think that they suddenly became different players.

Jerry Hinnen said...

I think one underrated aspect to the whole "young team grows up" angle is that Woodson himself is probably improving dramatically as a head coach. Unless I'm mistaken this is still his first NBA head gig, and maybe it's not just that the Hawks are now mature enough to listen to him--maybe it's also that Woodson is discovering new ways to get what he wants to do across to them.

I agree that it's unlikely Murray and Evans continue their current level of play (Murray in particular, which will really hurt since the rest of the bench is so uninspiring) but on the whole, you'd also think that however much that might hurt the return of Smith would be equally helpful. As Hollinger wrote the other day, the Hawks are, almost without question, a good team. Now it's just a matter of how good.