Monday, March 03, 2008

Late Game Execution Strikes Back

I was just about ready to lose my shit on Friday night. The Hawks were muddling around in a tight game with the wretched New York Knicks, despite the fact that the game was critical for the Hawks. The team had, as usual, gone into offensive hibernation in the fourth quarter, alternating bad perimeter shots and turnovers. The Hawks had the ball down one with about 90 seconds to go, so I was waiting for the Joe Johnson iso, followed by something rash. Kudos to Mike Woodson, because the team ran clever plays on the next two possessions to take a three-point lead that they then nursed home.

On the first possession, Josh Smith came to the top of the key as if to set a high screen for Mike Bibby, but just before setting the screen, he rolled hard to the basket. Zach Randolph, true to form, did not follow and Bibby hit Smith for an alley-oop dunk. The Hawks properly spread the floor so there was no help for Randolph. After a stop, the Hawks then ran a play in which Bibby screened for Joe Johnson on the right side and then flared away. Johnson dribbled towards the corner, taking two defenders with him, and then swung the ball back to Bibby for an open jumper to put the Hawks up by three. Both possessions represented simple basketball, but it was effective and it was just nice to see the Hawks create good shots at the end of a close game. We'll ignore the fact that the shots came against the defensively and motivationally challenged Knickerbockers. Both possessions were also aided in no small part by the team finally having a point guard who can handle, pass, and shoot.

After the win over the Knicks, the Hawks put up a credible effort last night in Boston before losing by ten. The Celtics are an excellent defensive team and they mostly squashed the Hawks' offense at crunch time. Boston simply created better shots. Whether that's because they have better players or because they're better coached is a separate question. The Hawks might have equivalent offensive personnel if Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson were playing close to their potential, but both of them have been anchors around the team's collective neck for the last month. It's awfully hard to win in the NBA with a shooting guard shooting 41.4% and a small forward shooting 35.5%, but that's where the Hawks were in February.

And while we're on the subject of the yuck, I ought to offer a few words on Sekou Smith's scoop that Billy Knight was blocked from firing Woodson by ownership three times this season. As an initial matter, it was hilarious to listen the discussion about the article on the same radio show that pronounced Smith to be "syncophantic" towards the Hawks with nary a mention of the change in course. Kudos to the AJC, whose sports page is typically reticent to print anything like Smith's article on the disagreement between Knight and ownership.

As for the news itself, I have no reason to doubt the article, since this isn't the sort of story that sources within the organization would invent. The fact that the Hawks didn't really deny the story lends further credence. So what does the leak itself mean? Is the article intended to motivate Mike Woodson to save his job? Is it meant to undermine Woodson in advance of the Hawks firing him? Those two scenarios seem equally plausible to me. What is the import of the story? Another indictment of a fractured ownership group with excessively diffuse power? Almost certainly. A vote of no confidence in Billy Knight? I suppose that's possible, although Knight ought to have as much credibility as he'll ever have right now after completing his roster with the Bibby heist. Evidence of ownership having confidence in Mike Woodson? They do watch the games, right?


Anonymous said...

This is evidence tht teh ownership group will be cleaning house this offseason. I suspect that both the Thrashers and Hawks will have new GM's and coaches by the start of next year, and hopefully before the draft.

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