Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Celtics are Getting Amazing All over our Faces

We're down 48-26 early in the second half. The defense isn't terrible, although the defensive rebounding was a problem in the first quarter. Offensively, all of the problems the Hawks had in the first three games have been present in spades:

1. There is no apparent offensive structure. I'm a stuck record on this, but Mike Woodson either has no offensive system or the team is not listening. When the players are individually excellent, the team scores, but when the players aren't on, the offense does nothing to create easy shots. After Friday night, I was thinking that maybe defined offensive plays aren't a necessity in the NBA. The trigger for this thought, incidentally, was Steven Cohen on the World Soccer Daily podcast saying that Chelsea have played a little better with a coach who emphasizes tactics less. They're more able to have freedom to do what comes naturally. Today, we're seeing that the Hawks are not to the stage where they can score on the road without a little help.

2. Joe Johnson is the only guy who isn't awed by the stage. Josh Smith and Al Horford are both having John Starks-ian game sevens. We know that Horford can deliver on the big stage and Josh Smith played the best games of his Haws career in games three and four, so we know that these guys aren't shrinking violets when the tension increases.

3. Boston is a really good defensive team. They play well together. You have to like a roster that's built around three all-stars (one of whom is an outstanding defender), and defensive point guard, and a defensive center.

Marvin Williams just pulled one of the dirtiest open-court hits I've seen in recent memory. The Hawks did so much to send us off into the off-season with positive thoughts, but that's going to sully my memory somewhat. The sad thing is that Marvin is a clean player and on the biggest stage, he's created an impression around the country that he's not.

So where does this leave us? We shouldn't let the Hawks' big fat egg today obscure what they achieved in this series. The Hawks beat the best team in the NBA three times in the playoffs. Philips Arena became a series asset for the team, leading John Hollinger to write this after game six on Friday night:

Yet the Hawks' series-tying win may be only the second-biggest upset of the
night. While the media that covered the team all year looked around and thought,
"Where am I?" a towel-waving mob upped the Philips Arena decibel level to
heights never before seen in this building. Of the five arenas I've been to in
this postseason, Philips was easily the loudest -- a shocking turn of events for
a place that could have doubled as a mausoleum for much of the regular season.
A bevy of Atlantans will think of Hawks games as fun and exciting for the first time in ages. The market will be excited for opening night in November.

The Hawks showed that they can go toe-to-toe with a great team. The one aspect of this series that was consistent with the regular season was the fact that the Hawks were much better at home than on the road. The team looked like a team on the cusp of being a legitimate contender at home and the 13-69 Hawks of three years ago on the road. Atlanta is a young team full of players who get intimidated at hostile venues. For the team to take the next step, the solution might be between their ears, moreso than bringing in new players or a coach who can generate more easy shots. I hate psychological explanations, but this series has shown what happens when Josh Smith attacks the basket consistently or when Zaza Pachulia plays as hard as he did in 2005-6 as opposed to this regular season.

The most obvious roster issue to address, other than re-signing Josh Smith and Josh Childress, is to bring in a little more depth. Boston can roll in Sam Cassell, James Posey, Leon Powe, and Glen Davis for energy off the bench. The Hawks are limited to Josh Childress, Acie Law, and Zaza. The team needs to figure out whether it can rely on Law to play 20 quality minutes every night. He didn't do enough this year to show that he can, so next year has to be make-or-break for Acie. Zaza was not nearly as intense this year as he was in his first season as a Hawk. If he's active like Powe, then this is a different team. Ideally, the Hawks would find another big man for the bench, as well as a swing man who can score. There isn't a single bench player who I would call a significant offensive threat, other than Salim Stoudemire, whom Woodson does not trust.

Another issue for the Hawks to mull over in the off-season is this: have they really solved their point guard issues? Despite the youth of the team, the one guy who played as if he was intimidated by April and May basketball was Mike Bibby, who came in with the reputation as a clutch player. Bibby had two or fewer assists in five of the seven games. That's a significant concern.

The Hawks' dreadful performance today should not obscure the fact that the team made major strides in this series. We know that Joe Johnson can play like a superstar. We know that Josh Smith can be the complete player that we all hoped he can be. We know that Josh Childress can be a perfect complementary small forward. We would not have been able to say these things if Atlanta would have been swept like everyone predicted. The Celtics' crowd is signing "Nah nah nah nah hey hey hey goodbye" right now, but something tells me they wouldn't have been so happy if they knew at the start of the series that they would be doing so in the fourth quarter of a game seven.


Drew Ditzel said...

Dirtiest foul you have ever seen? Come one now. it was a flagrant and probably worthy of an ejection but Marvin clearly tried to catch him and Rondo did not hit the ground that hard. The shoulder shimmy to Zaza 60 feet from the basket by KG up 30 was almost as questionable.

Also Acie did not prove anything because he was not allowed to. He had about eight DNPs, not including about a two minute performance during a season ending blowout against the heat, down the stretch which I would have chalked up to him not showing anything in practice until i saw him come in in the second quarter of game two of this series.
Acie has something to prove but Woodson did him no favors in the development area. So i will give him a little slack.

hoodawg said...

I definitely agree with the sentiment that the Hawks are now a sports presence in this town. But weren't we saying similar things last year when the Thrashers made the playoffs? Sure, the sweep in round one was a bit of a preview for the disaster that was 2007-08, but the similarities are there -- a weak HC who might be retained due to making the playoffs; years of questionable drafting obscured by some good moves down the stretch to make the team into a contender; ownership who failed to grasp the importance of the moment and let the franchise coast (since it's the same ownership, I'm conflating here). The next six months are huge for this team, even though they won't play a single game.

Anonymous said...

Good call, HooDawg-

Any thoughts on Woodson coming back? To me, the fact they won three games vs. the Celtics in the playoffs only underscores the fact that this team vastly underacheieved during the regular season, most of it due to inconsistent and frustrating coaching. I'd really like to see Woodson gone.

I have not seen one player improve in alignment with their talent during his tenure here. JoeJ still has the same strengths and weaknesses he did 3 seasons ago. Smith is one of the NBA's brightest talent and still looks clueless at times out there. Zaza looked like he could be a legit center his first few months here but has taken a step backwards. Marvin Williams...ugh...Bill Simmons and others can write about the Hawks passing on Paul/D.Williams all they want, but I do not believe either of them would have become what they are today under this coaching staff. I don't want to see Horford go down the same road.