Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Five Thoughts on Hawks-Cavs

1. Kudos to the crowd. When Atlanta got two inches of snow in the afternoon, Der Wife and I first assumed that the game would be canceled and then assumed that Philips would be half-empty. We were somewhat surprised when we arrived just after tip-off to see the place totally packed. Apparently, Atlantans desire to see LeBron will trump our paranoia about driving in or after snow. Despite the result, I had a great time at the game, save for a BBQ Chicken sandwich that I referred to as "chicken jerky."

2. The Hawks' end-game strategy drives me crazy. If you want to know why the Cavs scored the last six points of the game, here's a helpful primer on the Hawks' last four possessions:

  • Joe Johnson drives, misses dunk/gets hammered, ball fortuitously squirts out to Marvin Williams in the corner and Marvin drains a three. One of the luckiest plays you'll ever see, but kudos to Marvin taking advantage.

  • Joe Johnson runs a pick-and-roll with Flip Murray, sets Murray up for an open jumper, and Murray misses after hesitating at the foul line. This would be the only instance in recorded human history in which Flip Murray hesitated before shooting. Have I mentioned yet that Murray missed five lay-ups/close-in shots during the game? I digress.

  • Joe Johnson isolates on LeBron and misses a floater in the lane.

  • Joe Johnson misses a jumper from the left wing at the buzzer, a la Larry Bird in Game Four of the '87 Finals.

My point in making this list is simply to show that Mike Woodson runs plays for Joe Johnson on just about every important end game possession. Woodson was so inflexible in this strategy that he kept running plays for Johnson despite the fact that he was being guarded by the best player on the planet. I would need to re-watch the last few possessions to be sure of this, but unless Cleveland had changed its lineup, 6'7 Marvin Williams was being guarded on those possession by either 6'3 Delonte West or 6'1 Mo Williams. Marvin is also very good at getting to the foul line, which is apparently the way to win an NBA game in the final minute.

My problems with Woodson's reliance on Johnson are three-fold. First, it's totally predictable. Second, Johnson doesn't get to the foul line in end-game situations, although there are certainly some occasions in which he deserves to get a call. Third, the Hawks' strength is not that Johnson is a superstar player, but rather that the team has a balanced starting lineup with five good to very good players. Woodson coaches the team as if he's coaching the '09 Cavs, but he's really coaching the '04 Pistons. This bothers me since Woodson was an assistant on the '04 Pistons.

All that said, the play that Woodson drew up for the final shot was excellent. Also, the Hawks did get a couple good looks at the end of the game. Johnson and Murray just missed those looks. I'm criticizing the offense, but it's not as if the Hawks were throwing up off-balance 30-footers.

The Hawks' biggest end-game screw-up was giving Cleveland the de facto last possession. The Hawks called timeout with 40 seconds left in a tie game. In that instance, it was imperative that they shoot within ten second (and ideally sooner) so they would get the last shot. Instead, Joe dribbled too long before making his move. I don't know whether to blame Woodson or Johnson, but the net effect was that the Cavs ended up with the ball with 24 seconds left. At that point, I looked at Der Wife and said "I think we know what's coming here."

While we're refighting the last few minutes of the game, why do the Cavs run screen-and-roll with LeBron and Anderson Varejao as opposed to...anyone else? Their other three starters - Williams, West, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (or, as Der Wife calls him, Drew Nizzlegoskos) - can all shoot the ball. Varejao can't shoot, nor is he much of a threat to drive (his late three-point play aside). Why doesn't Mike Brown pair LeBron with a screener who can punish an opponent for doubling James when he comes around the screen?

3. LeBron gets some shady, shady calls. I'm not so bothered by the call at the end of the game, as he was bumped a little by Al Horford (although Joe Johnson would never get that call). I was bothered by the flood of calls that LeBron got in the second quarter, each one more ludicrous than the last. It's apparently legal for King James to bear hug Josh Smith. It's apparently not legal to be within five feet of him when he drives. I really, really hope that LeBron gets these calls in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston.

4. The crunch-time line-up: Flip, Joe, Marvin, Al, Zaza. I kinda like it. I criticized Woodson's offensive strategy at the end, but he was flexible enough to ride two bench players - Murray and Pachulia - who had given the team a lift in the third quarter.

5. Although the Hawks dropped to 1-4 against the Cavs and Celtics, I came away from the game pleased with the team's ability to play with these two potential second round opponents. Marvin did an outstanding job on LeBron (again), so a match-up with the Cavs would be competitive. We all know what games against the Celtics are like. Four of five games against the Cavs and Celtics have come down to the final possession.

1 comment:

PB at BON said...

Pain, pain, pain. Rick Barnes' endgame strategy is as bad, or worse, considering that "our Joe Johnson" is... 5-10 AJ Abrams. Sweet.