Monday, January 11, 2010

A Charles Dickens Classic - Hawks, Magic, & Celtics!

Preamble Ramble

These were the best of times and the worst of times. A gutty victory vs. the Boston Celtics and a listless effort vs. the Orlando Magic..in what we'll call the Hawks edition of the Charles Dickens classic. Now, we've always said some very specific things about the Hawks in the context of winning basketball games now and in the postseason, so let's recap some of those again for the uninitiated.

Game Recap - Hawks 93, Celtics 85
Game Recap - Magic 113, Hawks 81

Overall Observations:
  • If this team moves the basketball and plays at a faster pace, they are better than the Boston Celtics. Period (Note: this presumes that Kevin Garnett is not playing. Yeah, big presumption).
  • If this team moves the basketball and plays at a faster pace, we are not better than the Orlando Magic. Period. (Note: this presumes that we won't ever do that since we never have vs. this team in the last two years.)
  • It seems fair to make the assertion that an embarrassing 31 pt loss on the road vs. a team without one of its best players (and with its best player not really playing that well) trumps a good 8 pt victory at home vs. a team without one of its best players.
  • Less distressing is the loss vs. the Magic, but more distressing is the way we CONTINUE to lose to them. The Magic always seem to make it a point to play the games vs. us with a swagger that says - you will not win this division and we always make it a point to confirm that fact.
  • Things confirmed vs. the Magic - we don't want to play them in the postseason, we won't win the Southeast Division, and that we have the chin befitting Glass Joe.
  • Things confirmed vs. the Celtics - we really, really, really want to beat the Celtics more than any team in the league. Our effort says as much. When we play at a fast pace, scoring the basketball is easy for this team.
  • Everything ever said about Jamal Crawford is true - not a defensive stopper, bad shot selection is not going to stop him, only the coach can. This is a blessing and a curse...vs. the Celtics - all those awful shots were falling and vs. the Magic - they were not. See the results.
  • Finally, and we'll talk more about this in the individual player assessments, but I think Joe Johnson has a problem as a Hawk - the fans (if I'm to take the last 5-6 games in the arena and in written/talk show form) are on to Joe and his selfishness problem. I always said that Josh was our most talented player, but that Joe was our best player. As the delta between talent and best closes, we're starting to see a Joe Johnson who seems to be more concerned with proving that he can be the MAN forcibly vs. letting the game come to him. The over-dribbling, the slow ball movement, and the inability to stick with what's working (and playing through the paint and our forwards and center has been the most consistent thing for us all season) are all starting to wear thin. If there's anything that's boo'd more in Philips Arena more than a Josh Smith jump shot, it's Joe not moving the ball (read: they haven't gotten used to Jamal doing the same thing yet). Watch the 2nd half of the Boston game and see how even Mike Woodson finally got fed up with that which he has encouraged for the past 3 years...
  • Oh, one more thing - is there a reason that Joe Smith didn't even get off the pine vs. the Magic? Is there really a rhyme or reason to the Coach Woodson rotation?
  • Ok, one more...is it really a secret that our halfcourt offense vs. the Celtics halfcourt defense is tilted in the Celtics halfcourt defense's favor? I mean - if we just run the court and pick up the pace, we eliminate that issue.
Str8 Butter Award - Al Horford - We applaud you for being a professional. We have talked about how you possibly get more accolades than your production should yield, but after watching your effort vs. Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic - we stand corrected. You sir are a gentleman and a scholar and we appreciate that you are on our team. It's really stunning to watch a team play so well and on the next lack the pride necessary to just play with emotion and toughness vs. a team that has OWNED you for the past few years with something on the line (seeding, division title, your heart).

Starter Kudos/Smackdown -

* M. Williams - The shooting slide is pretty much over, but the defense and offensive production is still lacking something.
* Josh Smith - I'll just be frank - Josh is repeating what happened last year. He came out the box blazing and playing awesome and as the year progressed - he fell more in love with his jump shot. What he doesn't understand yet (and I'm very skeptical if he's being taught this) is that even if he were servicable from outside - he can get better shots inside and it aids his REBOUNDING position and totals. So, yes, we see how you've made a few jump shots, but it's just like the playground - nothing can be better than a kid who is 12% from the field all time making his first few jump shots. All that means is that it'll be easier to encourage him to take more. That's what happens, Josh - they want you to shoot jump shots. How can it be good if you are always open for jump shots?
* M. Bibby - Honestly, for the first time, I saw the tangible value of Mike Bibby in the fourth quarter - as we lost composure in the 4th quarter vs. the Celtics...not only did Mike Bibby come in and calm the waters with a timely basket, but he was loudly exhorting the troops to stop playing at the Celtics pace from the bench. THAT'S the leadership and coaching I want to see from my point guard. Now, if he can just pry the ball out of Joe or Jamal's hands in order to run our regular offensive sets when they are WORKING....
* J. Johnson - It really was stunning to watch Woodson pull Joe Johnson in the 4th quarter of the game because of his 3 straight attempts to iso-Joe the team to a bucket.
* A. Horford - It's got to be frustrating to watch two guys touch the ball exclusively down the stretch of games. Just gotta be frustrating...

Bench Kudos/Smackdown

* J. Crawford - I know everyone wants to praise Jamal, but truly - honestly...if he misses any of those 3s and contested jump shots - we are roasting him right now. Just because the ball goes in the basket doesn't mean it's good offensive basketball. We'll take it, but yeah - it would be nice to see Jamal's skills maximized in the context of team offense vs. immensely skilled one on one player who lives and dies by how well his shot is going.
* J. Teague - Teague's defense vs. Rondo in the first half stint was the first glimpse of what we hope Teague can be for this team. Anytime you can stay in front of a player for more than 2 steps - that's a bonus for the Hawks.
* M. Evans - No comment...wish i had one, but there's just not one that comes to mind.
* Joe Smith - DNP vs. Magic - why?
* Z. Pachulia - Zaza, I said that the game vs. the Nuggets were the quietest we'd seen from you, but the fire that you play with vs. the Celtics needs to be bottled and used for all games. If we have to put a KG mask on every center, we will.
* R. Morris - As usual, if it's a blowout - it's Randy.
* J. Collins - More PT can only mean the highest of highs or the lowest of lows (unless Shaq is on the court)

Coaching Kudos/Smackdown

Here's the takeaway that I hope our coach saw vs. the Celtics and shows the team and in a one-on-one meeting with Joe Johnson. The isolation plays just don't work against good defensive teams. Almost to a T throughout the Celtics game - the Hawks when sharing the basketball scored and when not, they didn't. The only times that changed was in the 4th quarter when Jamal hit 4 shots that he shouldn't have even taken, but as a point of contention - it's simple how easily we were building the lead using a transition and quicker pace. As soon as we started walking the ball up the court, lead gone.

Now, as for the Magic game, basically we only played for 7 minutes together, then Al Horford decided he was only the only guy who wanted to play for the remainder of the night. I'm not buying the 'every team has these kinds of games' excuse unless it comes with this disclaimer: Every team (that doesn't have designs on a championship) has these kinds of games.

Final note: here's a Woodson quote that may explain what ails us on the road - "When you go out on the road, I've always said, you've got to play perfect basketball." Well, Woody, that's just not true - almost every good team will have runs and they make mistakes - it's heart and effort through the mistakes that are sure to happen that you ought to preach to the team. Seems to me that if they are thinking they have to be perfect to win - they've already lost the battle. Again, just not convinced that our team is being coached very well and I'm waiting for evidence to the contrary.

Str8 Talk Love

We had a lot of love for the Atlantans who braved the cold and road conditions to cheer the Hawks to a victory. We were happy to join Polow Da Don, Keri Hilson, Teyana Taylor (my brother's co-star) and many more stars in the building to see how well our Hawks can play.

Dance Team/Game Ops update - Also, we must say it loudly - the 2nd quarter dance team performances was the best of the year!!! More of that, please...please!!!

Shout Outs - Big shout to my mom for joining me for the best game of the year! Happy New Year and also a super shout to my man Will - keep doing what you do.

Final Notes - Let's see how we respond to this debacle in Orlando in an attempt to win the season series from the Celtics. Ok, and to be clear - the Celtics and their fans (like the Magic) are going to throw EVERY ounce of energy into beating us. Please come prepared accordingly.

Season Prediction

Not wavering on the 50-32 prediction and a 4 seed...prove me otherwise, Hawks!!!!

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