Friday, January 29, 2010
The Blog is still alive. Sorry for the untimely and unannounced hiatus, but a few life situations trumped my few attempts to get game recaps out, my mid-season review, AND my thoughts on Joe Johnson and Al Horford's trips to the All Star and why I think Josh NOT making the All Star game could be the best thing for the Hawks (despite the fact that that he was the most deserving).
So, TONIGHT - Blog going up right after I finish my day in Durango with my snowboard. Yep, Hawks Luv is trumped only by snowboarding, so let's get these Celtics and I'll be back with thoughts on the last 4 games, our new beat writer, and more...
Shaun Black Out!!!
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
1. Joe and Josh have been a little nicked up...let's hope this isn't a sign of any things to come. Y'all know my philosophy on this. REST! We have 82 games and a playoffs to be ready for...
2. The Hawks protest of the Cavs game was denied. And I actually am glad they are...first, I hated the excuse making that Coach Woodson was making about it and second, it'll provide for great motivation the next time we play and hopefully, in the playoffs. We've shown what happens when we play with a chip on our shoulders (at least when Boston is in the building).
Ok, carry on with your day..
Perspective check - we're tied for 5th in the NBA record wise..#1 in the Southeast Division..6th best road record..4th in several Power Rankings...yes, these are heady times for our Atlanta Hawks. I have to say that so that when I provide my critique for games like this one - we all continue to see this through the prism of 'postseason concerns'. There's no shame in losing at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder who happen to have the 'now' 5th best road record and are doing well in a loaded Western Conference (uh, only 4 teams are below .500), but there are some themes that are increasingly more disturbing if not for the fact that they are happening, but that they are not even being acknowledged as problems (see Peachtree Hoops for more details) by the Hawks staff or players.
Finally, we'll give our final rant on Jeff Teague and Joe Johnson's 'rest' now that we are clear that what I said from day one would happen - Jeff's not playing and by my crude estimation - Joe's not resting.
Game Recap - Thunder 94, Hawks 91
- I've always marveled at how bad Bibby was as an on the ball defender, but the first 4 minutes of the 3rd quarter showed that if a coach decides to simply focus on whatever player he's guarding - you can get a great shot vs. the Hawks EVERY SINGLE play. Watching Bibby directly or indirectly lead to 10 straight points was pretty much all Sund needs to see in order to go sign or trade for a perimeter defender before the season is out.
- Josh said it all in the post game summary. "We should have kept going inside-out. It would have opened up the 3-point shot." Well, we still want the question asked...is it the players NOT executing an inside out plan OR is it the coaches not making it a point to play inside out? Watching the 2nd half - it's almost laughable to watch Joe and Jamal go one on one for stretches while ignoring an effort by Josh Smith to actually dominate the Thunder interior?
- Joe Johnson - we implore you to stop passing up easy open jumpers in order to dribble and shoot contested ones. Also, let me praise you some - it can only be for lack of praise or envy at the praise given Jamal Crawford that makes you shoot some of the shots you shoot in the 4th quarter (esp. that last shot to tie the game). That was the single worst shot I've seen taken all season (and that includes any shot by Josh Smith from outside 16 ft no matter where we are in the shot clock).
- Jamal Crawford - Now, for you, we have different but equally important advice - you sir need to stop reading press clippings. Now, there's a reason wins after being down by 4pts inside 10 seconds happen only every 10 years and it's because you don't normally hit those kinds of shots to win or tie games. What made you think that moving backwards to 35 ft was increasing your chance to make that last shot. And Woody - what happened to calling plays to create room for your best shooters?
- Finally, how great was that Jeff Green dunk? For that matter, how great was Russell Westbrook's dunk? Finally, how great is this Oklahoma City Thunder team? They look hungry, have players at every position, play defense, and I could easily detect that the coach made adjustments (i.e. attack Bibby wherever he is on the defensive end) at halftime. And it only took 3 years compared to how long in Atlanta...sigh!
- Does it take 12 missed 3pt shots for the team to figure out that the jump shot isn't working?
- Is anyone willing to say that every jump shot (made or not) taken isn't necessarily good basketball? Have we figured out yet that sometimes teams are GIVING us jump shots to keep us from going inside?
- And for the record, I retract everything I ever said about Josh and Al bringing the ball up the court. Not because I think it's a good idea, but because I realize now that they do it because they can't be guaranteed to get the ball when logic dictates it, so you gotta get yours when you can. I get it now...carry on, Josh and Al - all turnovers on account of this will be assessed to Joe and Jamal in my brain from now on.
Starter Kudos/Smackdown -
* M. Bibby - I know Woody doesn't believe in Teague right now, but I can't be convinced that Teague is worse as an overall player than Bibby on any day when Bibby's shot doesn't go down.
* J. Johnson - I could repeat what I said last game, but I think I'll let JJ's last shot function as my only thoughts on JJ now. And let it also be the final straw on whether or not I trust Joe in the 4th quarter - as a note, I now do not. Give the ball to Jamal or Al or Josh...thanks Management!
* A. Horford - I need to see you flip out on the backcourt or Coach Woodson just once making the point that you want to touch the basketball at least every 2-3 possessions. Just touch it - not always shoot it. I just trust that you will make a good basketball decision.
* J. Crawford - Shot selection of nothingness...yes, we said it.
* J. Teague - Sorry for ever believing that what was said in the preseason and early parts of the season were true - you and rotation player don't go hand in hand. See you in 2010-2011.
* M. Evans - Now, I think it's ludicrous for you to have 8 minutes and Mario to have 7, but that would mean that you would have to put in the defensive effort that he does. Capiche!
* Joe Smith - Again, not sure why you have 5 minutes and Mario has 7 minutes, but you have an album coming out, so there's probably bigger things for you to do than oh..play meaningful reserve minutes.
* Z. Pachulia - Welcome back, Za. Offensive rebounds abound when you are focused on it...thanks for the focus.
* J. Collins - Inactive
* M. West - We don't want to belabor this (though we are probably going to), but we don't really believe in you. Any time you spend on the court is wasted on us, but use this as fuel to prove me wrong - maybe there's a Bruce Bowen in you that I can't see. If so, show it and the Hawks management that they messed up by not signing you. Ok?
Another game where the game screamed for an adjustment - an offensive adjustment. One that said - please stop shooting outside shots and go inside, particularly in the 4th quarter. Now, that's not new, so let me spend my time on the Teague question...
I've spent an enormous amount of time discussing Teague and it's important to do since our lack of a point guard has always been a problem for this team, so once Bibby came on board - it was predictable at how much better we look on the court. In the offseason and preseason and early this season, we doubted the words of Coach Mike Woodson as he discussed wanting to play Teague and when he discussed his desire to rest Joe Johnson. We said then that self interest (i.e. need for a new contract and wanting to win every game in order to post a better record if not a better postseason result) would render those words meaningless.
We opined that it's in THIS SEASON's interest to play Jeff Teague (or you sign a backup point guard that you are willing to play) in order to help this team reach its potential. Well, here's the article we said to everyone who would listen was coming, click here. In a nutshell, the article says - Teague ain't playing this season. For some reason, Woodson thinks playing a few minutes a game to spell Bibby and reduce the point guard minutes of Joe and Jamal is throwing Teague to the wolves. Let's discuss what we consider a major flaw in Woodson's thinking here:
- Joe Johnson's minutes - Remember that reducing his minutes was a goal for the season, right? Well, I checked the game logs and Joe's non-blowout minutes average (covering 25 games) - 41.1 minutes per game. Overall, it's 37.7 minutes per game. The only things affecting that is keeping Joe Johnson from running Joe into the ground are blowouts. In those 25 games, Joe Johnson shot over 50% only 8 times. Now, this is crude math, but this would suggest that 1 - Woody ain't resting Joe and we need to pray for more blowouts AND 2 - that an unrested Joe doesn't shoot well in the 4th quarter (since he doesn't get to the line and his shooting hasn't been that great this year). There's a reason you rest your stars during the games and that's so that they can produce for those 9 minutes a quarter you play them. Kobe and Lebron rest at the beginning of most 4 quarters, so they can be ready to do yeoman work in the final 8 minutes of the game. Please clue our coach in on that.
- Bibby's defensive liabilities - You should be preparing Teague to play defense in this league because if Bibby's not hitting his shot, he's terrible on defense. There's no way that Teague as a rookie is worse than Bibby. It wasn't possible that Law was worse than Bibby either, so the point here - if you want a stop, get Teague in the game over Crawford and Bibby. I'm not saying he's a STOPPER. I'm saying your best defensive backcourt is Johnson and Teague. From a defensive perspective and with a 'defensive' coach, it would stand to reason that he simply needs to let him play minutes as a distributor who plays when Bibby can't. Instead, Woodson has gone with the 'Bibby/Crawford outscore 'em' method. Yes, Teague will make mistakes, but no more than the 10 straight points Bibby's going to give up on sheer inability alone.
- Your postseason may depend on it - Watching all of the other rookies get better sure bodes well for their future productivity in the postseason...James Harden,, DeJuan Blair, Ty Lawson - all look like they will be able to provide contributions should their starting counterparts go down...if Bibby goes down, that's the season. Why would we not be preparing SOMEONE for that possibility (if the rest reason wasn't worth it alone)?
- Our shooting guards are: Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson. Part of the reason we have our 4th quarter woes is because we have guys who have the talent to score are also bringing up the ball...they aren't point guards. They are conditioned to believe that once they get the ball - they can score it. Point guards are conditioned to score when necessary, but to find the BEST option and go to that option to score depending on what's working, the matchups, etc. To date, we have no evidence that Joe or Jamal are able to discern what the best option is come the 4th quarter other than themselves. Watching them play catch with each other screams for a POINT GUARD!!!!! Having Teague ready to deal with that scenario is something we should be working toward.
- What if Bibby gets worse? It keeps getting said that shooting is the last to go. Really?!? Well, ok - we'll go with that, but is Bibby really even shooting now. He's getting like 6 shots a game and sitting as soon as he gets killed on defense. It's become the Jamal and Joe show. I like that show, but I don't love it. I love a point guard learning how to mesh with the shooting guards. And I'd rather that happen now when the stakes aren't as high (and to be clear - they will be higher next season when we are expected to take that leap to contender). Let's figure out if we need to get another player at a trade deadline or offseason or through the draft, but as it stands - we don't know what Teague can do and not only that we don't trust him to be better than Mario West on the court.
Str8 Talk Love
To Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr for his inspiration and to the Haitian people...stay strong and give long!
Dance Team/Game Ops update - N/A
Shout Outs - See above
Final Notes - Sorry for the long post, but it has been burning in my heart to say these things. Now, on to other topics...
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Let's just start with this - the Hawks are good! Often times, we talk about the negatives for the Hawks so often that it is sometimes forgotten that the Hawks are tied for the FOURTH in the NBA record-wise. We are almost at the halfway point in the season and we are FOURTH!!! Again, FOURTH! The folks tied or ahead of us - we've won 4 out of 7 (on the road vs. Boston twice, @ home vs. Boston, and on the road vs. Dallas). If you run down the standings, yes - we've been dominated by the Magic, but there is a sweep of the Trailblazers, a win vs. the Suns (details below), a split with the Nuggets, and so...we want to be sure that when we are talking about the negatives at Hawk Str8Talk - it's about what things we think we need to improve to win a NBA title. We see so much said about the Hawks in the extremes and we want to make sure we don't fall into that trap. So, we'll say it - Teague not getting minutes is not the end of the world (but it could prevent a NBA title), Woodson relying on isolation plays and switching defense exclusively isn't keeping us from the playoffs (but it could lead to a 2nd round sweep). So, just know that the Hawks are good, damn good and we are happy about that. That said, off to our recap...
Game Recap - Hawks 102, Suns 101
- Maybe I was wrong about Al Horford's ceiling - he sure looked like the best player on the court during that game.
- Now, if we can just get the coaches and players to recognize who the best player on the court is and do EVERYTHING in their power to ensure he gets the ball, that would be an improvement for the postseason that we highly endorse. How hard is it to pass the ball to Horford?
- Grant Hill might be aging as a basketball player better than anyone I've ever seen not named Michael Jordan. To think he was robbed of his prime by injuries is actually pretty sad...until I remember he made about $100M during that time (and that he's married to Tamia)
- Kinda conflicted on how I feel about Horford being matched up against Steve Nash...it doesn't seem right, but it worked. Is that good coaching yielding a good result? Or a player masking a poorly designed philosophy?
- Let's make sure that win or lose...the Hawks front court did its job on the boards (even in the scoring column).
- Last conflict - kinda conflicted for the long term about whether to cheer that we never gave up or whether to wish that we lost the game, so we could again prove the point that reverting to isolation basketball on a night when the backcourt was 17 for 45 on a night when even with Josh's jump shots - the best options for offense were Josh and Al - is BAD BASKETBALL.
- Put a fork in Jeff Teague's usefulness to the Atlanta Hawks in 2010 barring injury. The Teague to the D League campaign begins now.
- Final thought - it's finally dawned on me that as much as I groan and complain about Josh - I'm finally now doing the same for ALL bad jump shots. Yes, it's terrible when Josh shoots jumpers, but it's just as terrible to watch 8-9 year veterans shoot bad jump shots as well (yes, we're talking to you, Joe and Jamal). And so, no more singling out Josh...everyone who shoots bad shots gets called out. Just like Obama and people who lie about health care...
Starter Kudos/Smackdown -
* M. Bibby - Bibby, I really like that you decided to match Nash assist for assist. Let's try it again.
* J. Johnson - Still feeling really uncomfortable with these isolation plays. There was a 10 minute stretch where Crawford and Johnson DOMINATED the ball when Horford was on fire. Still can't figure out how this escapes anyone.
* A. Horford - You are making me a fool for doubting you. I'm fine with being a fool...
* J. Crawford - Jamal, thank you for having gold dipped balls. Thanks. Now, shot selection...defense...yes, we want that too.
* J. Teague - Not gonna spend another minute on this - we've already said it. Just be smart Hawks and let the guy play in the D League where he doesn't have to worry about the whims of the coach.
* M. Evans - Still want to see Maurice in the starting lineup..am I crazy?
* Joe Smith - Loved the board work and honestly, I can't say I'd feel better with anyone else on the roster defending the pick and roll.
* Z. Pachulia - Get well soon.
* J. Collins - A quick minute of nothingness...
* West - 3 minutes of nothingness...
So, a month ago, we said that we didn't have a problem with Coach Woodson. That was back when we were playing 10 players - we were winning, there was trust, the players weren't always in isolation plays, there was transition basketball...all was well. Things haven't gone off the rails and we're winning games, so this is really only a minor complaint pending the season remaining to get better, but someone has to ask the question of why Horford didn't get the ball consistently in this game. Someone has to ask the question of how Collins got ahead of Morris in the rotation. Someone has to ask the question of how Mario West got off the bench before Teague.
As we said, it's a non-issue if our guards stay fresh, not injured, and Bibby doesn't decline to the point that he's not starter worthy in 2010-2011, but OTHERWISE...it's just borderline insane to not play Teague after he plays well. It just really makes no sense to us. We won the game, so we won't complain loudly, but I really don't think there is a plan for Teague in the same way we didn't have a plan for Law or several other players. Please show us there is a plan.
Str8 Talk Love
Big up to the lovely Coco for accompanying us to the game and for giving us Hawks 101 while doing it. Also, big up to Will and everyone who STAYED for the game through the last second. I don't remember the last time I hugged someone after the game. Thanks Coco...
Dance Team/Game Ops update - More good work from the Atlanta Hawks dance team...not perfection, but we're getting there ladies.
Shout Outs - See above
Final Notes - Teague's DNP aside - great victory vs. the Suns and thanks to Jamal for making it so.
We're ready to give us a 52-30 regular season and only one team left to really slay and that's Orlando. It's almost time to get back on the division championship bandwagon...let's see how well we stand up to the 2nd half of the month, but so far - so good (yes, we're trying to get over the Orlando and New York losses).
Thursday, January 14, 2010
We're going to keep this pretty concise for a few reasons. The game was nondescript. Two players were missing and there really isn't much to glean from this game other than one more reason for us to be puzzled by Coach Mike Woodson. And by puzzled, we truly want to sit with him off the record and understand what he thinks when he does things, then provide some thoughts and see what his responses are. We're that puzzled! Now, before we get started, if you want to get some more detail about how Hoopinion feels about our newest addition, Mario West, click here. For our thoughts, see below.
Game Recap - Hawks 94, Wizards 82
- The Wizards were one of the teams I was concerned would pass us by and after many injuries, disorganization, and most importantly - stupid decisions by their players...the Wizards can stick a fork in their season for the foreseeable future. Anyone playing the Wizards should look out for players auditioning for their next employer and/or contract.
- That said, I felt sorry for Jamison and not Butler...not sure why, though.
- I'm happy to say that my concerns in previous years about free throw shooting and turnovers are over. It really is amazing how infrequently we turn the ball over. It's also amazing how infrequently our best free throw shooters get to the line.
- There's no doubt that Joe Johnson looks like a different player when he's not asked to create his own offense. It's incredible what can be done by a shooting guard when he is properly screened for or moves without the basketball to create open shots.
- We would like for the light to be turned back on that says - Josh Smith, you are about 3-4 more games away from rediscovering your early season name - Osh Smith. What about 'you are not a shooting guard' that Josh AND his teammates AND his coach that these guys don't understand.
- We like Mario West the person and the basketball player. We don't like Mario West the Atlanta Hawks small forward who plays before the other 12 players on the team.
- As we stated this offseason, we don't believe that a team that wants to be a contender for the East or even the NBA can play someone like Mario West and be taken seriously. We still stand by the pledge. Part of that pledge is due to Mike Woodson's seemingly incurable man-love for Mario. We'll address this below.
- Congratulations to Maurice Evans on the newborn (and by extension, the great timing to have it happen vs. a disinterested opponent at home)
- Get well soon, Zaza
- Finally, Jeff Teague - thanks for your 8 minute stint where you played well on offense and defense. Unfortunately, that effort was not rewarded with more playing time, but if it's praise and confidence that you need - please just come here...we have it for you in spades.
- As a quick notable aside, it was not lost on us that DeJuan Blair completely dominated with a 20-20 game last night. Just sayin'
Starter Kudos/Smackdown -
No awards or smackdowns today.
No awards or smackdowns today.
First, this message is not about any game specific tactical errors. There were none. The game was going to be won no matter who we trotted out there. Now, for long term psychological reasons - Coach Woodson, we have problems. We are very aware of your man-love for Mario West. We also believe that you can fulfill that man-love for him by simply giving him a roster spot at best. Mario West doesn't need minutes to fulfill his mission for this team - his work in practice and on tape from last season should be all that you need to prove that energy matters.
That said, we think you miss another important point when you feel it necessary to take a player who has not played one minute ALL season for any NBA team and give him 12 non-garbage minutes over players who HAVE logged all the time and in one specific case needs minutes to develop into your FUTURE point guard. On a night when you're shorthanded, if I'm a reserve - I would rightly believe that I'm going to play before a guy without a discernable basketball skill. So, you may want to boost Mario West's confidence, but what about Jeff Teague's, what about Randolph Morris, what about our vets Jason Collins and Joe Smith who haven't played much. You can't tell me that they watched Mario West and, while being good guys, might be thinking 'hey, I wish I was getting those minutes since I've worked hard all season to get them.' Only Randolph Morris can look back at last season and some friendship with Mario and say - no worries, have my minutes, but the other guys have no allegiance to Mario and certainly will factor more prominently in the Hawks' success on the court than Mario. I like Mario - I love his drive and wish him success, but to see Jeff Teague play well and NOT play in the 2nd half is what I've been so worried about with Coach Woodson - there were tangible and intangible reasons that he should have been in that game for much longer than Mario last night. Sure, I'm probably making more of it than it will be, but it's what always worries me. People say - how do you lose a player? Last night is how you lose a player...when he sees a guy's favorite player get signed and then usurp all the good work when it was obvious he wasn't good enough to make the roster that had been done to date. If I'm a reserve, I'm not feeling good about that development and short of the coach communicating a good reason for that - then call me concerned.
Str8 Talk Love
Same 'ol, same 'ol...50-32
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Monday, January 11, 2010
This is probably going to be a difficult blog to write because it really defies many of the things that we are accustomed to with the Hawks. It was the definition of a 'stolen victory'. Yes, there were several things that the Hawks did well, but not more than they did bad and yet, a victory. One that actually we needed - for the following reasons...we needed to rid ourselves of the Orlando stench, they were playing without KG and Rasheed and Marquis Daniels (Note: Back-to-back losses where we lose to elite teams that are shorthanded would not bode well.) So, let's get to the analysis...
Game Recap - Hawks 102, Celtics 96
- There really was NOTHING that made me feel like the Atlanta Hawks would win this game by virtue of their first half play. Yet we won...and that makes me feel giddy.
- Overheard in the post game interview with Woodson - uh, praise for Jamal Crawford's defense...
- How does it work that the only Celtic players who don't shoot over 50% are House, Perkins, and Allen and the Hawks win?
- Ok, so we must have won the battle on the boards, right? Nope. Ok, we scored more three pointers...uh, nope...so, you mean to tell us that we shared the basketball more than the Celtics in the form of assists...not that one either. Ok, so maybe we have undervalued the value of steals, blocks, turnovers, and wait for it...FREE THROWS!
- Yes, let's say it again - on a night when there were some terrible calls on both sides, in Boston, the Atlanta Hawks won the foul battle. Way to attack the basket (and way to go Boston Celtic lack of self control)...
- Speaking of which, the irony is drippingly rich that on a night when Kevin Garnett and Rasheed 'Self Control is my Middle Name' Wallace aren't even in the game - that technical fouls, ejections, and flagrant fouls would turn the tide decidedly in the Atlanta Hawks favor.
- Not only that - it's amazing how coaches don't see how the whistle giveth and the whistle taketh away...Coach Rivers wasn't giving back the obviously NOT flagrant foul assessed to Zaza Pachulia, but lost a gasket over a pretty easy to call (if we're using the Zaza scale as our litmus test) flagrant foul on Marvin Williams. (Note: I didn't think either were flagrant.)
- Ok, we've delayed it long enough - on this night...Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford showed why you need a player to simply take over and just dominate a second half. We've railed against the isolation plays for a long time here, but when you are making those shots - we can't do anything but applaud you. AS LONG AS YOU MAKE THEM. Tonight, Joe played like the All Star he is and should be.
Starter Kudos/Smackdown -
* M. Williams - Your defensive work should be lauded
* Josh Smith - Josh's contributions don't show up well in the box score, but his energy was definitely necessary. One note though - Josh, we gotta get back on the free throws. If you get your FT % over 70% - we'll let you take one extra jump shot a game, ok?
* M. Bibby - Now, on the heels of your good work vs. the Celtics at home, you didn't provide much value with Crawford's good work down the stretch...
* J. Johnson - Again, Joe - your star status has been confirmed. Carry on...
* A. Horford - It isn't a double double, but it again was the dirty work that is worth the tea in China. Manicures on me, Al.
* J. Crawford - Nobody knows how to get fouled in 3pt land like Jamal. Thanks for stepping up and not giving up on idea of winning this game. Too often that happens in Hawk-land in case you weren't aware.
* J. Teague - DNP...and we won't even complain about it (today)
* M. Evans - Not much notable, but Mo did hit a big 3 to keep us in striking distance...
* Joe Smith - 4 minutes and donuts in the box score as well as an 11 point swing...doesn't bode well for your future PT.
* Z. Pachulia - All we'll say is - we love your aggression, Zaza - sorry if the refs tried to make it seem like you were thuggin' out there.
* R. Morris - DNP
* J. Collins - DNP
Ok, so let's get away from the defensive strategy for a minute...Coach Woodson coached a fine game tonight. Timeouts when things were getting way out of hand. Going with the hot hand over the starter and more than anything making sure that the Hawks did not let go of the thought that we could win this game.
This game is our example of why we completely disagreed with Mike Woodson's assertion that you have to play a perfect game vs. elite teams to win on the road. We didn't play ANYTHING close to our best game. The Celtics shot well, they rebounded, they did some things well and yet they lost. It's the reason why you need to simply continue to grind and work despite the fact that you aren't playing perfectly. The Hawks can play less than perfect basketball and defeat the best teams in the league. The litmus test for your elitism has everything to do with the fact that you can win with less than your best. Rarely this season have all of our cogs worked at even 90% in our victories. Marvin, Joe, Josh have all had significant drop offs in production during a series of games - and in many of them...we won going away (particularly during the Marvin stretch of bad games). So, the moral is - don't teach a team that they can't win unless they play perfect. That pressure is both unnecessary and false and this game is a prime example.
Str8 Talk Love
Can we say again that we should not have won this game?
50-32, but if we can defeat the Magic and sweep the Celtics - we may reconsider our ability to win the division...50-32 and 2nd in the division (4th seed)
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
- 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.
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...
* 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)
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.
Not wavering on the 50-32 prediction and a 4 seed...prove me otherwise, Hawks!!!!