Pick a play. Any play. Or any plays.
Any that stood out to you the most in the Hawks’ 106-102 loss to the streaking Orlando Magic. If you picked two plays, I’ll bet I know which two you picked. Actually, I have no clue whatsoever, so I’ll just share the two that stuck with me the most.
The first one had to be Josh Smith’s coast-to-coast run, finished by a soaring, thunderous jam in front of a couple of hapless Magic defenders. It wasn’t so much of a stunner as it was a dazzler. The whole time I kept thinking “Josh, whatever you do don’t let them cherry-pick you from behind.” He didn’t. Then I thought, “Don’t try to make some insane pass play.” He didn’t. He dunked it….hard. The best part was watching the replay, where it clearly showed him eyeing his teammate, looking as if he’s going to pass it to him the whole time, then you see him get that look in his eye. All I could think was “Look out belooooooow!” Ah yes. The sweet sound of a rim getting rocked like a dance club at 1a.m.
Then there was the second stunner. It started with the steal, then the quick pass. Then the Bibby layup…wide open, ahead of Turkoglu, who wasn’t even contesting it….blown. I could not believe it. Just couldn’t. Not this close, not when it could have brought the game within two points. Well, these things happen. Still couldn’t believe it. It’ll pass. Bibby will probably re-live it for a minute, but you better believe he’ll get his sleep, and come Friday night….he’ll be ready to go to war.
As I watched this game, I noticed the number of times we missed defensive rotations. The number of times we DID rotate correctly, but to no avail, as the taller Magic scored easily from the perimeter. The number of times we just could not seem to get an easy basket to help get us going. We sure could have used an easy basket here or there. We could have used a slick player, slipping in for an easy dunk or putback over the none-too-physical Lewis and Turkoglu. We could have used a guy with some length, who would have bothered Lewis, Turkoglu, and Reddick, as they rose from the perimeter time and time again. Sounds like a job for the Afro Samurai. With so many other things clicking for this team, he would have been like icing on the cake. Or honey on a piece of Baclava…
Not having our favorite European (Georgian, to be exact) hurt. Zaza’s presence would’ve guaranteed more offensive rebounds, and even given Woody the option of playing him alongside Horford, which would have no doubt created some mismatch opportunities on the offensive end. As it was, Horford played a great game, and Solo showed that he is always ready to come into a game and have an immediate impact. Sure, he’s a little foul prone. But you can only learn to maintain an effective and efficient defensive intensity by playing real time minutes. Lest I stray prematurely into that tempestuous subject, let me get onto my final point….
Life at the charity stripe was awful tonight. Not only did we send the Magic to the line 36 times, but we made things worse by missing on nearly HALF of our own attempts. How did we miss nearly HALF of our free throws? JJ going 2-4 was a surprise, while Josh going 0-4 and Marvin going 5-8 were disappointments. To add insult to injury, Flip Murray, who had a good night offensively overall, went 2-4 from the line. Somewhere in Atlanta, Mark Price has GOT to be gnashing his teeth…
To sum it up, our defense was horrible in the first half, and we played catchup in that area, finally dominating most of the 4th quarter with a 21-6 run, though we stalled ourselves with the missed free throws. It wasn’t good enough for a home court win, and it won’t be when the team travels to Orlando. Another thing to consider was how and where we were scoring. Our starting backcourt had an off game, firing up a total of 34 shots, and only hitting 11 of them. The 18 assists (Joe and Bibby had 9 apiece) were nice, but just not enough. In the meantime, our starting frontcourt had a nice-shooting first half. Thanks to yet another 20 point night from the suddenly hot Josh Smith, the three frontcourt members hit 19 of-you guessed it-34 shots. Hmmm, something is not adding up here. Or rather…it’s adding up all too well.
So. What do YOU see the keys are to winning the next game against Orlando, on their own court? A couple of things bear consideration. One, Jameer Nelson is no longer the weakest link on the team. Two, Stan Van Gundy is employing a nice 9 or ten man rotation with good balance (1 pg, 1 sg, two bigs), and his bench is playing with confidence. Three, Courtney Lee and JJ Reddick are playing well enough to make the loss of Michael Pietrus go largely unnoticed, despite the fact that good shooting guards have given the Magic trouble. So there are a few points of interest. Getting it done against a good team will be a job. Getting done on the road against a good team will be an accomplishment.