Okay, everybody knows Cleveland just about can’t be beaten at home. Their lone loss there this season pretty much says it all. So a loss here, though not something you want to concede midway through the second quarter, is not something that would come as a completely unexpected occurrence.
But looking totally out of joint? Reverting back to a stagnant offensive approach that has rarely worked and had nothing to do with a 7-game winning streak? This is a surprise….or is it?
The Cleveland Cavaliers are arguably the NBA’s best team now, with arguably the NBA’s best player. They also have a very tough defense that is hands on ALL THE TIME. They’re not just tough, they’re smart. By baiting Josh Smith into 3 fouls (having to keep up with Lebron being the main reason why) , the Cavs have taken away one of the Hawks’ biggest offensive weapons. But this isn’t about the game against the Cavs, or the Cavs in general. This is about what happens when the Hawks are missing key players in their game. And how they will/can react to it. Unless they slip down to the 7th or 8th seed (unlikely) the Hawks will not be facing Lebron and his crew in the first round. No, this is about the teams most likely to meet the Hawks in the playoffs. Believe me, teams like Miami, Philly, and Detroit are watching games like this for clues on how the Hawks can be beaten. After all, they’re going to need it.
Offensive sets should be taught as part of a system. Of course, starters are starters for a reason, and bench players are on the bench for the same. But any NBA player should be able to set screens in certain areas. And on a team like the Hawks, athleticism is neither rare nor sparse in supply. And certain plays which are the staple of a team’s offense should be run by bench counterparts as well as starters. For example, if you can throw a lob to Josh Smith, then surely you can do so for backup forward Solomon Jones. Of course, to take advantage of this, Jones has to get into the game when Josh Smith is out. In similar thinking, a perimeter shooter on the bench (ex: Gardner)should be able to come off of a screen for an open look at the basket in much the same way that a starter does (ex: Bibby).
Such execution will be very important in the playoffs, especially when starting players are either missing, injured or in foul trouble. And make no mistake, all three can happen. Possibly the most certain is foul trouble as opposing teams and their coaches will be devising ways to keep certain players out of the game. Nobody wants to face a determined Al Horford on either end of the court. Nobody wants to see Joe Johnson on a mission. And EVERYBODY fears and energized Josh Smith. So often, the plan will be to take one or both of our young frontcourt players out of the game, leaving Joe to do the bulk of the work by himself (though Flip will be around to help, it’s not the same). After all, have the Hawks got what it takes to interchange parts and continue to execute the greater part of the game plan?
Which brings me to my second thought. In the playoffs, rotations shorten, but a coach needs his options. Some people point to a series of wins (including a 7 game homestand in which the Hawks remained unbeaten) as a reason to believe that Marvin Williams is entirely disposable. Ask Mike Woodson is he thinks so. It may be easy to point towards Marvin’s stats and say that he has not improved. But to do so and ignore the decreased stats of Josh Smith is to not recognize the real reasons for it. The fact is, the addition of Mike Bibby has produced far more shots (and more points) from the point guard position than any of the pgs collectively in the past 4 years. Add to that the fact that Joe’s number of shots haven’t changed and Flip Murray has become a big part of the offense and you have an answer. The Hawks have spent much of the season scoring from the perimeter before finally involving their dynamic frontcourt in the fun.
Marvin Williams has become a legitimate 3-point threat, a steady defender, and a decent rebounder from the small forward position. When either Smith or Horford have been out of the game, Williams has quite often been moved to the power forward position (due to his weight, height, length, and strength) to compensate. Marvin is harder to push around or get past. So when Mike Woodson looks to his bench for somebody with size and versatility, who does he see? Mo Evans? Solomon Jones? Who among these guys on the bench has or can give you a 25-30 point/6-10 rebound performance, while effectively guarding the opposing team’s small or power forward? Who can give you this on a night Josh has 3 fouls in the second half, Horford is being fronted by a 7-footer, and Joe can’t buy a bucket because he can’t get away from double teams? You won’t need the entire Jeopardy song to figure it out. You know Marvin is needed. Just ask his coaches and teammates.
So back to the first point. How will the Hawks react and adjust to the inevitable schemes that will be thrown at us in the playoffs, particularly when a starter or two is out of the action? What are some good ideas? Do the Hawks have what it takes on their bench to survive and maintain when the going gets tough?
And did y’all see Mario West on Lebron (on both plays) at the end of the 2nd half? You can’t tell me this guy can’t be used on a regular basis. He is a guided missile, waiting for release….