We lost to Miami because Joe missed 15 of his 23 shots. Because Josh Smith had five turnovers. Because Al Horford stayed in foul trouble. Because Marvin Williams and Mike Bibby all but disappeared from the boxscore. Because the bench players stink. Because Mike Woodson can’t coach. Because the Hawks are the Hawks. Because Wade gets calls. Because, because, because.
Good thing we’re just fans. If the team thought like this, they would be ripping themselves apart. Whatever your favorite reason from those mentioned above (or whatever ones you can come up with), I disagree. I think we lost because we allowed them to win. Because we lost focus and made a couple of crucial mistakes, one right after the other, that gave the Heat all the opportunity they needed to take the game back. Feel free to disagree, because I’m not saying I’m right. I just think the usual stuff just isn’t going to cover it this time. Why? Because despite all that was happening or NOT happening right for the Hawks, they still had that game. Two turnovers, back-to-back, did them in. What of Wade? Sure, he was hot. But not hot enough. What about the crowd? They were noisy enough, but the Hawks kept shutting them down.
For every Heat basket, there was a Crawford basket, a Horford rebound, a Smith defensive play, something. The Heat made it close, riding the one-man superstar wave known as Dwyane Wade. But they weren’t close enough until the Hawks tried to force passes into the teeth of the defense on consecutive possessions. Until the Hawks quit capitalizing on offensive rebounds. After that, loose balls didn’t bounce Atlanta’s way. Defensive rotations went horribly wrong. Shots clanged off the rim. The looks on the faces of the Hawks players became desperate, and not the kind of desperation that breeds ultimate survival. It was the desperation of a team that knew itself to be beaten.
Having said that, it’s much better for the Hawks to be delayed from getting win #41, than it is to learn the hard way in the playoffs, right? That game had more than a bit of a playoff feel to it. It was intense. Back and forth things went, with neither team looking like it was about to give in. I was glued to my seat on the couch, unable to pull myself away for the usual in-game quick hits on the blog. Then it all went to pieces in a matter of seconds. How does a team that is so good at taking care of the ball DO something like this in a tight game? What happened? Where did the seemingly sudden lack of focus come from? Was it a lack of focus, or something else? This pointed to something that the Hawks may want to think on. It’s not how few turnovers you have in a game. It’s when those turnovers happen. It’s not how many shots you hit in the game. It’s when you hit those shots. Let’s examine that closer by taking two of the team’s key players from that loss. Josh Smith had 5 turnovers. He’s had that many before, even in decent wins. What hurt was that two of them happened when the game was tight, one of which helped set off a domino effect that led to the Hawks’ demise. Am I blaming him for the loss? No, but he did contribute to it, along with some bad shooting. Then there is Joe Johnson. It’s easy to complain about an 8 for 23 shooting performance. But Joe was 5 for 8 in the first half. He was doing fine before shooting 3 for 15 in the second half, including several 4th quarter misses. Now, had that been reversed, could we really complain? What if Joe had gone 3 for 15 in the first half, then gone 5 for 8 in the second half? Might we be talking about a different conclusion to the game? Possibly, but blaming him for the loss is as silly as blaming Josh or any one person. To note, there have been several subpar shooting games for Joe, in which he did come back and shoot much better in the second half or the 4th quarter of a game, including several where such a performance delivered a win.
At the same time, we can’t ignore what mistakes do for the other team. Is there anything worse than a star player being on the top of his game, and getting the foul calls? Seems like the answer would be “no”, right? Well, there is something worse. It’s when you add a second, or even a third player to the mix. It’s when that second or third guy gains some confidence and begins to perform and produce better than usual. Better than he has been all game. Better than you expected. For the Heat, that guy was Michael Beasley. When the Hawks began turning the ball over and missing defensive rotations, it allowed Beasley to get good looks at the basket. And when he hit them, his confidence soared. All of the sudden, neither he nor Wade could be stopped or contained. Up until that point, Wade’s supporting cast couldn’t provide enough support. He was in a battle by himself, and despite herculean efforts, he was losing. Take note Hawks. When you have the other guys shut down, KEEP THEM SHUT DOWN.
But it still stands. The Hawks should now know how a few mistakes can be so costly. In the playoffs, it’s a game lost. Maybe even a loss of homecourt advantage, if the situation is right. Or, as in the case with Michael Beasley, you give a dangerous player some confidence and momentum, which can come back to bite you throughout the rest of the series. Better to learn this in March, rather than late April.
HAWKS VS KNICKS
Speaking of learning experiences….the Knicks have provided the Hawks with a couple this season, beating them twice in the Highlight Factory. While the Knicks own this season’s series 2 to 1, it was that one loss to the Hawks that happened in Madison Square Garden. Can the Hawks even things up by winning there again? While they’re at it, the Hawks also have an opportunity to take that road record north of .500 again. Winning in New York sets them up for a bit of momentum…or a crash. If they beat the Knicks, then even a loss to the Wizards on thursday only drops them back to a dead-even road record. However, a loss puts more pressure on the contest in Washington, as a second consecutive loss means not only a three game losing streak, but being 2 games under .500. While it’s never a good time for a tail spin, this late in the season is one of the worst times. And let’s not forget about that #3 seed. Boston has retaken the spot for the time being. Time to get it back!
No More Nate
The good news is that the little fella no longer graces a Knicks uniform, so he won’t be lurking on the bench, waiting to destroy Atlanta’s perimeter defense. The bad news is that he now wears Celtics green, and we’ll be seeing him again. But no sense borrowing trouble until it’s time. While “Krypto-Nate” won’t be in the house, there is this cat named Tracy McGrady who now plays for the Knicks. McGrady isn’t the same guy who used to blow up teams for 30 or more anytime he chose, but he’s no pushover, either. Meanwhile, rookie Toney Douglas is also MIA, and the Knicks are playing with a fairly short rotation. The Hawks would be hard-pressed to find a better setup. But that’s just it, is this game a setup? New York just lost to Toronto (who is playing well), and New Jersey (who blew them out). They know they can play with the Hawks, as long as the Hawks let them in the game.
Is there a better team to tee off on in the post? David Lee is a player, but the next best thing down low is Al Harrington. Both guys will produce in the form of points and rebounds, but they have no chance against Al Horford and Josh Smith. So, the Hawks should go in to them until the Knicks collapse the defense in the paint. When that happens, the two of them can make the Knicks pay with their passes out of the post to the perimeter shooters and/or cutters. Easy gameplan, right? Uh…..maybe….
The DREADED “Z” Word….
While some of us are envisioning double doubles for our frontcourt, the Knicks are having the same daydream. Only for them, it’s an outright nightmare. So you know what Mike D’Antoni is going to do. That’s right, employ the Zone Defense. It’s like Atlanta just loses its natural born mind when that happens. Here is another golden opportunity for the Hawks to practice beating this defensive ploy, because they are SURE to see it in the playoffs, as many of you out there in blog land have noted! So what will Mike Woodson and the Hawks do when this happens? Shoot a pile of “appetizing jumpers” and hope they go in? Or make the extra pass, send cutters through the middle, and penetrate by any means necessary?
The Hawks have to learn to finish games in the strictest sense of the word. No better opportunity to practice that, then against a much weaker team.