If there was something the Atlanta Hawks could do wrong in any way, they did it in game 1.
That leaves little to discuss amongst us fans. Everybody is complaining, even many of us who are normally more patient. And why not? Is there anything acceptable or understandable about a 43-point loss to a team that is not necessarily vastly superior to the Hawks? I would say “no”, but then again, that does depend on whether or not you think the Magic are that much better than the Hawks. Better? Yes. Better by 43 points? Absolutely not. Longtime Hawks blogger and devoted fan Astro Joe suggested that the Hawks were tired, and we all know the effect fatigue can have on players. But these guys are pros, aren’t they? They have yet to play back-to-backs in this series, something that doesn’t happen in the playoffs anyway (correct me if I’m wrong). But what about mental fatigue. Oddly enough, TNT analyst Charles Barkley disagreed with the fatigue factor, suggesting that players are more energized in playoff settings. Ironically, the TNT crew didn’t sound much different than us. They were at a loss as to the performance offered by the Hawks. We could go on about this forever, but rather than figure out the most articulate ways possible to blame the coach, certain players, or everybody in the entire organization, let’s look at other things. That’s not to say that you can’t keep on complaining about the loss, if you haven’t gotten it out of your system, then by all means…speak your piece. In the meantime….
Taking offense to the offense
Forget defense. We know Orlando is a tough matchup, and it takes maximum effort and execution to defend them adequately, much less stop them for any period of time. Floor matchups from roster to roster contribute to this as well. The bigger problem? Has to be our offense. What we’re doing is not working. We’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Is it the chicken or the egg? Effort and execution go hand in hand, but the bottom line is that when the Hawks have the ball in their hands, they are not putting any pressure on the Orlando Magic. The Hawks thrive on offense via the fast break when they play well on defense. The Magic aren’t quite the same. Their offense thrives on good ball movement and running set plays, good perimeter shooting, and lobs inside to Dwight Howard. Make them defend, and they get a little worn out and frustrated, leading to less effective offensive plays when they have the ball.
What can the Hawks do to put pressure on the Magic? We discussed this to a point on the last blog, and one of the things that came up was Al Horford providing a steady mid-range threat. Horford didn’t do a good job of this in game 1, and as a result, Howard had little reason to come out of the post. With him in his element, it was more difficult to get him into foul trouble or score inside.
The Hawks also had trouble running set plays or even ISOs. After the first quarter, none of them were working at all. Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford were very ineffective, Horford was pressing when he actually tried to initiate offense, and Josh Smith’s playing time was limited by foul trouble. But what else do the Hawks do on offense? Do they have other options, or are they simply going to have to try and execute better in the “plays” they do run? Long-time Hawks fan Niremetal suggests a quick strike offense that doesn’t allow Orlando to get set in their defense and funnel everything to a waiting Dwight Howard. I’ll let him explain that one (and I liked the idea for the sake of trying something different to get a spark going), as I accidentally deleted his e-mail from my cell phone. Of course, we don’t know if Woody is willing to try something like that or not. Will he wait and see if the team can execute their normal plays better for the next game (or three), or will he stay the course?
What ideas do you have for the Hawks on offense? Should they let it all hang out by running the fast break as much as possible (even if it’s not off of defensive rebounds) and strike quickly on offense, or should they go with what they know, and try to be more focused? Is there an option C?
What happens in game 2? We’ve accused the Hawks (accurately, I might add) of being schizophrenic in nature. But not against THIS opponent. In the regular season during the last two years, the Hawks have only played well enough to have a chance at beating the Magic twice. Neither contest involved a dominating performance by the Hawks. It’s been mostly been blowout losses, so “up and down” really doesn’t apply here. I still don’t think the game can be won even largely on the defensive end for the Hawks, but maybe I’m wrong. But again…what do you see happening in game 2?