Head coach Larry Drew’s offense can work for the Hawks.
And guess what else? So can the Hawks’ defense, when properly applied. Ok, so we can’t overhype this victory because…wait for it….it’s just preseason. However, didn’t we all want to see if the Hawks were making any real progress in their quest to learn and play a different offense, one that is supposed to be harder to guard? Didn’t we want to see if they could actually defend a team, or play well against a highly regarded opponent? After succumbing to Orlando in the meekest fashion yet again, Atlanta came alive and stayed that way against that loudly heraled “other” NBA team from the state of Florida. Well? Does this victory mean anything, or no? Preseason wins/losses aside, should we put an asterisk next to this game, because Dwyane Wade wasn’t in it?
How did that happen?
Defense. Let’s start with LBJ. Sure, he had 38 points and 11 rebounds, and he shot 50% from the field. Sound bad? Look closer – James needed 22 shots from the field and 19 trips to the charity stripe to get there. And here is the biggest stat you didn’t see (or maybe you did) : 2 assists. James is at his best when he can get teammates involved. Last night, he wasn’t able to. So, he did what he’s used to doing. While he couldn’t be stopped, he did spend much of the evening trying to get away from the pesky Marvin Williams, who seemed to be in his way all the time in the halfcourt game. In the second half, he desperately sought one and sometimes two man screens to get away from Joe Johnson, who was more than up to the challenge. In fact, it was those consistent screens that allowed LBJ to get open looks at the basket, or he would have shot somewhere closer to 40%. One other thing. Did you notice Lebron did a lot less crashing into the lane than we’re used to seeing? Oh sure, he’s all but guaranteed to do it transition. It’s how he gets to the line. And, he had some of his trademark And-1 moves on us. But he wasn’t running over us all game, and some of the calls were….well….”LeQueen” calls. It’s to be expected.
Secondly, the Heat shot less than 37% from the field. Just as telling was the 89 points they scored. That’s right. With two star players on the floor. Would this be harder with Wade on the floor? Of course. But never, ever, ever, discount a victory against a quality opponent. Despite some struggles here and there, the Hawks played much better team defense than we’ve seen in a while.
Key Stat: Lebron 11-22 (50%) from the field, the rest of the Heat 18-57 (31.5%)
Motion Is Wonderful. I kept hearing the TNT announcers talking about Larry Drew, and how he kept telling the players to trust the offense, and trust each other. Now, we know that there will be times where things don’t go smoothly. None was more obvious than when Al Horford and a couple of other guys kept getting open looks, and missing them. I was waiting for the Hawks to go into full ISO mode for a stretch of 5 or 10 minutes. Never happened. Instead of watching ISO Joe, we got to see Joe lead this team offensively, and there is clearly a difference between the two ideas. Joe may not have shot a mind-boggling percentage, but he was in constant attack mode, not in ball pounding mode. He never stopped the flow and movement of the offense, and really, neither did anyone else. A few times, they got stuck without a good shot, and the clock winding down, but instead of going back to ISO this guy and ISO that guy, the Hawks kept moving. The result? Joe still took the most shots (and he should), but it might have been the best ball movement we have ever seen these guys exhibit.
Key Stat: 7 Hawks players with two or more assists. Would have been 8 if Zaza hadn’t fumbled a Jamal Crawford pass, leaving Jamal with just one assist.
Deep lineups make a difference when bench players contribute adequately. Ten guys played double figure minutes, with nine of them playing at least 17 minutes. Sound like a blowout game, where scrubs get some cleanup PT? Not so. The Hawks were in a fight the whole way. Joe probably didn’t know how to react to playing “merely” 35 minutes. But I know this – he looked fresh as the first day of spring in the fourth quarter, and that’s a change from the normal state of things. In fact, the entire team did. It’s amazing what can be done when you use your bench. Of course, it only works when your bench can perform. The regular season lights aren’t on yet, but it looks like we have some options that we did not have before. If the Hawks bench can continue to be effective as a unit, or sprinkled in among the starters (Hawks recent history says this tends to work better), the team will be able to compete well in the second half of many games, something they had trouble doing may times last season.
Key Stat: Josh Smith with 21 minutes played, Josh Powell with 22 minutes played. Powell seems to be a gamer, and if he can hold it down while Smoove is in foul trouble (or getting his attitude adjusted), this will mean a lot.
The entire starting lineup shows up. Marvin Williams still isn’t the attacker on offense that we may want him to be, hesitating with the ball when he could be driving, and looking to pass if he’s being guarded around the three point line. However, if he rebounds with the energy he did last night, takes his defensive effort seriously like he did against the unstoppable Lebron, and stays mostly turnover free, I’m not complaining if he doesn’t pile up the points on a nightly basis. He played within the flow of the offense, hitting 4 of 8 shot attempts, including 1 of 2 from beyond the arc. Mike Bibby looked like he was retiring on the court before our very eyes, up until this game. He’s clearly having some trouble getting enough separation from defenders to get his shot off. However, the aging point guard gave a better effort on defense than expected, helped facilitate ball movement very nicely, and hit some shots, including a very timely 3 pointer.
Hey, we knew Josh and Joe would show up and try to do their thing. We knew Al would be steady for the most part. But we seriously needed our other two starters to contribute in meaningful ways to be successful.
Key Stat: Marvin Williams with 11 rebounds, Mike Bibby 5-8 from the field with 5 assists.
Hey, maybe the Hawks decided to just get up for this game. Maybe they knew they were on television, probably only because Lebron and the South Beach Posse were in town. Maybe they just love home cooking. Whatever the case may be, and regardless of the caveat you attach to it – this is what we were waiting to see.