Hawks on wrong end of a blowout

It was supposed to be a blowout game. Expectations were certainly met on that front, but I don’t think either team saw it happening the way it did.

The Detroit bench torched the mostly listless Atlanta Hawks, while a less talented Detroit frontcourt showed a level of physicality that the Hawks hardly tried to match. To make matters worse, the Atlanta backcourt stayed overmatched all night, and never could seem to even things up, despite solid efforts from Mike Bibby on offense, and Damien Wilkins on defense. What can be said? Any number of cliches fit here, but at least it was a road game. A loss like this to a team with a record like that is hardly acceptable, but it would have been even more deplorable in the Highlight Factory. Anyway, we’ll all play the blame game with our favorite targets, of course.

Changing Lineups and Habits

Head Coach Larry Drew has been under the immediate pressure of trying to find the right lineup each night for each opponent while star guard Joe Johnson has been out. Perhaps there simply was no “right” lineup against Detroit, as they continually exploited the backcourt matchups, and the Pistons outhustled them from end to end. All too often, Rodney Stuckey was blowing by Mike Bibby (or Jamal Crawford), or Rip Hamilton was posting him up and/or running him off of screens. Damien Wilkins was able to help a good deal when in the game, but then the Pistons simply went to Tracy McGrady, who stayed hot from well beyond the 3 point arc. Without Joe, Wilkins and Mo Evans are the only credible defenders on the perimeter, as Marvin is too slow to contain guys like Stuckey and Ben Gordon. What were the Hawks going to do? Well, they could have made their presence felt down low, but outside of Josh Smith, that almost never happened. And, the whistles clearly did not go in favor of the Hawks last night, as Josh Smith was the recipient of several non-calls.

Unfortunately, this loss also highlighted some recent trends, some of which are good, and others not so much:

- Al Horford. His stats are better than ever, and his offensive game is now very much legit. However, Horford appears to be convinced that he is a power forward, and not a center, even when called upon to be so. One can certainly understand not wanting to mix it up all night with guys like Dwight Howard or Shaquille O’Neal. But Horford’s physical nature has become inconsistent. Again, it’s hard to read that in the stat box, what with Al putting up a career high 17 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. On some nights, Horford makes his presence known, outworking and outplaying his low post counterpart. On other nights, Horford does most of his damage from the outside, and gets his rebounds when the more physical guys aren’t on the floor. The Hawks need for Horford to mix up his game a little more, and get tougher down low. Again, his stats are great, but his demeanor isn’t always what the toughness-deficient Hawks need it to be. In short, the Hawks need Horford to be “The Boss” a little more, down in the pivot.

- Josh Smith. Say what you want about the electrifying forward. He doesn’t consistently bring it on the glass, and still gets discouraged if he’s constantly pushed hard off the block or fouled, and no whistle ensues. Still, Smith manages a respectable 8.3 rebounds per game and sometimes has games where it seems like every difficult-to-get-to rebound is his. Offensively, Smith has ceased to be a major liability on the perimeter. Clearly his hard work has paid off, as Smith hits jumpers on the regular, and is even shooting a smoking 46% from 3 point range. Safe to say, nobody saw this coming, and most never thought he would ever come up with a reliable jump shot. All of that considered, Smith still goes for his down low, looking to match up on post ups, and often succeeding. His 12 free throw attempts against Detroit (he hit 8 of them) are a testament to this, right on the heels of 10 attempts against Indiana the game before. What does this all amount to? It allows the Hawks to start games with a bigger lineup that has often included center Jason Collins. Say what you want about Smith, his expanded game has allowed the Hawks more options and flexibility, and it’s hard to argue with the results.

- Jason Collins. While Zaza Pachulia gets the lion’s share of the minutes at backup center behind Al Horford, it’s usually Collins that starts when the Hawks go big. Right now, Collins is arguably the Hawks most effectively physical center. Zaza has better stats, but lately when he has been physical, it’s not resulted in large numbers of rebounds, free throw attempts, or defensive plays that have stymied opposing players. It’s usually been a foul of some sort. That is certainly not to paint Zaza as garbage or someone who needs to be sent to the end of the bench. But when the Hawks go big, they go with Collins. And right now, he’s the most physically effective, particularly on defense.

 

Even when Joe comes back, we might be seeing a lineup that features the three frontcourt players above, particularly against certain teams. It’s up to Larry Drew what works best, but an effort such as the one against Detroit will nullify any lineup changes Drew could possibly come up with. In the meantime, how do the Hawks bounce back against Boston, who promises to be more physical, and execute much better? The last matchup ended in an embarrassing blowout. Will the Hawks have some pride and get after the Celtics? If so, they have a shot at this game, regardless of the matchup problems Boston presents (especially with Joe Johnson missing). If not, well….another blowout.

 

What do YOU think?

84 comments Add your comment

Big Ray

December 16th, 2010
5:43 pm

Nire ,

Dyslexia or doppleganger? :)

Big Ray

December 16th, 2010
5:45 pm

Either way, I don’t know if I’m looking forward to this game or not.

And AJ , I don’t know what’s with the string of DNPs for Jordan Crawford. But it’s great fodder for anybody who wants to make…oh, shall we say “slyly observant” comments about the similarities between one head coach and his rookie, and the ghost of Hawks coaching past…. ;)

Astro Joe

December 16th, 2010
9:32 pm

Funny how Teague looks like a different player when he is playing “guard” and not PG. And no Jamal in his backcourt is also noteworthy.

vava74

December 16th, 2010
9:42 pm

Why don’t the officials simply call 2 tech on all Hawks players and call it a day?

It would be simpler

vava74

December 16th, 2010
9:53 pm

disgusting officiating but Al has to throw it down instead of putting his head down and dribbling again

vava74

December 16th, 2010
9:54 pm

where’s everyone? I bet that now that you know that I am up you all simply turned off your tv sets and went to bed earlier… :-D

Astro Joe

December 16th, 2010
9:58 pm

vava, I’m ignoring you, hoping that you will fall asleep.

vava74

December 16th, 2010
10:02 pm

I am considering going to bed… but you better pin this defeat on the refs.

it has been a nauseating exercise to watch this game…

niremetal

December 16th, 2010
10:07 pm

Josh is playing alright D tonight when he gets a chance to catch his breath, but the Celtics are exhausting him by running him off multiple screens. It’s clearly affected him on both ends. Smart strategy by Doc.

Astro Joe

December 16th, 2010
10:08 pm

vava, the refs didn’t decide to play Collins for fear that Horford couldn’t get off against Erden. I’m not sure if I spelled his name correctly, BECAUSE HE IS A SCRUB ROOKIE WHOM OUR COACH SHOULDN’T FEAR AGAINST OUR ALL-STAR CENTER.

Astro Joe

December 16th, 2010
10:09 pm

nire, had he been matched against KG, that screen trick would not have been a plausible tactic… again, why the F is Collins playing?

vava74

December 16th, 2010
10:11 pm

niremetal

December 16th, 2010
10:12 pm

WHOA. Marvin did his best Josh impression on that block.

vava74

December 16th, 2010
10:17 pm

Astro,

Marvin has been playing well at the 2 spot taking advantage of his height advantage (he did give too many open looks to Ray Allen though).

Doesn’t that offset what you claim to be damaging us?

What is damaging us is not Collins, who moves well on D in and out of the post.

Contrary to what you mentioned earlier today, he defends the pick and roll well because he is smart and has a high basketball IQ.

vava74

December 16th, 2010
10:23 pm

Bibby in, Nate makes him pay.

Less than 30 second elapsed?

Astro Joe

December 16th, 2010
10:25 pm

vava, I didn’t see Marvin scoring “over” SGs as much as he’s been making distant jumpers tonight. But putting your two bext offensive options (Al and Josh) in a less than optimal match-up in favor of the player who gets the 6th most shots isn’t especially bright (IMO). IMO, the Hawks can’t beat Boston playing their style of ball, we needed to play at a faster pace tonight… and Collins isn’t in catalyst for operating at a faster pace. We should have tried to take advantage of tired old legs.

Melvin

December 16th, 2010
10:27 pm

Marvin has really played well tonight. Only if he would have had help from Josh and Al…

Astro Joe

December 16th, 2010
10:27 pm

vava, Bibby is smart and has a high b-ball IQ, what does that have to do with having the physical tools to defend quick players?

vava74

December 16th, 2010
10:32 pm

Astro,

He has been making jumpers over smaller opponents, getting to the line on fouls by smaller opponents

Astro Joe

December 16th, 2010
10:32 pm

Teague has more FGAs than Horford. How does that happen?

Melvin

December 16th, 2010
10:32 pm

Too many opens shots and the Celtics are making. Gameover…

Astro Joe

December 16th, 2010
10:34 pm

vava, you don;t design a game plan that makes things hard on Al and Josh to make things easier for Marvin. And Teague can’t get more FGAs than Horford. The offensive game plan tonight was F’ed up.

vava74

December 16th, 2010
10:34 pm

Astro,

Bibby would be an excellent backup for us.

As a starter he has too many games where he is over matched and without JJ and or Jamal drawing the double teams and leaving him open he has a lot of trouble launching the 3 pointers which make him valuable

Melvin

December 16th, 2010
10:36 pm

Load up the plane and get the hell out of Boston…

vava74

December 16th, 2010
10:40 pm

we played a good game.

the refs were fundamental in keeping the celts close (and Horford quickly off the floor with the second foul) when he had them on the ropes and then with another series of bad calls they got what they wanted.

It should be noted that Horford was called for his 3rd fall immediately at the start of the 3rd quarter whilst the Celts hacked away at will.

some coaching issues, but nothing major since with limited personnel… it was difficult, after all, BOS still had the big 3 to play with tonight.

Astro Joe

December 16th, 2010
10:40 pm

vava, I don’t disgaree about Bibby, but you can’t bench him for anyone on this team. I’d love to have a PG good enough to send Bibby to the bench, unfortunately, we don’t have one. I wish we had a center that would send Collins and Zaza to the far end of the bench (evidently Horford is no longer that guy)… but we don’t.

niremetal

December 16th, 2010
10:51 pm

I didn’t catch the beginning of the game (was closing the deal on my new Corolla), but from what I saw I actually didn’t think much more could have been expected considering who we are missing and who we were playing. Of course, the Celts were missing Rondo as well, but frankly Nate causes us as many problems as Rondo usually does anyway.

My big gripe is that this was not a game where Collins’ presence was necessary. At all.

vava74

December 16th, 2010
10:55 pm

Astro,

Horford was kept off the game by the refs AND again crapped his pants. His shots only started to go down in the second half. His first jump shots to start the game where short and tight.

You could clearly see that he had problems dealing with the pressure which the Celts placed on him AGAIN.

On LD’s option to use Al and Josh at the PF and SF slots:

Do you remember what Garnett did to Josh in ATL? I think LD tried to give him a different look defensively.

Unfortunately the refs thought differently.

On the fact that this game plan gave more shots to Marvin instead of Al and Josh:

Well, it seems that you don’t take into consideration that WE NEEDED to have some perimeter offense in order to free up some space inside.

Marvin gave us the perimeter offense we needed.

The problem was that Josh was whacked repeatedly and did not get the calls and you know what happens after that: he loses focus and confidence and misses everything he throws up and shies away from playing inside and was mostly a non factor.

Al played only 25 minutes and got the shots that the BOS defense gave him. He did not have more because he did not bang and did not collect any offensive rebounds which could be converted into points (he had 2, but 1 was on the final minute after a long 3 by Marvin).

Garnett was 8-10, Erden 5-6 and that was a direct consequence on how the officials were calling the game: you touched a Celt, you got called for a foul.

They masked that well with meaningless fouls in the perimter on Pierce and Daniels but the true fact is that the inside the game was called completely differently for both teams.

Another example were 2 clear fouls on Powell (whacked on his forearm) which were converted into 2 TO (steals).

Astro Joe

December 16th, 2010
11:05 pm

vava, okay, the refs stole the game from us. Go with it. I’m not.

Teague’s play supports what I’ve said ad nauseum… he needs to be placed in a role where he can be offensively aggressive… more of a “lead” guard and less of a PG. And he and Jamal are as compatible as oil and water.

Yet another game where Marvin plays well and Josh stinks up the joint. They rarely (almost never) perform well together.

Boston was without their top 3 centers and their starting PG and were playing a back-to-back game. Our captains were at best “uneven”, sure, I expected to lose but not expecting to see such a poor effort from our captains.

O'Brien

December 16th, 2010
11:06 pm

Did not see the game, but it looked like Marvin played well. If only we can see this Marvin more often.

Teague looked better with no JJ and no Jamal, but he did have 4 turnovers. I’m surprised to see Josh go 0-8.

I know the Celtics played last night, and played w/o Rondo and Shaq, but Hawks played w/o Jamal and JJ, on the road. As a result, I can’t find fault with our effort.

So Hawks selected Pape Sy with the 53rd pick. Boston selected Semih Erden with the 60th pick. Which one is looking like the better pick so far?

O'Brien

December 16th, 2010
11:07 pm

AJ,

Like you, I am surprised that Josh and Al didnt give us much. But I’m glad we kept it close for most of the game.

O'Brien

December 17th, 2010
12:29 am

So the rumor is Braves are close to signing Uggla for 5 years, $60 mil. What do you think, Doc?

doc

December 17th, 2010
12:56 am

o’b, it starts to make up for throwing so much away for tex and spending on lowe, chipper, kawakami and mclouth. i wonder if he could play center like the old second baseman for the stros that made the switch. i dont like the idea of him, gonzalez, mccann and mclouth up the middle. pitching better be b!tching good.

nire to heck with the game tell us about the new ride.

vava74

December 17th, 2010
6:32 am

Astro,

Fine, you are blind as a bat.

2 quick fouls on Horford (both minor touch fouls) which made him miss part of the first quarter and the whole of the 2nd quarter.

2/3 fouls on Josh not called which lead to him being frustrated and completely out of sync on offense.

Note the difference about what was called when Al or Josh tried to drive or back down their defenders and what was called on Al.

1 foul on Powell not called.

These were the most blatant examples during the first half and you should note that the tendency was: BOS can play physical inside at will, ATL can’t touch playing D.

Several other calls during the second half were going the same way:

at least 1 on Al when he drove (and instead of hammering it down he dribbled) and went up after a fake he got whacked in the head.

at least 2 on Josh. One of them was sooooo obvious that even McHale acknowledged it and said that Josh had done everything right and did not get the call.

1 on Powell (he got whacked on the forearm but it was judged clean strip)

1 on Teague when he slipped (before Nate got his hands on the ball he pushed Teague down onto the floor)

These plays amount to 8 or 9 possessions, most of them crucial.

If you don’t want to see it, fine.

One final note, there is absolutely no f*cking reason for ATL people not go and support the team.

Yes, they are not elite yet but the Hawks are playing in a mortuary. Compare that with the added pressure which the refs feel in BOS, SA, …

They won championships, I know, but you have to support the team every single game like the Bos series of 3 years ago.

ATL fans either don’t show up or show up only to cheer if everything is going the right way. That doesn’t cut it.