I don’t think anybody saw this beating coming. I know the Utah Jazz certainly didn’t, as evidenced by the look on Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan’s face.
It’s a common refrain: “when the Hawks play like this, they’re tough to beat.” Heard it enough times already? I’ll bet you have. No one can deny the validity of such a statement, though. Atlanta hit shots from everywhere, including a blazing 14 of 25 from 3 point territory, and even went 16 of 18 from the free throw line. What could go wrong with Joe and Jamal coming fairly close to 30 points apiece for the second night in a row, and Al Horford joining in the fun? Four guys hit 50% or better from beyond the arc, and four guys also had at least 4 assists. The ball swung a lot more often than it got pounded in place, and everything went right for the Hawks, or so it seemed.
Small note: The officiating was horrible all night long, for both teams. Where did they get those guys? Obviously none of them stayed at a Holiday Inn….
Total Effort beats Eraser
As much as can be said about the offense, the bigger story was the defense. For once, the Hawks played defense as a team, and it really showed. The only Jazz player to play significant time and shoot 50% or better was Andrei Kirilenko, who also happened to be the only Jazz player who seemed to get much daylight. Kirilenko was open more often than not, and guess what? Marvin Williams wasn’t in the game, so he can’t be blamed. Nope, this time it was Josh Smith who constantly lost his man. And there’s the rub – the Hawks defended very well and won big because their team defense got the job done. When the Hawks give a total effort, they don’t need their “eraser” so much. Nothing against Smith, but this is exactly where the Hawks want to be – able to defend a team well without relying on a athletic, shot-blocking risk taker to make up for two or three botched assigments on a single possession. Nothing showed the effort more than Jamal Crawford and Mike Bibby fighting tooth and nail to get through screens. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Crawford fight that hard to stay with his man. Seriously.
So of course, here’s the big question. Will the Hawks have short memory syndrome and forget the results of a defensive effort like this, or will they commit to playing like this more often? After all, it’s not like that hail fire of jumpers is going to rain down on every opponent every night. That would be a problem, as the Hawks often act like they don’t know what to do when their jumpers aren’t falling.
Going big, or going bust?
If Larry Drew sticks with his big lineup most nights and leaves Marvin on the bench, how long before playing Josh Smith at the small forward spot begins to hurt the team? Smith can guard a lot of guys, but he’s not the best on-ball defender. Unfortunately, an on-ball defender is what you must be against many guys who are playing small forward these days, most especially the better ones. After all, not every guy playing a position is a natural at that position. Some centers are really power forwards. Some power forwards are really small forwards. And some small forwards? Really, they are shooting guards. Of late, Smith has been getting into foul trouble, and it has limited his play on both ends of the court.
It’s not just positioning. We all know that when Josh begins to play bad, he gets into a funk and then seems to hardly be able to do anything right. The question is, can the team survive with him logging serious miutes at SF, or is this going to be an issue that Drew will have to address? Let’s keep in mind that effort notwithstanding, it will affect Josh’s production when rebounding and defending the rim are concerned. Also, Josh seems to gamble on steals a lot more when he’s defending guys who are adept at handling the ball, which is something he will come up against a lot when defending small forwards. It’s not nearly the same issue when he’s defending low post guys.
The Atlanta Hawks have 11 more games to play in the month of January, and 7 in the month of February, prior to the trade deadline. While most expect the Hawks won’t make a move (or perhaps only a minor one) prior to the deadline, this may be the time to watch closely how some things are going for the team. As it stands right now, the Hawks do well in some games with a guard rotation of Bibby, Johnson, Crawford, and Evans. Much of this depends on the defensive efforts that the Hawks make, as this is the only way Jeff Teague can possibly crack the rotation. Does the front office see a need for a third point guard that can play defense and take care of the ball, while hitting a shot or two? Maybe not, if Crawford keeps playing well, as his offense is clearly acceptable as an offset to his usually shaky/nearly nonexistent defense, at least where the coaching staff is concerned. How patient are the Hawks going to be with Jeff Teague? Could there be in deals lurking in the background that may be offered? Somebody we don’t expect to be moved, could actually get moved. Again, this largely depends on how the Hawks play during this stretch.
Getting back to the schedule, Atlanta will play 8 road games and 10 home games between now and the deadline. Of those road games, only two are against opponents with winning records. Of the 10 home games, only two are against opponents with winning records. What does this mean? If the Hawks can play with more than a modicum of consistency for the next 18 games, they could go on quite a run.
What do YOU think? A realistic thought, or a pipe dream?