Tonight’s game in Atlanta should be a good one as the Atlanta Hawks look to stave off a third straight 2nd round playoff elimination. Atlanta will have the fans on their side this time (at least for the most part) and that is never a bad thing.
What’s great about this series is the fact that the Hawks are showing that they can win, that they are good enough. What they have a chance to show tonight is that they will do what they’re capable of. They need another performance like game 4, only better. Every player has to play his role to the hilt to beat this Chicago team. Atlanta is capable, and they know it. They also know what makes them lose games, and Chicago knows it too. That is the part that gives Hawks fans the most hope and the most consternation at the same time – the fact that this team really does have what it takes to win the series. They just have to execute.
The Plans of Attack
- We already know that Joe and Jamal need to have good games for the Hawks to have a chance at winning game 6. The Bulls know this as well, and will look to force the issue by harassing both guys, and settling for one of them having a bad game. It worked in fine fashion for Chicago in game 5, as we saw. The Bulls have a chance at closing out this series if they can keep one of the Hawks’ two dynamic scoring guards from doing what they do best.
What do YOU think? Can the Hawks win on the strength of good performances by Joe and Jamal?
- Another ploy involves frustrating Al Horford and trying to temper his aggression by staying all over him and making him uncomfortable. Horford has to know this is what’s going on, and he combated that fairly well in game 4. However, game 5 yielded similar results to his other games. Horford did not make as many plays (3 assists) as he did mistakes (4 turnovers) and stayed off balance with 5 personal fouls. Let’s keep this nice and simple. Horford needs to score in the teens to help his team, and keep his rebounds at the level they are at. A handful of assists always helps, but being a scoring promise (as opposed to just being a threat) helps more. What’s the difference between a promise and a threat? A threat is a guy that is defended and stays defended/contained. A promise is a guy who scores and forces the defense to react to him, which gives him a chance to make plays with the ball as well.
What do YOU think? Have a different idea on how Horford can best help the Hawks win?
- The final strategy isn’t an active strategy, it’s a passive one. The Bulls really have no particular answer for Josh Smith, as they saw in game 4. They have trouble defending him in transition, and anybody who draws the assignment of guarding him in the post is either too slow or not strong enough, and nobody can match his athletic ability. Even if he doesn’t always cash in at the free throw line, fouls are fouls and can limit a key player’s minutes at the worst of times. So How does Chicago defend Smith? The only truly effective way is to push him out to the perimeter, or lay off of him when he wanders out there on his own. Josh around the arc isn’t nearly as deadly as Josh near the basket. His athletic ability (translation: quickest and highest leaper on the court) is null and void 18 or 20 feet from the basket where anyone weighing more than 100 pounds will also be able to box him out from rebounds.
The simple fact is this – if Noah can more or less nullify Horford, and the Chicago defense can contain Johnson and Crawford (or just one of them), it just about all falls to Josh Smith. If he plays into Chicago’s hands, it could very well be over.
What do YOU think? Is Josh Smith the key to a Hawks victory in game 6 (or the series overall), or will somebody else step up?
SIDE NOTE: Do not underestimate the importance of the “first strike” concept. Both teams know that they stand a better chance of winning if they strike first, and strike hardest. Chicago learned the hard way that Atlanta has enough scoring firepower to ride a lead and make you work from behind, then blistering you with jumpers in the 4th quarter (provided they are falling). The Bulls know they can’t win that way, as they don’t have enough offensive firepower to make more than one or two strong offensive runs, so they take a different path, one which suits them best. They’ll look to gain a first quarter lead as well, then use their defense to keep their heads above water and ride the game out. In games 1 and 4, the Hawks strategy prevailed. In games 2, 3, and especially 5, the Bulls strategy won out. Game 6 may very well be about which team is able to execute their base strategy the best.
The Jeff Teague Argument
It seems we just can’t enjoy the emergence of our 2nd year point guard without arguing about how it all happened. But hey, this is a blog, so why not? Here are some thoughts and questions related to the latest jousting match:
1) How much credit does coaching get here? Some of the comments all year long were entirely not in Larry Drew’s favor. He’s been hammered for everything from who he plays, his substitution patterns, and his ability to hold players accountable for their actions. The problem with crediting Drew or anybody else with Teague’s “sudden” emergence is that if coaching is all it took to mold him into the player he is now, then what took so long? If Teague wasn’t ready to shoulder more responsibility, as many said he wasn’t during the season, then wasn’t that a coaching problem? It can’t be had both ways. If coaching is the answer, then coaching was also the problem. It’s either that, or you have to also give credit to Teague himself for receiving the coaching that he was given, and doing the right things with that instruction.
2) Would we get to see this from Jeff Teague if Kirk Hinrich was healthy enough to play against Chicago? Now there is an uncomfortable thought, probably moreso for some than for others. Hinrich was named the starter and Teague barely sniffed the floor against Orlando. Matchups could have something to do with it, but something tells me that Teague would have received similar treatment against Chicago if Hinrich was healthy. In this series, we are seeing two things that were often used as arguing points during the regular season – not only are we winning with Teague, we’re NOT LOSING because of him. I’d need a calculator to add up the number of times that people said we should not sacrifice wins for a single player’s development.
3) What does Teague’s current production prove? I would say that it proves that Teague maybe should have gotten more playing time during the regular season. Not for the sake of “development”, but for the sake of experience. Him playing more in some games may have meant more wins. Then again, maybe not. But at this point, can’t it be a hindsight possibility if nothing else? It may also have meant more confidence for Larry Drew, who has been limited at times when it comes to lineups. If Teague had played more, he would have more experience in dealing with different point guard types (strong vs. fast, physical vs. finesse, etc).
It also proves that Teague can play against arguably the best point guard in the League. Can he consistently beat him one-on-one? No. Rose is the best, and his MVP trophy shows that. But Teague can score on him and bother him on the other end. You can’t hope for more than that. On the other hand, this is also a sobering thought. Who else can Teague play well against? We don’t know. What happens when he is matched up against a different type of player? We don’t know. What we do know now, is that Jeff can truly compete for and earn the job as starting point guard. And knowing this, if he earns it (and there’s little reason to think he can’t or won’t), then there should be no question of his status, regardless of different matchups from night to night. No such thing as a part-time starter. Either you’re a starter, or you’re a bench guy who sometimes starts, as necessary. There should be no limbo next season, the Hawks have suffered through this long enough.
Have a different thought? Feel like it doesn’t matter how Teague got where he is, so long as he’s here now? More worried about some other element of the team’s performance? Sound off!
By the way, if you want to see a truly excellent (and revealing) article on the Larry Drew/Jeff Teague subject, then check this out. The AJC’s Michael Cunningham is The Man….
Big Ray, Hawks Fan Nest Blog