What to make of Tuesday night?
Jamal Crawford’s take: “We had a rough stretch scoring the ball and that hasn’t been the case all year. We look at it as a fluke, laying an egg, and hopefully come out tomorrow and get a win.”
I don’t know if I entirely agree with him, but I don’t think he’s so far off. I don’t know what happened in the fourth quarter. Crawford said that pressure built with each failed possession. Al Horford said that Cleveland defended the transition differently and caught the Hawks by surprise. After a sizzling start, Joe Johnson might have been as ineffective as I’ve seen him. Obviously, Cleveland had something to do with it. The Cavs are one of the best defensive teams in the league – first in points in the paint allowed, second in defensive field goal percentage and fourth in points allowed per game. Earlier this season, they held Milwaukee scoreless for more than 11 minutes.
Mike Brown, before Tuesday’s game: “Guys are doing a nice job limiting teams to one shot. There were stretches (in the season) where we were getting hurt on the offensive glass, there were stretches where we got hurt in transition. There was a stretch where we were turning the ball over and our floor balance wasn’t great and we were getting hurt real bad with some easy baskets. We’ve kind of done a decent job of trying to clean that up. Our guys have been focusing on those areas and done a better job of not letting those easy buckets happen to us.”
But, it did seem fluky. I (and you, I imagine) have grown accustomed to the Hawks making good decisions with the ball – or at least not turning it over – and they were just haphazard, particularly in the fourth quarter. I guess the tougher part is teasing out how much pressure and defense had to do with it, and how much was the Hawks just imploding.
Jeff Schultz’s column from the game.
“I think we put too much pressure on ourselves to go win a game instead of just playing the way we know how to play,” Josh Smith said. “We definitely thought about this game too hard.”
Cleveland Plain-Dealer’s game story.
(The Cavaliers) have never done what they enforced on the Hawks in this one, stuffing them for nearly nine minutes in the fourth quarter.
espn.com’s Daily Dime.
qualitatively it was shocking how little had changed from the playoff series nearly eight months ago.
Anyway, going forward.
Why the Hawks will win
1. Few gave them much of a chance in Boston and Dallas, and they won there. (The Dallas game, you’ll remember, followed the New York loss, one of the worst of the season. Josh Smith got tossed, the starters played extended minutes and it looked for all the world like Dallas would run the Hawks out of the gym. Interestingly, Crawford said pretty much the same thing following that New York game that he did Tuesday. This is a pretty confident group, and I didn’t sense any self-doubt in the locker room after the game.)
2. I think the Hawks think or know they can play with Cleveland, and I don’t think they’re scared. As poorly as the Hawks played offensively at times, they did a pretty solid job on Cleveland defensively, particularly in the second half. Marvin Williams defended admirably against LeBron James (and had a solid night overall), although I’m not sure where to draw the Marvin played well/LeBron played poorly line.
3. I don’t think the Hawks will have a stretch like they did Tuesday night, at least not of their own doing.
4. The Hawks were a little miffed with the chirping that some of the Cavaliers were doing, which may make them all the more eager for payback (if they need any more reasons). Without naming him, they were particularly unimpressed with the woofing that Jamario Moon was doing.
5. Despite their many incompetence issues, the Hawks had 23 fast-break points against Cleveland, 10 more than the Cavs’ average. There’s no reason the Hawks can’t do better if they handle the ball better in transition than Tuesday.
Why they won’t
1. Again with James – even if Williams had a lot to do with his 6-for-20, there’s no way he plays like that two nights in a row.
2. When the Hawks won in Boston, they were helped by Boston shooting 1 for 15 from 3-point range. In Dallas, Josh Howard was out.
3. Besides James, I don’t think Cleveland played all that well. There were a number of turnovers that were just bad, bad plays that I wouldn’t expect that team to make. The Hawks will likely face a better team Wednesday.
4. One of the Hawks’ pillars is rebounding. Cleveland neutralized the Hawks Tuesday, outrebounding the Hawks 43-30 and holding them to five offensive boards, and there’s no reason to think the Cavaliers can’t do it again.
5. Bottom line, it’s hard not to say that the Cavaliers are a better team. The Hawks’ chance to take one was Tuesday.
Why do you think the Hawks will win/lose tonight? Feel free to use my reasons, as each of them rates a 10 for insight.*
Also, I’m planning on figuring out who won the prediction contest in my hotel in Cleveland this afternoon. Looking forward to it.