After covering the Hawks for a couple weeks, I can see why Iso-Joe late in games makes some of you mad. It slows the Hawks’ pace. It’s not pleasing to the eye when Johnson dominates the ball while his teammates stand and watch, makes a move to the basket and then misses. When Iso-Joe doesn’t work, it can look so bad. That’s got to be frustrating for you fans.
But what about when it does work? What you saw against the Celtics is the beauty of Iso-Joe when he’s going good (and please don’t forget that’s much more often than not). He made seven shots in the fourth quarter against the Celtics. None of them were assisted.
“They isolated us all game,” Paul Pierce said. “They’ve done that all four games, and they’ve beaten us all four games.”
To Celtics coach Doc Rivers, that’s no coincidence. When it’s not Iso-Joe, it’s Iso-Jamal, and he said that’s what will make the Hawks a dangerous team to face in the playoffs.
“Those two guys when they get the ball in one-on-one, if I’m Woody, I don’t mind that matchup whoever is guarding them,” Rivers said. “That’s what makes them great to me as a playoff team, because in the playoffs your first and second option has been taken away if you’ve done any scouting. Then it’s got to come down to guys making plays, and they have guys that can make plays. That makes them really good.”
From Woody’s perspective (and that of any coach, really), the goal late in games is to get the ball to your best playmaker(s) in positions where he/they can make plays. So then what’s the point of running plays with the intention of getting J.J. the ball in a good spot when the Hawks can just let him work over his defender in isolation? J.J. is one of the best in the league in that situation, after all.
If Johnson draws a double team, then Woody wants him to share the ball. But Woody notes that not many opponents are doubling Johnson late in games. That’s because when the Hawks spread the floor for Iso-Joe, it’s risky for a defender to leave his man to double J.J. at the top. So when Johnson is singled up with a defender in isolation, Woody is fine with him working to get his shot.
“He has to,” Woody said.
As for Johnson dominating the ball until late into the shot clock, Woody said he’s OK with that when the Hawks are in control and need to run clock. The drawback to that approach is if Johnson can’t get into position for a good look, then he passes off to Smoove late in the shot clock, leading to one of his awkward jumpers. Or someone else has to take a rushed jumper. But, think about it, everyone other than Smoove who would be on the floor with Johnson in those situations is capable of making at least a midrange jumper : Bibby, Marvin, Al, Mo and Jamal. It’s how the Hawks are built.
And while I know the gripe for some of you isn’t that the Hawks run Iso-Joe, but that they don’t mix it up late in games, consider what happened on that last play against the Suns. The Hawks tried to rub Johnson off a screen but the Suns jumped the play. That led to Crawford launching a 3-pointer for the W.
“What can they do (against isolation)?” Crawford said of opponents. “If you run a pick-and-roll they can trap you. If you try to run off a screen you might not get what you want.”
So the next time Iso-Joe goes bad and makes you mad, try to remember that opponents might hate seeing it even more than you.