(Update: Bibby to sit out tonight with ingrown toenail on left big toe. He said he will test it before game at Detroit tomorrow. Teague to start at point guard in his place. Woody says reports from Atlanta indicate Joe Johnson (thumb) is “feeling a lot better” and could play vs. Toronto on Friday.)
The Hawks are on the road and, if they continue on their current course, chances are they will have a shot to beat Charlotte late in the game. But odds are they won’t close out a victory, and not just because they are without J.J.
In 13 road games since the All-Star break, the Hawks are 5-7 when they either had a lead or gained a tie in the fourth quarter. The Hawks blew leads in the final two minutes of four games and in the final six minutes of two others.
Compare that Hawks’ closing percentage to the other three top teams in the East:
At the time of the year when serious teams win on the road, and at the time during those games when they make winning plays, the Hawks are fading. Still, the positive for the Hawks is they’ve almost always had a chance to win in the final period on the road since the break. They’ve been tied or leading in the fourth quarter at a higher rate (12 of 13 games) than the Cavs (10 of 12), Magic (9 of 10) and Celtics (8 of 11). The negative is that when the Hawks get to winning time on the road, the they are faltering at a much higher rate (58 percent) than those three.
This is the kind of thing that comes to mind when Woody says the Hawks have closed the gap on Cleveland, Orlando and Boston but adds that they are still learning to win at a high level. It’s a process, and there’s time to turn the trend around in the final four road games. The Hawks are focused on doing it because as as Mo told Ken. S “close” is little consolation: “In my opinion, if you’re in the game for three quarters and you lose in the fourth quarter, that’s no different than if you got blown out throughout the game.”
I wouldn’t go that far but you get Mo’s point. So why can’t the Hawks close out victories on the road? Looking at the broad statistical categories of points scored and allowed in the fourth quarter, the needle is tilted slightly towards scoring.
In those seven road losses the Hawks scored 14, 14, 17, 19, 21, 23, and 22 points in the fourth quarter for an average of 18.6 points. That’s compared to their overall fourth-quarter points per game average of 23.9 on the road. They allowed 18, 35, 24, 31, 31, 25 and 24 points in the fourth quarter for an average of 26.9 points. That’s compared to an average of 23.5 points allowed in the fourth quarter in all road games.
That (admittedly simplistic) analysis suggests that lately scoring is a bigger problem than getting stops late in road games for the Hawks, at least in relation to how they usually produce in fourth quarters. And if you think J.J.’s absence means the offense suddenly flows more freely, peep Hoopinion’s recap from the Pistons game:
“With the probable exception of Al Horford and the possible exception of Jamal Crawford, I’m not sure anyone’s reputation came out of this game more improved amongst Hawks fans than did Joe Johnson’s as they witnessed more evidence that the team’s difficulties scoring in the fourth quarter are larger than the veteran swingman’s proclivities.”
Or maybe the answer isn’t in the stats. It could be like J.J. told Ken S., that it’s more about attitude:
“Diving on the floor for loose balls and things of that nature, a lot of that stuff we do here at Philips, we’ve got to take that on the road. I just don’t see a lot of that on the road, us diving for loose balls, taking charges. … That’s something we’ve really got to try to get to if we’re trying to make it to the next level, which is winning a championship.”