Atlanta Hawks: Hornets 93, Hawks 86
Ariza and the Hornets dominated the Hawks inside. (Matthew Hinton/The Times-Picayune)
New Orleans–The Hornets are a very good defensive team. Once they started playing like it, the Hawks couldn’t score.
- The Hornets are a very good pick-and-roll team. Once they started playing like it, the Hawks couldn’t stop them.
- Neither of those things should be surprising. Look at the top teams in defensive efficiency, and then notice how Atlanta’s sizzling offense has grind to a halt against all of them at winning time.
- And by now the sight of a good point guard slicing through Atlanta’s defense to score or set up others is so common as to be expected. CP3 might be the best at it, and he methodically carved up the Hawks in the third quarter.
- “As bad as that third quarter was, we were still right there and had a chance,” L.D. said. “But against good teams we have to be able to follow through on the game plan, especially defensively. On the road you have to have better shot selection.”
- Smoove was the guiltiest party on the latter. He’s getting jump shot happy again and now they aren’t falling. He did have 12 rebounds but foul trouble limited him to 28 minutes and, in another unsurprising development, the Hornets got free run at the rim when he was out of the game.
- The Hawks came out smoking. They moved the ball, made shots and attacked the rim to get calls. Joe and Marvin looked unstoppable. The Hornets were a step behind. “We let them move the ball where they wanted to,” David West said.
- And then the Hornets decided to be more aggressive guarding the perimeter. Now Joe, hounded by Ariza, couldn’t find room to operate. Marvin couldn’t finish. Okafor owned the paint.
- The Hawks scored just 31 points after halftime. “We stopped running, we stopped pushing the basketball for easy transition points and we started settling for jump shots,” L.D. said.
- That’s what tends to happen when the scoring gets harder for the Hawks.
- “I thought we got out and rattled them a little bit, got them off balance,” West said “Joe Johnson is one of the best players in the league, so obviously you are not going to just shut him down completely. But I thought we made his alleys a little more crowded and forced him into some tough looks.”
- The Hawks would to well to emulate the Hornets under coach Monty Williams. “They have done a tremendous job defensively,” L.D. said. “Looking at where they were last year and where they are this year, they have made the commitment defensively and put together some great games.”
- The Hornets also have better defensive players than the Hawks, but still.
- Atlanta’s nine-point halftime lead was gone fast. Paul assisted on two baskets during 13-4 run. “We started the third quarter and we just didn’t come out with any energy,” Drew said. “We came out very lethargic.”
- Or, you know, it could be that a great pick-and-roll player picked apart a weak pick-and-roll defense.
- “We missed some defensive assignments against him on how we were defending the pick-and-roll,” Drew said. “Then we tried to mix it up and play a little zone to get him off balance a little bit. But he made some shots and he got too deep on us on the pick-and-roll a couple times. We went underneath, which was a missed assignment.
- Paul was strangely passive in the first half and then suddenly became animated in the third quarter. In one stretch he scored 11 of his team’s 13 points and assisted on the other basket. He screamed and pounded his chest as the the Hornets’ second-largest crowd of the season snapped from its slumber.
- “One thing we didn’t want to do was let him get going and get the crowd into it,” L.D. said.
- The Hawks tried everyone who wasn’t a point guard to slow Paul. Joe, Marvin and Mo all took turns on him. The Hawks even tried zones with Al and Smoove at the top. “He’s seen every coverage by now,” Jamal said. “You just have to live with it sometimes.”
- Atlanta’s defense took a hit when Marvin was forced to the sidelines with cramping. He started the fourth quarter but went out for Josh with the Hawks down 80-78. Marvin received IV fluids after the game.
- Mo went out for J.J. at that point, too, a fact he pointed out more than once afterward.
- “The game was tied at 78-78 and then I think we were stagnant in the latter part of the game,” Mo said. “The They continued to run their offense. CP continued to create for other guys and put it in position where all they had to do was score the ball or shoot it. They got great looks every time down the floor and eventually that is going to win out.”
- Al played just eight minutes in the first half because of the two-foul rule. He tried to attack the basket in the second half but Okafor and West made it tough. The Hornets took 15 more shots in the paint (38) than Atlanta and enjoyed a 48-22 advantage in points.
- Joe said the three-day break helped his elbow. He wore a brace over that time and said he can extend the arm more than before: “I don’t know how much straighter it’s going to get, though.”
- He looked pretty smooth, especially in the first half. “I was kind of taking what the defense gives me,” he said. “Our offense, basically everybody is moving the basketball, and if you are open, you take the shot.”
- That’s how it worked in the first half, but what happened in the second? “The ball just stopped moving,” Joe said. “And then I thought we settled a lot in that second half when we could have been driving and making plays for other guys and getting to the basket or getting to the line.”
- The Hawks attempted 18 free throws in the first half and six after halftime.
- Jamal went into attack mode in the second half. The results were mixed. He had eight points, four turnovers and no assists after halftime. “It definitely felt rusty,” he said.