Orlando–Some stats types are dismissive of the Hawks’ Game 1 victory because of the way Hurricane Dwight scattered them and also because of all of those long jump shots they made.
Example: Mike Prada of SBNation.
Apparently, it is possible for an NBA team to allow a player to score 46 points and be universally praised for it. Dwight Howard ran all over the Atlanta Hawks’ single-coverage, but because nobody else on his team decided to do much of anything, the Hawks came away with a Game 1 victory on the road. Howard and Jameer Nelson scored 73 points; everyone else on the Magic scored 20. Howard and Nelson shot 26-41; everyone else shot 8-34. It was a brilliant strategy by the Hawks to make sure that their horrible teammates had horrible games. Let’s praise them for it!
Snark aside, the bottom line is this. Playing Howard straight-up and taking away the three-point shooters is a strategy. Allowing Howard to score 46 points and hope his teammates shoot 8-34 is not. Luckily, the Hawks shot nearly 50 percent from 16-23 feet and made it work. That doesn’t mean it’s a sustainable long-term strategy, but whenever writers are given the chance to question Howard’s worth as a player for being just the 11th player since 1985 to score 45 or more points in a playoff game and lose, they’ll take it.
I like the snark, especially in service of going against the grain to knock down memes. But Prada’s take is pretty cynical. “Nobody else on the team decided to do much of anything” makes it sound as if the Hawks gave Dwight’s teammates lots of opportunities and they just didn’t take them. Similarly “hope his teammates shoot 8-34″ could instead be construed as “try to make sure they do.” Isn’t that the whole point of staying home on them?
And I hope no one is questioning Howard’s worth as a player based on Game 1 (or based on much of anything, really). Heck, if I’m the Magic, I don’t worry about getting anybody else involved if Dwight is hammering the Hawks again. Why give more chances to players who are not going to be as efficient? If Dwight has another monster game, the Magic could simply cut down on their turnovers, get more stops (which Stan Van Gundy acknowledges won’t be easy because of the match ups) and win. If so, the Dwight Defense will have been conquered.
Game 1 is not an indictment of Howard’s worth as a player. Instead, as Rob Mahoney noted at ProBasketballTalk: “This series could stand as an exercise [in] the limits of superstardom, as even a game-changing force like Howard is left a spectator to the shortcomings of his own teammates.”
It’s true the Hawks made a lot of long 2s but put that in the context that they made them at a higher percentage than any team during the regular season. It’s a tad dismissive to chalk it up those Game 1 jumpers to luck when the Hawks have more skilled jump shooters than most teams (and when the Magic don’t have the defenders to consistently challenge those shots). And much to my surprise the Hawks, thanks to J.J., were more than just a jump-shooting team in Game 1.
Van Gundy is a stats guy and also outspoken, so I thought he would shrug off Atlanta’s ability to make the most inefficient shots in basketball over the long run. But he didn’t do so.
“They are efficient with it,” Van Gundy said. “A lot of people don’t know that Al Horford, outside of 10 or 12 feet, he is the highest-percentage shooter in the league. That includes guards and guys like Nowitzki. Now he doesn’t stretch it out to three but he can make those shots. . . . They have a lot of guys who shoot the ball very well from that range. If we can get them down below what they normally do then I think we have a hell of a chance.”
Sounds like Van Gundy isn’t only hoping the Hawks miss those shots but believes the Magic actually have to do something to stop them.
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat