Early in this game I had to remind myself that this was just a pre-season game because of how good the Hawks looked. During the second half I was also reminding myself that this was just one game for a very different reason. At the end of the day that was exactly what it was, the first pre-season game of a very long season. While it would have been very nice to have won this game, the final outcome wasn't necessarily the top priority. There were some very good things to take away from this game along with some things that still need a lot of work.
The biggest headlines were made about Coach Larry Drew's new offensive scheme that he planned to deploy this season and it was on full display during the first half of Thursday night's game. However, I would like to first talk about the Hawks team defense. During the first half, the Hawks held Memphis to 34% shooting from the floor and forced 14 turnovers. They also held a 20-17 rebounding edge at the half. The switching strategy that had became a staple of this Hawks team under Mike Woodson was missing last night in Larry Drew's debut. The Hawks pretty much played straight up and were only forced into a few switches. None of which matched up a Center on a Point Guard. They were very active with hands in the passing lanes and were credited with 6 steals in the first half but also had a number of deflections.
Josh Smith exited early with two fouls and was quickly replaced by Josh Powell. Powell is listed at 6'9" but he is a long 6'9" and plays physical. With the other starters on the floor he took on more of a defensive and rebounding mentality than he did during the second half. The Hawks held the Grizzlies in check as the frontcourt (Gay, Randolph, and Gasol) combined to go 5-15 in the first two periods. Gasol didn't attempt a field goal until 7.8 seconds to go in the half. The intensity didn't drop off when the Hawks subbed as Jeff Teague and company kept the pressure on. Key to the first half though was the Hawks control of tempo and from the tip off through the halftime buzzer they kept the Grizzlies on their heels.
I think that the talk of tempo is the perfect time to start talking about the Hawks new offensive system. First and foremost let me reiterate that the Hawks look like they have a system this year. The only problem about that system was that they couldn't sustain the movement for the entire game, but lets talk about the good first. There is a ton of movement in the set. It isn't unusual to see any player in the high post or the low post. So you will see some Al Horford back to the basket post ups but you also see him facing up out of the high post. Josh Smith was very effective out of the high post last season and this new offense seems tailor made for him. A player like Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol will have a hard time coming out to the high post and guarding Josh Smith or Al Horford because both are capable of putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim.
One of the other things I noted about the offense was seeing Joe Johnson in the post more than once. Joe had a size advantage over O.J. Mayo and the Hawks looked to exploit that. Johnson is particularly effective with his passing ability when the Grizzlies were forced to double. This wasn't just limited to Johnson as any Hawks player that found himself with a match up advantage would cut straight to the rim. Many times it was at the expense of Mayo trying to check Johnson or Williams.
The best thing I liked about the new offense though was that it always seemed like the Hawks were on the attack. While not piling up a lot of fast break points, the Hawks still played at what felt like a faster pace. They pushed the ball after misses and makes. They tried to get into the offense quicker because the longer they ran it the harder it was for Memphis to cover it. Memphis was on it's heels the whole first half and much of that had to do with the Hawks coming at them out of the high post or with pick and roll / pick and pop situations. The first group looked pretty good at running the offense. The second group didn't look as crisp. Still the Hawks built a 54-33 lead going into the half despite shooting 13-25 from the free throw line.
Now lets discuss where this game went wrong. The Hawks were outscored 42-18 in the third quarter. Many of those were due to turnovers. Turnovers that were caused due to a lack of movement in the new offense. A lot of these turnovers were steals of the initial pass to the high post. A lot of them were careless, alot had to do with Memphis adjusting and becoming more aggressive. After the turnovers, the Grizzlies attacked the Hawks inside first with Zach Randolph and then outside with Rudy Gay. Randolph scored 9 points in the quarter going 5-5 from the free throw line. Gay scored 16 points on 6-7 shooting 2-2 from deep. Both players played the entire quarter for the Grizzlies. The Hawks countered with Josh Smith playing 10 minutes, Marvin Williams, 7 minutes, Joe Johnson 6 minutes, and Al Horford no minutes. Not trying to make excuses here but just wanted to be fair and point out that this game wasn't played like a regular season game would have been.
Still turnovers were a strength for the Hawks last season and any night that they commit 24 as a team they are going to have a hard time winning. Even if they shoot exceptionally well from the field like they did Thursday night (51.9%). Had they turned in an ok effort from the free throw line they would have likely won the game. The Hawks were 27-44 for the night from the charity stripe. Memphis conversely was 40-44.
All in all this was a pre-season game that was marred by turnovers (45 between the two teams) and personal fouls (54 combined). It is disappointing anytime that you blow a big lead and I will be concerned more if that repeats itself in pre-season games 5-7 rather than games 1-2.