The Atlanta Hawks dropped their fourth game at home this season last night in a 98-93 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. While the Hawks have been a sterling 5-1 on the road to start the season the home results are starting to become rather worrisome. Granted that the level of competition has been much different at home with each loss being to a team that went to the playoffs last season. That trend of playoff teams won't change anytime soon as the Boston Celtics come to Philips Arena on Monday.
So what is the reasoning behind the struggles? That is ultimately a great question that this author doesn't have a lot of answers for. My naked eye tells me that the Hawks just don't seem to have that swagger about themselves at home yet this season. Coach Drew seemed to have noticed the same thing as he talked with Michael Cunningham after the game about the Hawks home struggles:
L.D. said the Hawks haven’t played with the same energy at Philips Arena. It’s also true they haven’t played the same level of competition. "We have put ourselves in positions that we shouldn’t put ourselves in," L.D. said. "A lot of that is a failure to follow details."
Details such as fighting hard over a screen to get a hand in a shooter's face, boxing out, or perhaps in last night's loss carrying out the game plan against a zone defense. Dallas changed up and went to a zone against the Hawks in the first half and it appeared to completely take the Hawks out of their comfort zone. Drew told Cunningham that the plan was to reverse the ball and then attack the creases when the zone shifted. Instead it turned into a lot of standing around and long jump shot attempts.
"We settled," L.D. said. "That’s way, way too many 3-point shots for us. They zoned us and we lost discipline. We settled for perimeter shots. Our movement was slow. We looked unsure. We started holding the ball. We fell prey to exactly what they wanted us to do."
The Hawks finished 7-25 from three point range and also only attempted ten free throws in the game. They fell into exactly what the Mavericks wanted. In addition to launching long perimeter shots, the zone forced the Hawks away from Al Horford who ended up having a magnificent game with 20 points and 20 rebounds while shooting 10-12 from the field.
When you look at the box score in this game it looks like a close game although it never really felt like the Mavericks lost control of the game after the first period. They seemed to dictate what the Hawks were going to do at least until the fourth quarter when the Hawks seemed to have a little success against the zone in the half court. Where the Hawks were really successful last night was in transition. The Hawks outscored the Mavericks 30-19 in fast break points and that was a huge reason that they were able to still shoot 48% from the field. Rebounding was close with the Mavericks having a 40-37 advantage and both teams committed 13 turnovers in the game.
For me this game comes down to two things for the Hawks which is defending the whole possession which doesn't end until the rebound is secured and the troubling play of the second unit. First defensively, when the Hawks were able to get a hand in a shooters face and secure the rebound they were able to score with relative ease. However, for long stretches, the second quarter in particular, they were unable to even make things hard for the Mavericks.
If you asked me what the biggest difference was from the Hawks 6-0 start to their recent 2-5 stretch then I would point to the bench play. The Hawks are getting very little from a squad that was solid during those first six games. If not for Jordan Crawford's 10 points, the bench would have amassed for only 9 points all of which were scored by Jamal Crawford on 2-10 shooting. Zaza Pachulia has disappeared offensively but also defensively. Jamal Crawford has appeared to be lost in the new motion concept and he was unable to hit a shot last night against the Mavericks zone. His inability to defend was also on display as coach Drew decided to stay with him for 34 minutes even though he was struggling. Interestingly Josh Powell received a DNP-CD last night after being a staple of the second team early on. Jeff Teague only logged 4 minutes in this one as well.
It could be transition time for the bench as coach Drew has adjusted his rotations slightly. Marvin Williams was on the floor with the second unit to start the second quarter and Al Horford didn't come out of the game until around the two minute mark in the first. By the time he and the starters returned however they were in a deep hole in the second.
Despite the effort things (defense, rebounding) that have plagued the team throughout the first thirteen games, I think it is the play of the bench that is the most unsettling thing. When you combine the bench's struggles with the struggles of Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson then you have problems and it doesn't even matter how well Al Horford and Josh Smith are playing in that situation.