ATLPaul insinuated in the comments that Hawks lack a killer instinct in games. It got me thinking about what seems to have become a common theme. Poor fourth quarter performance. So I decided to take a closer look.
The Atlanta Hawks are 12-7 since the all-star break. 12 wins to 7 losses is not bad. That is only one and half winning percentage points lower than the rest of the season (64.7 to 63.1 percent) They have two fourth quarter comebacks in that time. Those came on Friday against Charlotte and at Utah a few weeks ago when the Jazz were without Deron Williams.
This is the fourth quarter that the Hawks always play the same lineup and predominantly lean toward one player (or at the very least one position). And the Hawks have been outscored in eleven of those games during that 12 minute run. Winning the fourth six times and tying twice. Offense is an issue, and we have talked to the point of regurgitating month old arguments about why this is the case. Joe isolations, Jamal's quick shots, no offensive sets, the offensive sets in place put Josh Smith on the permeter, no touches for Al Horford, slowed down pace. The list is long. We have talked about the entire list. They are all legit. Offense is half the game, but the list stinks. They have been in the pit of our stomach way too long.
The real white elephant is the defense. The Hawks cannot stop enough people to make a comeback. The Charlotte game, one of the two exceptions, saw Atlanta hold the Bobcats to 15 points. That needs to happen far more often than it does. Since the all-star break, the Hawks are giving up 25.4 points a game in the fourth. In those 19 games, Atlanta has scored more than 25 points in that quarter only seven times. One of those was against the Nets, twice they gave up as many points, once they lost to the Knicks, once they dominated the Bulls (dropping 41), and once it brought home a victory (outscoring Utah 31-25). What am I saying? The Hawks have scored more than 25 points and that scoring was only decisive for victory twice since the all-star break. The currently designed offense is not going to win many games, it will only maintain efficiency, and the defense is not great at maintaining leads.
Atlanta averages 102.4 points a game. They give up on average of 97.7. So yes, the offense does become less efficient in the fourth, but the defense becomes worse by over a point quarter in that final quarter too. Basically, the offense has to be better than it is the rest of quarters by over a point, and because the fourth quarter offense so often takes on a different form than the other three quarters, it is an odd predicament. It is telling a less varied and stagnant offense to do better. That is tough for Kobe Bryant, let alone Joe Johnson.
One point might not seem like a big deal, but in the context of how defense leads to offense and vice versa, the Hawks rarely own the momentum in the final quarter. Even when they score a lot, they rarely make the stops on the other end.
And whereas we clamor for offensive sets and variety in the fourth quarter, we get the same thing every time on defense. We get switching screens and the same six guys seeing time. The same lineups, the same defense, the same everything. Now, most teams move to match-up advantages in the fourth. The Hawks are not odd for moving away from certain forms of variety. (Woody just thinks our match-up advantage is whichever shooting guard has the ball every game no matter who Atlanta plays.) No team needs to get certain players established with six minutes to go, and so more than ever, you see offense run to seek out advantages. The switching screens by the Hawks allows this easier than just about any defense I have ever seen. It happened every time John Salmons had the ball last night. It is ridiculous. If the perimeter defense is that bad, the lineups should change. Because right now, the offense is not good enough to out score people and those people that get the opportunity to out score those people are the ones that force outscoring in the first place.