Indiana broke a nine game losing streak to the Hawks with a 114-102 victory and sent Atlanta too it's third consecutive defeat in the process. Statistically this game was relatively meaningless for Atlanta. Josh Smith and Jason Collins stayed behind in Atlanta and it appeared that most of the Hawks interior defense did as well. Before arguing the merits of rest, I feel that it is important for a team like Atlanta that has been up and down all season long to enter the playoffs on an up plane. Clearly that is not the direction that they are currently headed.
Atlanta came out in this game rather passive allowing Indiana to shoot some really high percentages in the early going. Many times this wasn't just set up off of dribble penetration but was instead due to back door cuts. Of course if Indiana missed, they were right there to gobble up the offensive rebound and put it back in. Anyone that suggests trading Josh Smith needs only to watch a replay of this first half to understand that no matter how terrible his shot selection is, he is the backbone of the Atlanta defense. If he is ever traded then a defensive presence has to come back in return.
The Good: Not much. It pretty well begins with Jeff Teague and ends with Zaza Pachulia. With each passing game, both of these players make the coaching staff look bad for having not played them more this season. Teague finished with 21 points on 7-10 shooting. He also went 7-9 from the free throw line. Teague told MC after the game that assistant coach Lester Conner wants him patterning his game after Tony Parker.
"Lester Conner has been telling me since we played the Spurs that they wanted me to be likeTony Parker and try to get into the lane," Teague said. "He said ‘That’s what we expect from you’ so I just try to do that from now on."
I think that is a pretty fair goal and one that the Hawks would deeply benefit from if Teague were to be able to reach it. Zaza finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes. He is the one Hawks player that isn't afraid to throw his body around and dare I say dish out a little punishment as well. Teague and Pachulia bring life to a rather lifeless team at times and both of their contributions will be needed once the playoffs roll around.
The Bad: The only reason that Indiana shot 48% in this game was because they must have gotten bored with the endless lay up line they were enjoying in the first half. Further more they discovered that they could attempt a three or a long two and still get the offensive rebound if the shot missed. Atlanta finished with a season low 11 assists which suggests that there was a lot of one on one work going on.
Two things were pointed out in the game thread last night that I feel merit discussion. One Atlanta botches more fast break opportunities it seems than any other team in the NBA. Now I don't have any stats to back that up but in a 3 on 2 or 2 on 1 setting a team should either score or get fouled going to the basket. All too often Atlanta never even gets a shot up as their spacing is terrible and they either over dribble or over pass. Second the Hawks can also look to get too many three point attempts out of transition. It isn't that they can't make them, it is that they get enough of those looks out of the half court offense. A team like Atlanta that is over reliant on the perimeter jump shot must take every opportunity to get something easy. Too often they elect to make it hard even when they have an advantage on the break.
Second this question was asked. When the going gets tough in the playoffs, what do the Atlanta Hawks have to fall back on? That is not a direct quote but I believe it holds true to the original question. Sadly after 79 games I didn't have an answer. Last season I would have said iso-Joe. This season it has been difficult to see what exactly the Hawks are trying to get offensively. We know they can find a jump shot but the challenge is finding something more high percentage. It is highly disappointing that last night Tyler Hansbrough was able to take Al Horford out of his game with effort and physical play. Horford's only alternative is to step out and take a 17 foot jump shot.
With just three games left to play this is still a team that is searching for an identity. Blame whoever you want but I choose to blame everyone. Players and coaches alike. This team doesn't possess a magical on/off switch but if there is such a thing then they need to be finding it pretty quick.