Quick Thought: I'm going to spare you the negative over-the-top histrionic. Happy New Year!
The Rockets were playing their third game of a Tripleback and the Hawks their fourth game in five days, and their first in a three game roadie. The Rockets triple included a Friday night game in Memphis. These are not fresh teams.
That said, the Rockets came out looking strong and blitzed the Hawks with solid inside play, long range hoops, and second chance opportunities. The Hawks answered by missing the outside shots they had previously made their first three games, including a burst of usage from Al Horford, which sadly resulted in nothing positive for this game.
After the home team Rockets had run the lead out to nine, much a which was due to six first quarter assists from hyper-generous Kyle Lowry, now #1 in assists per game and top 10 in Assist Rate and weighted assists, the Hawks set about trying to get back into the game, and did so at times with some strong play from Tracy McGrady, who has been a steal of a deal so far for the Hawks, and strong, grinding play from Joe Johnson and Al Horford.
But everytime the Hawks would draw back into a manageable margin, they would be undone by their own choices on the offensive end, and poor play on defense. Only a second half zone bailed the Hawks out defensively for a bit, but the man defense constantly failed to keep up with the Rockets speed and ball movement, an offense that reminded me of the early aughts Kings teams and Mavericks as well in that respect.
Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and Chase Budinger scorched the Hawks from the outside, while Jordan Hill collected 15 boards inside. The Hawks constantly overplayed dribble drives by Lowry, who had 18 assists and constantly ready triggermen in Martin, Scola, and Budinger ready to receive the fruits of his driving labor.
By comparison, Jeff Teague didn't resonate as his Rockets point guard counterpart, but I thought that, while he could have stepped up more on the court to control the team and maybe get himself inside more to loosen up a tight Rockets defense, he was the one player needed most on the court at all times, due to Lowry.
I don't know what crime against humanity and basketball Teague committed four minutes into the second half, but Drew singled his young point guard out for all the team's failings and yanked him for the quarter, and immediately the Hawks lost ground with Willie Green struggling to keep up defensively at the point. Two minutes after the Hawks yanked Teague still down by nine, they were down by 13, two more minutes and the deficit now 17.
Teague's exile lasted until there were less than ten minutes left in the game and the Hawks were down 14. Within a minute it was down to 10, another three minutes, the lead was down to six. The Hawks finished off game as they had started it, shooting themselves in the feet offensively, and watching Martin, Scola, and Budinger score 16 points in the game's final six minutes to seal the deal. Ball game.
If you didn't think McGrady isn't specifically filling Jamal Crawford's old minutes pattern, check out the gameflow from PopcornMachine. McGrady came in during the third quarter and stayed for the night, a la Crawford. This I don't mind at all, especially when Tracy has it going as he did tonight, with a six rebound wrinkle that Jamal never could produce in a single game.
My issue comes when it only comes at the expense of minutes for Marvin Williams, no matter how well he plays. Tonight would have been an excellent night to sit Josh Smith who, aside from a couple of nice takes to the basket throughout the game, seemed reticent to change his failed approach to defensive intensity, rebounding, or his notorious shot selection. When a player like Williams is playing physical and Smith is not, why not make that swap instead of defaulting to leaving Smith on the court, no matter what?
Smith only gained three extra points on five extra shots, three additional rebounds, and two assists despite playing ten more minutes than Williams. If Smith deigns himself a small forward, then Williams is showing him how to do it better thus far this season. Smith is obviously the better player, but only when he minds his basketball manners and attacks the cup, rebounds, and contests his own man's shots like he can do.
Larry Drew Benches Jeff Teague: A Commentary
Regarding Teague and being singled out by Coach Larry Drew: Post game, according to the Real MC's AJC recap Saturday night, Drew offered this explanation for the teaching moment this game, and specifically Kyle Lowry's play, offered to his own point guard.
"I hope my young guy can take a look at that and see how you can impact the game and not score points," Drew said. "Sometimes scoring can be overrrated. Good point guards still find a way to impact the game irregardless if they score."
Teague's first half: 0-0 FG, four assists, one turnover. You mean like that, coach?
I'm not going to say that Teague played as well as Lowry, but a quote like that tells you that a coach is seeing what he wants to despite what's actually going on out on the floor. Teague was actually doing exactly the type of play --- don't shoot and get your guys involved --- that Drew wanted and his reward was that his coach didn't see it that way.
Teague actually should have attacked the cup more himself early on and loosened up the defense, got to the line, etc. --- it's a strength of his, after all --- but because Teague's teammates didn't make their shots as Lowry's readily made theirs, Teague's four assists against zero shots made no positive mental imprint on his coach.
Benching him for whatever in the third quarter and only affording him 13 minutes in the second half overall merely delayed any meaningful run at making the game close again and will play no stronger role in getting the result Drew is looking for. How can you shoot less than zero?
A night off for the Hawks during this road trip and then at Miami Heat Monday night. That's followed by a visit to the Chicago Bulls Tuesday night before returning home to host the Heat on TNT Thursday night. Whew.