|Team||Poss||Off Eff||eFG%||FT Rate||OR%||TO%|
That was an unquestionably fine start to the season keyed by the team's defensive performance. Josh Smith deserves to be singled out for praise though Al Horford's work against Dwight Howard in the first half should not be overshadowed by Horford's struggles to defend without fouling in the second half. I don't think the Hawks can or should take full credit for Orlando missing 21 of 25 three-point attempts--some of that is simply Orlando missing makeable shots--but the Hawks' defensive effort was constant. It's a testament to the team's room for improvement that a consistent defensive effort gets one's attention. Here's hoping they make it an unexceptional occurrence.
Offensively, the Hawks struggled to make perimeter shots (Bibby 4-15, Evans 3-11, Law 2-5) but made up for it by dominating the offensive glass (so much for missing Josh Childress terribly...for one night at least.) Considering how little they touched the ball when the Hawks were running their half-court offense, Smith, Horford, and Zaza Pachulia were shockingly important to what offensive success the Hawks had. The trio combined for 12 offensive rebounds with Pachulia converting many of his 6 offensive boards into points and Horford finding open teammates (team co-leading 4 assists in just 29 minutes) after grabbing an offensive rebound. Factor in Smith and Horford's good work in the transition offense and you've got most of the difference between the poor offensive performance of the Hawks and the Magic's dreadful offensive game.
So once more let me agitate for a bigger role* in the half-court offense for Smith and Horford. By the time Horford was first involved directly in a set play (5+ minutes into the game and resulting in a made Horford jumper from the elbow) he already had a bucket and an assist. He can play basketball. Let him.
*Again, not to the exclusion of Joe Johnson but in addition to him.
Smith had trouble getting a touch on some possessions when he was on the floor with Acie Law IV, Flip Murray, Maurice Evans, and Zaza Pachulia. The Hawks did not (by my accounting) run a single play for Smith during his initial 4 minutes stint with the second unit*. Atlanta can get away with that on a night when Flip Murray** is making shots at ~125% of his career rate (and Smith makes 3 of 4 jump shots) but in the grand scheme of things it will make winning basketball games more difficult than is necessary.
*I've got the first play run for Smith being the backdoor lob where Rashard Lewis grabbed him with 1:56 left in the 2nd quarter.
**To be further fair to Murray, I had no problem with him attacking JJ Redick off the dribble or in the post. As 'Nique put it during his inaugural telecast, "He's not the greatest defensive player, JJ Redick."
I can't let discussion of the offense conclude without taking time out to thank Stan Van Gundy for having Keith Bogans rather than Mickael Pietrus guard Joe Johnson for much of the fourth quarter. Pietrus (primarily) did a nice job on Johnson for three quarters. Bogans did not. Due to circumstance, it's not as big a gaffe as Doc Rivers leaving Ray Allen on an island against Johnson for most of the 4th quarter of Game 4 last Spring but it's still an inexplicable coaching decision.
Speaking of inexplicable coaching decisions, Mike Woodson's approach to the mere threat of foul trouble has not changed. Al Horford picked up his 2nd foul with 3:18 left in the 2nd quarter and sat for the rest of the half. Joe Johnson, who had played seven minutes of the 2nd quarter without picking up his third foul, took a seat with 1:56 left in the 2nd quarter and remained there for the rest of the half. The decisions didn't kill the Hawks (their lead only shrank from 10 to 7) but it did kill their offense. Atlanta scored 3 points in the 3:18 Solomon Jones played in Al Horford's place, only 1 of which was scored in the overlapping 1:56 during which Flip Murray stood in for Joe Johnson. You're playing with fire here, coach.
Maurice Evans put it well following the game:
"I’ve never heard of a bad win...Sure, it’s just one game. But you want people to know that you’re going to be in the mix from the start. So I’m happy we played the way we did."
Mike Woodson got a bit carried away...
"Listen, you’ve got a bunch of hungry guys in that locker room that got a taste of playoff basketball at its highest level last year. It’s my job to push them to make sure they continue to play at that level because if you do that, you’re going to have nights like this, when you win in grand style."
...before making no sense at all w/r/t disrespecting the Magic:
"I’m not taking anything away from Orlando, because they’re going to be there when it counts."
Mark Bradley consciously overreacts as well:
Remember Josh Childress? Now a Grecian earner? Maybe he wasn’t as indispensable as we thought.
Remember the bench? The one ESPN.com called "a FEMA disaster zone"? Maybe it’s not so crummy.
Remember the Hawks? Remember them taking Boston to a Game 7? Maybe that wasn’t just a spring fling.
Game 1 of the new season saw them pick up when they left off, and not in the blowout Game 7 but in those three rousing postseason victories at Philips Arena. The Hawks opened against the defending NBA Southeast champions and waxed the parquet floor with them.
That's the company line: picking up where they left off, ignoring where they actually left off. I don't mean to be a curmudgeon, but can't we acknowledge the reality of the playoff series? It was alternately good and terrible. It was not a success, it was a qualified failure which marked substantial progress for the team and, one hopes, underscored the importance of filling Philips Arena* with an enthusiastic and supportive home crowd 41 times this season.
*I'll be there Saturday night. Join me?
Bradley, though, has nothing on Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi:
Not much has changed in 20 years.
The Orlando Magic honored the players from their inaugural season of 1988-89 Wednesday night and then came out and played just like them.
We were expecting a championship team on opening night. We got an expansion team instead.
Was that Dwight Howard at center or Mark Acres? Was that Rashard Lewis playing power forward or Jeff Turner? Was that Hedo Turkoglu playing shooting guard or Sam Vincent?
Enemies of lazy sports-writing: clip-and-save that column for when the Magic win 48 or more games and the Southeast Division.
In his blog, Sekou Smith reports that a more sensible soul took control of the dry-erase board in the visitors' locker room after the game.
"Our bench was totally dominated. That's a problem. I hope it's a one-night thing. We'll see."
I'm pessimistic about the Hawks bench but I'd gladly take it over Redick, Anthony Johnson, Tony Battie, and a late, emergency appearance from Keith Bogans. So, it's probably not going to be a one-night thing, coach.
THE JOSH SMITH JUMP SHOT LOG
Despite a solid, if largely anonymous, 2:49 from Mario West last night, there will be no Mario West Defensive Stopper Scorecard published this morning. I reserve that feature for games wherein Woodson puts a completely cold West into the game for 11 seconds at the end of a quarter to guard the opposing team's best perimeter player.