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Hawks 87 Hornets 79

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Boxscore

Gameflow

Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 84 1.04 50.6 8.9 32.5 16.7
NO 84 0.94 47.2 16.9 20.0 17.9

At what point does one believe that this is a good defensive team? For the prudent it'll take more than three games but my goodness these Hawks are presenting a compelling case for believing in them.

At Orlando, home to Philadelphia, and at New Orleans, the Hawks have yet to allow an opposing team to score one point per possession. Opponents are averaging 93.3 points per 100 possessions through three games. By comparison, the 2007-08 Hawks allowed 108.9 points per 100 possessions. The 2007-08 Hawks after acquiring Mike Bibby allowed 112.8 points per 100 possessions. The 2007-08 Boston Celtics lead the league by allowing 98.9 points per 100 possessions.

Deep breath.

I'm sure lots of teams have excellent three-game defensive stretches so I'm trying to remain reluctant to read too much into these three games but I'm certainly enjoying the pleasant surprises; last night's game serving as the most impressive example thus far.

The Hawks couldn't really guard Chris Paul so they chose to play off him a bit, tried to limit his passing lanes, and harassed any other Hornet once he caught the ball. Paul finished with 22 points (making more than half his shots), 11 assists, and 2 turnovers. He's one of the two best basketball players in the world. Full credit to him. Credit to David West as well who worked awfully hard for his 15 points on 13 shots.

The game plan worked as the rest of the Hornets struggled. Tyson Chandler couldn't get the ball in positions to score. Everyone not named Paul and West combined to miss 11 of their 15 three-point attempts. Most importantly, in a slow-paced game where the Hawks were not getting many easy buckets themselves (or getting to the free throw line), Atlanta dominated the defensive glass. New Orleans only grabbed 20% of possible offensive rebounds.

The Hawks likely could not have won without that atypically strong defensive rebounding performance though it might also be true that they would not have won without an atypically productive three-point shooting night from Marvin Williams (3-3, career 3PT%: 24.8) and Flip Murray (3-6, career 3PT%: 28).

Even at 3-0, the Hawks have not proven themselves to be a very good offensive team. If you'd like to look at that glass as being half-full, there's obvious room for improvement.

  • With five more three-point attempts last night, Josh Smith now has more three-point attempts (11) than free throw attempts (7).
  • 21 of Smith's 41 field goal attempts have been perimeter jump shots.
  • Maurice Evans has as many field goal attempts as Al Horford.
  • Flip Murray has 133% as many field goal attempts as Al Horford.
  • Al Horford also has twice as many assists as Flip Murray and has committed just one more turnover.
  • Acie Law IV is 3-11 from the floor (0-6 from beyond the arc) and hasn't had even a good stint on the court yet this season.
  • Mike Bibby is not going to shoot 39 eFG% for the season though his shooting probably won't improve until his shot selection does.
  • As a team, the Hawks have made just 34 free throws. The team's free throw rate ((FTM/FGA) * 100) is almost half of last season's.

The longer they remain a top defensive squad, the less of a concern the offense will be. If you keep the other team from scoring an offensive attack like last night's (shoot a ton of 3s and rebound a fair number of your own misses) is certainly functional.

Joe Johnson agrees:

"I know it’s early, and I don’t want to harp on it, but these three games have been tremendous. You can’t ask for anything better than that. Our offense is going to come. We haven’t been playing great offensively, but it’s going to come. As long as we keep playing defense like this, we’ll be all right.”

Mike Woodson deserves kudos for both defensive gameplan and its execution. If the Hawks start getting Horford the ball in the post more often, I might have to attempt a 180 with regard to my opinion of the old head coach. This morning, I'll let him speak eloquently for himself. He's earned that at the very least:

"We came out in our defensive scheme tonight and were right on the money in terms of our switches and trying to really control some of their big-time players. We did a great job on West early, I thought. Chris Paul is Chris Paul. He is a great point guard and the leader of his team. He does a lot of good things for his ball club. I just thought tonight that we were the aggressor from a defensive standpoint. We stayed with our game plan even when they made runs.”

(Applause)

I'll quote Kelly Dwyer here also:

Out of nowhere, Atlanta's Mike Woodson might be turning in the best coaching work of any sideline stalker in the NBA right now. He's gotten his Hawks to play fantastic defense this season. Atlanta is fourth in defensive efficiency right now, and given the team's youth and lack of depth and Mike Bibby, that's quite the accomplishment.

Chris Paul:

"They just beat us up. We thought we could just turn it on whenever we got ready … they were just the better team than us.”

Byron Scott:

"They played harder than we did."

That's the Atlanta Hawks he's talking about. After a road game. Sweet.

He went on to say:

“They were more aggressive, more physical. The M.O. of our team from last year was ‘beat them up,’ and that’s basically what they did. They took liberties against us and we took a step back because we accepted it instead of fighting fire with fire. Sometimes you just got to step up and be a man.”

And David West sounds like a 2007-08 member of the Hawks:

"We just came out flat and they had a little more pep in their step."

I know that this is an extremely small sample size, and that teams will go on stretches like this (and it's always overblown when a team starts a season hot, as opposed to going on a streak two months into the season).  Yet I still feel that I need to acknowledge that what I'm seeing is not at all what I expected.  Let me attempt to list the factors that have led to the good start.

I completely understand this strategy for big men as playing in the paint leads to more contact which leads to more fouls. But when it's your game-changer and he averages only 2.5 PF/G over the course of his career, you leave him in. Especially when your  contingency plan = Mike James.

James played 11 minutes tonight and the Hawks outscored us by 13 while he was on the floor. Not that he's the sole reason for that differential, but I'd definitely consider him our weakest link right now. Way too much of a drop off when he checks in for Paul. Might be time to give Devin Brown more minutes as the backup point.

The lack of focus that infuriated people for so long defensively is gone. They know where they're going and what they need to do. They're using their speed and athleticism to get back on gambles. They're also cutting off the baseline very effectively, often creating clusters on the blocks. This is a much better team than the one we saw in the playoffs.

  • And on Josh Smith in particular:

Tonight was a great night to watch Josh Smith, to see the gamut of what he brings. There were some turnovers and bad shots when he forced it. There was also the ridiculous control in transition, the speed attacking on the steal or the block, the strength on the drive, and the amazing all around effort. They worked him in the block and he narrowly missed a series of drop-step hooks. If he can develop that a bit more, yikes.

I'll wrap it up with my regular look at the bad of Josh Smith. You may have to scroll down a bit to see the whole thing. Sigh.

THE JOSH SMITH JUMP SHOT LOG

Quarter Time Shot Clock Distance Result
1 6:45 :02 3pt MISS
3:36 :11 3pt MAKE
2 6:41 :01 3pt MISS
3 9:18 :12 3pt MISS
4:31 :18 17' MISS
4 10:55 :10 22' MAKE
10:02 :21 18' MAKE
9:20 :12 3pt MISS