Watching last night's game almost felt like work. Dig beneath the numbers so frequently published in this space and you'll find the beating heart of a basketball aesthete.
The Hawks came out looking very much like a team playing on the road on the back end of a back-to-back. Except for Josh Smith. He just looked like he was injured.*
*At this point, I think it would be safe to use a line graph of the Hawks' game-by-game defensive efficiency numbers as a graph of Smith's physical health.
Zaza Pachulia entered the game with 7:30 left in the first quarter and provided a spark by contributing 7 points, 3 rebounds, and a steal (The first of two inbounds passes following a made shot the Hawks would steal on the night.) before quarter's end.
The second quarter devolved into an exhibition of bad jump shooting. The teams combined to shoot 17-48 from the floor and 2-13 from the three-point line. I took two notes the entire quarter and neither of them makes any sense to me this morning.
The less said about the third quarter's 19 personal fouls, 2 technical fouls, and 33 free throw attempts the better. Unless one or more of Joe DeRosa, Louis Grillo, and Violet Palmer had the over last night* that was as atrocious a display of NBA officiating as I can remember. The upshot was that their third quarter performance was unsustainably bad and things rather returned to normal in the third.
*That, in the midst of a stream of touch fouls being whistled, the occasional incident of genuine contact on a shooter tended to go ignored leads me to believe that a massive bout of incompetence was the true cause.
By normal, of course I mean that Joe Johnson hit a bunch of shots, the Hawks couldn't begin to stop dribble penetration and thus couldn't put the game away, Josh Smith attempted (and missed, natch) a three-pointer with the Hawks up 105-104 with 1:18 left, redeemed himself with a couple of excellent defensive possessions matched up against Danny Granger, in between which he found, from the low post, Joe Johnson for a game-icing three-pointer with 32 seconds left, all of it culminating in a narrow home loss for the Indiana Pacers.
Other morsels of thought...
- Were I a Pacers fan, I'd wonder where Troy Murphy was in the fourth quarter. Also, what's with TJ Ford being too injured to start but able to play a little bit as part of a three point guard rotation? And why more Roy Hibbert than Rasho Nesterovic?
- Speaking of Hibbert, I think last night's game confirms, was anyone wondering, that Dominique Wilkins does not watch or follow college basketball. At all. Granted, both Hibbert and Brandon Rush played poorly last night but I came away with the impression that to 'Nique they were both guys off the street rather than two guys who must have played a combined 100 times on national TV over the last three years and whose strengths and weaknesses are (I assume) fairly common knowledge.
- Another two assist night for Flip Murray! That's two out of the last three games! Five assists (in 52 minutes) in the last three games!
- Last night's game serves as a reminder to be accurate about whether I'm discussing pace/possessions or tempo. Helped by all the loose ball fouls following missed Pacers shots, the third quarter had 26 possessions for each team. That's more possessions than any other quarter but I wouldn't call it an up-tempo quarter of basketball. Conversely, the fourth quarter, which certainly featured a lot of half-court basketball but despite that (and following the third quarter) felt like it was played at a higher tempo than the third featured just 20 possessions for each time.
Really, this is how the unnamed AP writer chose to open the game recap:
Joe Johnson's stellar play is putting him in high company.
The Atlanta guard scored 12 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, including the final five of the game, and the streaking Hawks beat the Indiana Pacers 110-104 on Tuesday night.
"What can you say? Joe has been huge for us this season,'' Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "I put him in the same class as LeBron, Kobe - he's playing at that level. He's making big plays for our team, he's making players around him better.''
Johnson, who entered as the league's ninth-leading scorer at 23.3 points per game, would like to be mentioned in the same sentence as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and other NBA stars.
"I don't get treated like that, but I feel like I'm up there in the elite,'' Johnson said.
In victories mean the Hawks played good defense news, I present Head Coach Mike Woodson:
"I think guys are committed. We're really working hard on the defensive end, rebounding the basketball and we're sharing it offensively. We're coming up with big plays in the fourth quarter.''
I think the question that quote inspires is...How poor would the Hawks team defense be if they weren't really working hard on the defensive end? That, or, Is Mike Woodson the greatest deadpan basketball satirist of our times?
Josh Smith, amateur numerologist*:
"How about six? We finished 2008 the same way we started [the season], man. There’s something there. I don’t know what right now, but there has to be something."
*I know, I know. There aren't professional numerologists.
Mike Woodson on Joe Johnson's final three-pointer:
"[Smith] made a great basketball play. He drove and drew two, three people and everybody sucked in and left Joe out on the 3-point line and Joe hit a big-time shot. What can you say, man? Joe’s been huge for us this season so far.”
Joe has been huge this season. Let's hope the Josh Smith-related lesson manifest in that play isn't lost on either player or coach.