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Knicks 112, Hawks 108, or A Trend is Starting to Emerge

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For the third straight game, the Atlanta Hawks entered a fourth game with a good chance at winning, and once again, the Hawks suffered a meltdown in crunch time, this one aided by Nate Robinson going ridiculously nuts, scoring 41, 25 of which were during the fourth quarter and OT.  The Hawks couldn't find anyone to slow down Nate Robinson driving to the basket, and Nate wasn't missing shots of any degree of difficulty.  Of course, there was also a distinct lack of imagination on the Hawks' part in actually attempting to guard him-while he scored 11 of the Knicks' 13 points in OT, it was seemingly obvious that it was time for a double team (or, based on Nate's inadequacies at the line, to start fouling).   As Bret at Hoopinion points out, apparently the Hawks are the only team that can't guard repeated dribbled isolations.

This fourth quarter collapse is even worse than the previous two.  While the Hawks were faltering against a very sound defensive team employing the best basketball player on the planet, this one came against the lowly Knicks, a team that just shouldn't be on the same tier as the Atlanta Hawks.  Having a 14 point lead with 9 minutes left should be a guaranteed win against an inferior team, and earlier in the season, this was the case.  Some of the problems that kept the Hawks out of the elite tier last year seem to be rearing their ugly head.  And it only takes a few games like this to turn Mike Woodson from a Coach of the Year candidate into just another American looking for a job.

 

This loss completely overshadows the fact that the Hawks frontcourt put on an extremely dominant performance.  Josh Smith and Al Horford both had 20/10 nights.  As a matter of fact, Al Horford was completely unstoppable, having one of the best nights of his career.  The combination of David Lee and Al Harrington had a difficult time staying in front of him, and he was 10-12 shooting through the game's first three quarters, having already earned his 20-10.

Unfortunately, during the critical fourth quarter collapse, he did not see the ball on offense, aside from a furious effort of crashing the boards.  He assisted Marvin Williams on the 3 which extended the Hawks' lead to 14 at the 9 minute mark, and the next time he'd get the ball in an offensive context was after an out-of-bounds play left one second on the clock with 45 seconds left on the game, and his 16 foot heave ended up long.  The Human Highlight Blog attempted to find an apt metaphor for thefailure to utilize the game's most effective player (at that point) in crunch time.  And Josh Smith, coming off of a third quarter in which he scored 8 points with 6 boards and an assist, was only 2-3 shooting (though he did knock down a pair of free throws following a Nate Robinson flagrant foul).

Joe Johnson was again the offensive show in the fourth quarter, and it's not really a show we need to see every night.  At halftime, he had scored 13 points on 11 shots, adding 5 assists and 6 rebounds, an overall effective performance that seemed as though he was threatening a triple-double.  But despite starting a bevy of offensive plays during the fourth quarter, he did not add to his assist total over the game's last 29 minutes.  Part of the blame lies on a cold shooting night from Jamal Crawford, and at least one miss from Bibby, but the overall intent was clear-there was not enough passing.   His second half/OT was ugly: 6/19 shooting for 15 points, 0 free throw attempts, 2 rebounds, 0 assists.

While Nate Robinson put on a great showing that was absolutely necessary to carry the Knicks to this win, it wouldn't have been possible without the Hawks' weak fourth quarter performance where they put only 19 points.  And it also illustrates a terrible duality; while the Hawks were so predictable on offense that the Knicks had an easy time on defense, the Knicks were predictable on offense and nearly unstoppable.  Here's a quick illustration based on two out-of-bounds plays from late in the game:

1) With 42 seconds left in regulation, the Knicks set up an isolation for Nate Robinson without even using a screen.  He gets Joe Johnson one on one-no double team.  He starts to drive past JJ to the basket, using his quickness to get a step.  For some reason, Al Horford follows Jared Jeffries (not a jumpshooter) out of the paint into the corner.  Nate gives JJ a quick hesistation move and lays it in (they ran almost the exact same play 30 seconds later, instead using a screen to get Josh Smith switching on Nate)

2)  With 11.3 seconds left in regulation, the Knicks had a foul to give.  The Hawks pass the ball out high to Joe Johnson, who stands in place for five seconds.  The instant he actually starts to move, Jared Jeffries uses the foul to force the Hawks to inbound again, with exactly 5 seconds left.  Predictably, the Hawks inbound for JJ right on the sideline in front of Marvin Williams, with some terrible spacing that put Horford outside the top of the key.  Predictably, the Knicks immediately trap JJ on the sideline, who takes two seconds to get the ball out to Marvin Williams for a desperation 30-footer.

With 3 games against Orlando and two against Boston (in a fit of horrible scheduling that clumps all those contests together with 2 back-to-backs) later this month, the Hawks really need to take care of business better than they did last night.  Hopefully, the Hawks will take advantage of some games against the Bobcats, Kings, Nets, and Thunder, else they will very quickly repeat last year's fall into mediocrity.