One team tonight looked like it was emerging from a long slumber. The other looked rested but also looked tuned in to the surroundings. They looked sharp. The results in execution were apparent in the Hawks 93-86 loss to the Hornets on Sunday. I won't second guess Larry Drew's decision to cut the Hawks loose after their victory over Cleveland until the shootaround in New Orleans. After all this was a tired Atlanta team that needed some rest after playing the most games in the Eastern Conference including 20 sets of back to back games. The only reason I point it out is that it could be an explanation to the struggles the Hawks suffered down the stretch.
"I didn’t want to go into the game [after] taking two days off. It’s a long season and you have to take advantage of the breaks but at the same time you’ve got to work."
To be fair they also have not dealt with the schedule or the injuries that the Hawks have but it was clear that they were much sharper in this game than Atlanta. Of course it also helps when you have Chris Paul.
Paul finished with 22 points and eight assists in the game while forcing the Hawks to throw every defensive coverage they had at him with little to no results. He was like a surgeon down the stretch and simply carved up the Hawks by taking what the defense gave him. It was beautiful execution and the only other time I could recall something similar this season was Steve Nash's performance earlier in Atlanta.
Execution doesn't come that easy it seems for Atlanta. Keep in mind that I don't think that they are not capable. I believe that this Hawks team struggles identifying what shot they want to get. Many times that is just it as they settle for the first open look that comes their way. Often that shot is about 20 feet away from the basket and as we all are aware of is a less than high percentage shot.
Credit the Hornets and their defense as after scoring 55 first half points, the Hawks were limited to 31 in the second half. The Hornets bodied up the Hawks on the perimeter daring them to drive. I recall one possession in the second half where the ball never got inside the three point arc until there was five seconds left on the shot clock.
I have been a supporter of coach Drew this entire season and I still am but there were things in this game that I question. Number one in my mind was Jamal Crawford's 34 minutes played after missing five games with a back injury. The problem with Jamal playing that many minutes is that he takes minutes away from Jeff Teague and at times Marvin Willliams. Williams cramped up in this one and that led to Jamal's being on the court a little more but still 10 points, 3 assists, and 5 turnovers is hardly what I am expecting from a player that gets 34 minutes off the bench.
As Jason pointed out in an earlier post, Jamal is miscast as a point guard in this new Hawks motion offense. He was more than adequate on last year's team in the heavy iso set but appears lost in trying to get the Hawks into their sets. I noted in the game thread, that whenever Jamal is running the point that the Hawks run a high pick and roll about 90% of the time it seems which as MC puts it is "Attack Mode".
Jeff Teague received a DNP-CD after stringing together some of his best performances of his young career. Would it have made a difference? We will never know the answer but Teague's speed defensively and knack for getting in the paint were two things that were sorely missing from the Hawks tonight. Again to be fair, I would guess if coach Drew had been asked about Mike Bibby playing nearly 41 minutes he would have answered that the Hawks were lacking in execution and usually do so much better with Bibby on the floor.
Al Horford spent much of the first half of the game on the bench with two fouls. Now as I have said before I understand the move whether or not I agree with it. I am sure coach Drew was ecstatic to get to the half up nine with Al playing as few minutes as he did. I am much more bothered by the lack of touches Horford receives down the stretch of games. Particularly the ones where the Hawks have long stretches of offensive ineptitude. Where was the high pick and pop tonight in the fourth quarter? Although it is worth noting that Emeka Okafor did an outstanding job defensively on Horford in this game.
Is there a bigger enigma than Josh Smith in the NBA. How can a player look like a bona-fide All Star one night only to look like a detriment to the team the next. The jump shot is becoming more and more regular and don't seem to be going in as much lately. Even worse than the regularity of the jump shots are the timing of some of those shots. It is no doubt that they clearly open up Smith's game when they go in but he has to recognize when to take them and when to put his nose down and get to the basket. He seemed to get frustrated early and never did get his head into this game.
Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson both came up with strong games offensively but also struggled to get good looks down the stretch. Johnson cut the lead down to four points with a five point outburst late in the game but couldn't corral a rebound which would have given the Hawks a chance to cut the lead to just two.
In the grand scheme of things the Hawks would be better served to win tonight's game over Milwaukee if they had their choice in such matters. Walking away from this result however still feels like a missed opportunity which also feel as if they are starting to pile up. Of course the great thing about the NBA is that you can forget about last night with a victory tonight.