The Charlotte Bobcats outscored the Atlanta Hawks 52-42 in the paint on their way to an easy 109-100 win, but that only told part of the inside domination of the night.
Charlotte moved the ball with ease and took the ball into the paint all night long in pounding the Hawks down early to gain a 34-14 advantage after only one quarter and then used the same rhythmic rotation and movement to continue to force the ball inside to get those (52) points plus another (28) from the free throw line gained by attacking the rim relentlessly.
Known Hawk Hater Gerald Wallace was near unstoppable in the first half, getting (22) points by racing around whatever Hawk defender was attempting the defend him; the symbol of the ease of offense on the night for the winners.
Even having Joe Johnson healthy wouldn't have helped on defense, as the Hawks were a step slow and too lethargic in challenging the Bobcats once they entered the paint. And when the Hawks came with help, they were out of position for the rebound, leaving the Bobcats with (11) offensive rebounds with which to keep the Hawks at bay.
Coming right from the tip, the Hawks looked lost without The Backcourt (Johnson and Mike Bibby) in the lineup. Since the Hawks usually run Play #1 for Johnson off a couple of screens and Play #2 for a Bibby jumper, you might have been surprised that the Hawks actually came out with baskets for Josh Smith and Al Horford right away.
But after the first couple of possessions, things went strangely awry.
Marvin Williams, who had to be counted on to step up in Johnson's absence, was one of the many victims on the Hawks defensive end, picking up (2) fouls in the first (4) minutes. Accentuating the pain of having to take one of the few healthy offensive weapons the Hawks needed was the agony of bringing in Mario West to play the remaining (8) minutes of the first quarter. Atlanta would be outscored 22-8 in those minutes. West did have a nice thunder dunk from the baseline, but was roasted defensively and CLT did not care if West caught the ball anywhere but around the rim, leaving the defense free to clamp down on the remaining Hawks even harder.
Atlanta got their offensive footing back after that, but could not stop CLT enough to get the game back in doubt.
Jamal Crawford was here and there, his 6-15 shooting not hurting as much as the 3:2 assist to turnover ratio perhaps.
Al Horford rushed a couple of shots early against the Bobcat shot blockers, Theo Ratliff and Tyson Chandler, but rallied to hit some of his comfort zone jumpers and converted some of his (5) offensive rebounds into some easy around the rim points. His 16 point, 12 rebound night was okay as a double-double could be, but even with a couple of blocks, he and Smith seemed overwhelmed by the Bobcats onslaught defensively.
One thing tonight should remind Hawks fans who showed up after the arrival of Mike Bibby is that point guards, and their associated offensive responsibilities, matter. The Hawks missed Bibby's ability to calm down tempo and get the Hawks "offense" started. The Hawks played nearly (8) seasons without a point and it looked a lot like some of that first half offensively.
Along those lines, I thought Jeff Teague played fairly well. Though his shooting was suspect (3-10), his 6:1 assist/turnover ratio was right on, and he helped break down the Bobcat defense more than a couple of times by his ability to penetrate and dish. Teague needs more reps to get the defensive part down, because he got lost on switches a couple of times, freeing up Felton and Augustin for some open jumpers, but I see Crawford, Bibby, and Joe get beat on those type plays as well. The Hawks can't afford to have Bibby get another year older (and sources tell THHB that he will) and not have a defensive ready PG ready.
Besides, for the plays that Teague does miss, he does possess the ability to use his quick hands to make some plays on defense as well. The Hawks can't be all high and mighty on Teague when it comes to defense when they have Bibby out there unable to stay with his man and Crawford simply getting beat on his. And we don't have to remind about Smoove's proclivity to jumping the passing lanes and the resulting 5 on 4 that ensues when he doesn't come up with the ball. Teague also can get out in front of the break and set up Al and Smoove as he did late when he was able to get out, draw the defense and flip the ball to Josh for a layup. Just play the kid.
We save a round of applause for Mo Evans tonight. Evans at times could not keep Wallace in front of him, but he was forced to go it alone often. The fact that Evans got Wallace to take more challenged shots in the second half and score a mere (6) points helped the Hawks avoid embarrassment. Evans continued some nice three point shooting and offense in general, hitting 4-7 on threes and scoring (20) points overall to lead the ATL.
Back to Williams---his lost season continued by not being able to help where and when the Hawks needed him to. Playing only (23) minutes and going 1-4 for (6) points was not the night I'm sure he envisioned either. Marvin needs motion to be better and the Hawks stand too much to make that happen. Still, Marvin doesn't help himself when the times he does catch the ball he falls away independent of the defensive position on him. The one basket he made was going to the hoop and the (20) free throw game in CLT seems like a long time ago by comparison. I hope Marvin figures it out---soon.
End of the Luck?
The Hawks have had well publicized injury (or lack of) luck this season. With Joe rightfully resting up, and Bibby playing it safe as well, the Hawks had (11) healthy players for the game in CLT, with (2) of those being Flubber West and Jason Collins.
When Zaza Pachulia was announced as having a hip injury during the game and he would not return, this cut the number down to (10).
Bret @ Hoopinion has long opined often about the Hawks lack of commitment to storing NBA caliber players on the bench and using the full (15) player allotment. The Hawks are one of only a few teams that carries the minimum (12). Being two men down and getting Marvin in foul trouble caused a player who is "best" used in (20) second doses to play over (8) first quarter minutes. We like Mario's hustle and spirit--they are in such high amounts that he has now played (3) NBA seasons---a wonderful accomplishment, but it exposes a problem that the Hawks have not had to deal with this season, protecting quality play when your forces are depleted.
Get well soon, Joe-Mike-Zaza.
(Oh, and keep Drew out of Charlotte---thank you.)