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Atlanta Hawks 101, Los Angeles Clippers 100: The Merits Of A Zone Defense

Recap is coming a little later this morning as I have a lot to say about this game. In the meantime feel free to begin the discussion.

For the second straight match-up against the Clippers I am left shaking my head trying to figure out how it was exactly that Atlanta pulled a victory. This game had one of the most bazaar endings that I have seen in some time. There was a video replay that proved inconclusive which resulted in a jump ball, all setting up the final sequence where Al Horford drove to the basket and suffered one of the scariest falls I have seen in some time. Credit Horford for taking it strong knowing that he was going to get decked. Being able to overcome that fall and knock down two free throws just defies the odds even more. 

The bad part about it was that it shouldn't have even come down to that. The Clippers switched to a zone defense late and basically stymied a Hawks team that had built a 14 point lead in the third quarter. This Atlanta team will become a good offensive club against a zone the minute they realize that an opponent switching to zone defense is not a green light to launch shots from the perimeter. It shouldn't come as a surprise given Atlanta's love with the perimeter game but the Hawks gave the Clippers exactly what they wanted which was long contested attempts that enabled L.A. to get back in the game. To be successful against a zone, there must be penetration whether off the dribble or via the pass and then the ball should swing from side to side. Basically if you want to know how not to execute against a zone then just re-watch the fourth quarter of this game. The Hawks were outscored 33-22 in the fourth quarter due to a lack of execution on the offensive end. 

The numbers for Jamal Crawford look excellent, but he was part of the problem down the stretch. He struggled against Baron Davis in the pick and roll resulting in the Hawks having to switch Joe Johnson onto Davis. Another trip he failed to block out Eric Bledsoe leading to an offensive rebound and two free throws. All the while offensively going cold while settling for jump shots. It is fair to mention that the Hawks wouldn't have built a lead without Crawford's offensive explosion in the third quarter but the fourth quarter showed the danger in having him on the court alongside Mike Bibby at the end of games. Bibby was ineffective and Larry Drew subbed Marvin Williams into the game late but that didn't stop the Clippers from attacking Crawford whenever the opportunity presented itself. 

This was one of those games where it is still hard for me to fathom that Atlanta pulled it out. Kudos to coach Drew for going to Horford on the games final play because everyone in the arena and on the Clippers bench had to think the ball was going to Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford. When breaking the huddle, coach Drew called Horford back and told him something quite possibly being to take it to the whole strong and at least get a foul. Perhaps it is turning point where a coach really begins to trust a player at crunch time. Horford finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds with none any bigger than those last two free throws. 

It is frustrating to watch this team struggle that much against a zone defense because most of the damage is self inflicting. We have seen teams goto the zone more and more against Atlanta and for good reason. If the execution doesn't improve then it is going to become much more of a problem going forward.