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Knicks 92, Hawks 79: Atlanta's Downward Spiral Continues

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Taken just in a one game situation, last night's loss might not have seemed so bad. The Knicks came in motivated having just lost to Cleveland and played one of their strongest defensive games of the season. Atlanta struggled offensively throughout but played enough defense through three-quarters to give themselves a chance. However, turnovers and some hot shooting from the Knicks sealed the Hawks fate in the fourth as they never could find a rhythm on offense. If this result would have been in a one game setting then perhaps we could have shook it off as a night when the other team simply played harder and better, but this isn't a one game trend with the Hawks.

This is now a common theme that for every step forward (Chicago) there are two steps backwards (Oklahoma City, New York). No the Hawks aren't necessarily losing to bad teams but they are falling at home and doing it the same way each night. The defensive effort has improved but Atlanta's offensive struggles late have been overlooked due to their defensive deficiencies before the Mike Bibby trade. This team simply hasn't been cohesive on offense for sometime and an over reliance on a perimeter game and lack of a clear goal on offense is hurting them. Instead of five parts playing as one, it looks like five parts going in five different directions.

I know Al Horford is going to get some blame at being passive in last night's game which is fair but I thought that the Knicks did a good job of taking him away from the Hawks offense. Typically teams game plan to take Joe Johnson away from the Hawks offense. Last night it appeared that the Knicks centered on Horford and Atlanta failed to recognize it. Gone was Horford's patented pick and pop game that he has been so effective with this season and the Hawks turned the ball over many times while trying to force the ball to Horford in the paint. The Knicks weren't going to let him beat them and credit them for attacking Atlanta in a different way. Horford finished with only four points on 2-8 shooting. He grabbed seven rebounds while also dishing out a team-high five assists. Five of Horford's rebounds came in the first quarter.

To be able to tell whether the Hawks offense is rolling or not you need look no further than the assist column on the box score. Atlanta finished with 15 assists last night against 21 turnovers. Those 21 turnovers led to 24 New York points. When the Hawks were rolling offensively they were routinely piling up 25+ assists a night and looked effortless in doing so. Even when they have a good game offensively lately everything feels forced. There is no cohesion. I am not sure if it is because the opposing teams have had a good look at the motion offense enough and are game planning for it or Atlanta is simply missing reads, settling for jump shots, or breaking off the play to go iso. Only the coaching staff knows the correct answer but my best guess is that it is a little of all of the above.

Josh Smith returned to record a double double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Kirk Hinrich scored 15 points on 6-9 shooting while Joe Johnson tossed in 14 points while going 7-15 from the floor. An interesting sequence late in the game when Jamal Crawford had the ball at the top of the key dribbling with Kirk Hinrich in the corner. Hinrich was waving his arm in a circular motion as if to say either move the ball or someone cut. Crawford continued to pound the ball while waiting for one of his teammates to come set a ball screen for him. Then Hinrich threw his hands up in disgust. To this I can say we feel your pain Kirk but you might should get used to it. This is a perfect example of guys on the floor having different ideas about what needs to be done. 

It took an unusually long time for coach Drew to emerge from the locker room after the game for his media session. He clearly was frustrated and said that his team was in disarray. Here is the full quote:

"Right now, we’re in disarray. We’re not playing with the type of confidence and the type of swagger we should be playing with at home. And that’s a very disturbing thing."

The situation also looked bleak in the locker room as you can clearly see the frustrations on everyone's face. On the surface this appears to be a fragile group. Perhaps it has seemed that way since last season's loss to Orlando in the playoffs where it looked like the team pulled apart in a many directions. I don't think it is appropriate to point the finger at one coach or one single player and charge them with everything that has gone wrong. We have seen this team go through stretches like this in the past only to come together and play well for a stretch. The pessimist in me wonders how many times a team can drift apart and then come back together? Clearly there are some unhappy players on this team. The good thing is there is still time but something has to change and soon.