The popular meme about the playoff success of the Atlanta Hawks thus far is one of the following:
2. The Hawks can't possibly keep making these shots. They are lucky.
3. The way the Hawks checked out of so many games this season gives us no reason to believe in this current success.
Listen, I can't disagree with #3 at all. A more accomplished veteran team might get away with such a passive regular season because it could be said that they are saving it for the playoffs. The Hawks are not such an accomplished team.
Regarding the other two, after watching so much Hawks basketball, I have to say I disagree.
One thing I can't fault during these playoffs that I most certainly can find fault with during the regular season is the attention to defense and defensive rebounding. These two items have never been hallmarks of Hawks basketball, yet there is no doubt that they did well against Orlando and well enough against Chicago last night (especially on the defensive glass) to allow their "shotmakers" to win the game for them.
And about those shotmakers and the second point above, SBNation's own Mike Prada shed some light on an item that the Real MC hit on after the game last night.
When looking at the regular season stats for these unsustainable 16-23 feet jump shots, both arrived at a surprising revelation:
Dude, are the Hawks actually shooting worse in the playoffs?
In fact, is there really any regression to the mean going on at all? During the regular season, the Hawks shot 43 percent from 16-23 feet as a team. That led the league. During the playoffs, Atlanta has hit 72 of their 186 shot attempts from that same range. Pull out a calculator, and you'll find that's ... just under 39 percent. In this supposed unsustainable hot streak of shooting, the Hawks are somehow managing to shoot worse from mid-range than they did in the regular season?
Now, I could make the argument that, against playoff caliber defenses like the one that Chicago owns, such inefficiency won't scale and I would expect the Hawks to shoot worse against heavier competition. Except that they shot better from mid-range against both Orlando and Chicago during the regular season meetings than they have so far in the playoffs.
The Hawks used good ball movement and quick decisions from Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford in Game 1 (for the most part) to avoid the dribble-til-the-clock's-gone super-challenge jump shots, with Johnson at one point running the baseline and getting the ball to Crawford who simply tossed it back to Johnson who now had a set 3 in his sights, which he hit.
It's when the Hawks revert back to stalling the ball, dribbling too much, and leaving themselves no options far too often that hinders them in the playoffs. And once they get way down (see Game 5 in Orlando), they can tend to get way too loose with their fundamentals.
You can live with the quick jumpers in the shot clock or in transition as long as the rest of the possession are well cared for. That's what life's been like for the first 7 games of this playoff season for the Hawks.
I'm sure that Chicago will make it harder for the Hawks to break down their defense and the Hawks will be challenged with maintaining offensive patience. I don't expect the Hawks to go all the way, just as far as their talent and this style of play can take them.
But I didn't expect a sweep, either. Because this team, through all of their well documented warts, is still very good at the top of their roster, and maybe after another win or two against such high level competition, others will realize that, too.
Hey, they may not be championship caliber, but they didn't get a sponsor's pass into the playoffs, either.
How do you explain that? Maybe the reality is that Atlanta is a better team than we realize.
I'm not judging, I get it. It took some time for me to realize that, too.