Despite arguably the best game of Paul Millsap's NBA career, the Atlanta Hawks just 95 points in an overtime game on Sunday evening. Game 4 was wildly frustrating from an Atlanta perspective, including the fact that Atlanta produced a horrific 87.4 offensive efficiency with a 44.9% true shooting as a team, and there is plenty of blame to pass around. However, two factors stand out above the rest and they are worthy of exploration.
Making shots is hard
As referenced above, Paul Millsap was out of his mind in Game 4, making 19 of his 31 shots from the floor and knocking down half of his six shots from beyond the arc. Outside of Millsap, though, the numbers were staggeringly bad. Kyle Korver finished a respectable(-ish) 3 of 9 from three, but two of his makes came in the first quarter and the sharp-shooting swingman simply couldn't get a shot to drop when it matters. For now, though, let's brush past Korver, who presumably isn't someone to "worry" about moving forward given his production in Games 2 and 3.
The group of Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeff Teague, Dennis Schröder and Mike Scott combined to make just 5 of their 26 three-point attempts (19.2%) and that isn't going to get it done. Given their overall production level, it would be unfair to expect all of these guys to make threes with consistency, but the Hawks have been able to create open shots at will for this quintet, and the results are brutal.
As a team (including Millsap, Korver, etc.), the Hawks simply haven't been able to make shots when favorable opportunities have been presented. According to NBA.com, Atlanta has converted just 29.3% of their "wide open" shot attempts (with a defender more than 6 feet away) in the series, and that number actually dropped to a comical 25% rate in Game 4. For reference, the Hawks ranked near the bottom of the league at 41.4% in the regular season.
In different circumstances, Mike Budenholzer's team has been just as abhorrent from a shooting perspective. NBA.com classifies "open" shots with the designation of a defender being 4 to 6 feet away, and the Hawks are shooting 39.4% in those situations against Boston with a dip to 37% in Game 3. Again, these numbers are far worse than the regular season, where Atlanta actually ranked second in the NBA at a 45.9% clip.
The obvious reaction is to simply say that "the shots will fall", and as someone who believes in process over results, that is (still) the message. However, this is the second consecutive postseason where the Hawks just haven't been able to knock down available shots that everyone assumes they will make, and to say it is disturbing would paint an accurate picture.
What do you change? Well, nothing. The Hawks have an offense geared toward the "open" player taking shots instead of being focused on certain individuals, and it works for this group. Atlanta clearly attempted to focus on Millsap (justifiably) during his raging hot spell in Game 4, but a bit of iso-ball visually stunted the offense late in the game, and it was clear that the team was out of sorts with that change in method. Shots will fall.... or they won't.... but expecting any sort of offensive sea change would be aggressive.
The point guard conundrum
Jeff Teague is better than Dennis Schröder in the year of our lord 2016.
This isn't up for debate.
Teague's numbers are (much) better across the board, and when you blend in Schröder's pension for losing his mind on the court at times, the pendulum shifts even further in Teague's direction. With that said, Teague was largely brutal in Game 4, and while that was masked with two huge shots down the stretch of the fourth quarter, the fact remains that Budenholzer hasn't been able to coax quality play out of the point guard position to this point in the series.
The two point guards combined to shoot a ghastly 7 of 31 in the most recent contest, and their 4 for 16 clip from downtown was buoyed toward the positive by the two late bombs from Teague. Obviously, perimeter shooting is not the strength of either player (though Teague did shoot quite well from three on the season), but seeing the position generate 31 shots is probably a bit disconcerting in and of itself.
Throughout the season, I have roundly defended Mike Budenholzer for simply riding the hot hand at point guard. There have been (many) nights when Schröder was locked in and performing at a high level, and on those occasions, Budenholzer has often stayed with his 22-year-old lead guard in crunch time over the "safer" option of Teague. However, Game 4 was not one of those games by any stretch of the imagination, yet Budenholzer came back with Schröder for a disastrous two-minute stretch in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
The results? Schröder missed an (aggressive) three-point attempt, committed a turnover and allowed Isaiah Thomas to shake free, helping to prompt the timeout at the 2:59 mark and allowing the head coach to walk back his decision to bring Teague back into the game.
Without the benefit of intimate knowledge of Budenholzer's thoughts, it seems relatively clear that he likes Schröder's defense in this series. Still, the Hawks are eight points better (92.5 to 102.5) per 100 possessions with Teague on the floor over the four games, and even with Schröder's athleticism and ball-hawking, the difference in cohesion and consistency on the offensive end simply isn't worth the hope that he will be able to slow Thomas on defense.
I wouldn't go nearly as far as some, in that outsiders have even suggested the use of Kirk Hinrich to combat Schröder's borderline disastrous contributions. It is certainly fair to say that he has struggled (-16.2 net rating, 37.2 eFG%, 1-to-1 assist to turnover ratio), but instead of latching on to the no-upside look of Hinrich, Budenholzer would likely be wise to keep Schröder on a (much) shorter leash. There are nights when he is electric and they should be exploited for team gain, but at the same time, Teague is the better option and the minutes should display it.
There are, quite obviously, other topics of discussion in this series, including the overall rotation and Budenholzer's seeming unwillingness to push minutes for Al Horford (38 in an overtime game). At the same time, the Hawks were in clear position to win both Games 3 and 4 on the road, and if shots fall at a reasonable clip, Atlanta is in good position to sneak past Boston and into what would be a grueling series against the Cavs.
Now, we wait and see.