The Atlanta Hawks fell to the Washington Wizards in the first game of their first round playoff series on Sunday 114-107. A seven-point loss on the road is typically nothing to be too ashamed of, and there would appear to be a number of obvious issues that could potentially be corrected prior to Game 2 of the series on Wednesday evening. The glaring issues include the number of Hawks turnovers (21) and the number of points the Hawks allowed the Wizards to get in transition (26). But making the adjustments necessary to try to set themselves up for success in Game 2 and beyond will involve addressing some more fundamental issues than those.
The information that I lay out below is based upon how I personally charted the game (re-watching it, not live). Note that charting a game is as much of an art as is a science, so it may not perfectly reflect some stats you might see at NBA.com or ESPN.com, but my intention was to take the most objective approach I could in my effort.
For points of reference, keep in mind that during the 2016-2107 NBA season that an average defensive team would allow 106.3 per 100 possessions. 100 points per 100 possessions per game is elite and 110 points per 100 possessions would compete for league worst.
This first bucket of the game comes in the Wizards half-court offense as John Wall and Marcin Gortat execute a simple 1-5 pick and roll for an uncontested 12 foot jumper by Wall. The play looks a little on the harmless side on the surface (the book on Wall is to make him a jump shooter), but this would just be the first example in an extensive series of issues that Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard would have throughout the game.
Schroder and Howard’s reaction on this play is not harmless. This is the playoffs and the lack of urgency and the absence of any physical assertiveness on this play is worrisome and would become a problematic theme for the Hawks throughout the entire game.
Here is another example that on the surface does not look so egregious.
But again, there is zero effort to force the offensive action away from the paint. These were two of the Wizards first seven offensive possessions in this game. And Schroder and Howard would never really demonstrate any more assertiveness or physicality in their defensive play as the game progressed.
According to the way I charted the game, Schroder was the primary perimeter defender in the pick and roll on 19 Wizards possessions. The Wizards produced 27 total points on these possessions for an offensive rating of 142.1.
Dwight Howard was the primary big defending in the pick and roll on 21 Wizards possessions. The Wizards produced 25 points on these possessions for an offensive rating of 119.0
Schroder and Howard were paired in the pick and roll defensive action on 10 Wizards possessions through which the Wizards produced 13 points. (ORtg 130.0)
To further demonstrate how problematic their play was, consider that when Mike Muscala was defending in the pick and roll with anyone other than Schroder, the result was two points on seven possessions. When Muscala was paired with Schroder in the pick and roll the result was seven points on just three possessions.
Additionally, when Kent Bazmore was defending in the pick and roll with anyone other than Howard, the result was a total of seven points on 10 possessions. When Bazemore was defending with Howard in the pick and roll the result was seven points on just four possessions. I could go on demonstrating this trend with every other player that appeared for the Hawks in this game.
As to provide a contrasting example, let’s look at this play:
It’s not a perfect example, as this is “horns action” (with Smith and Porter) as opposed to a straight 1/4-5 pick and roll. But Wall is trying to get downhill on this play and look at the urgency this unit demonstrates by swarming him as he penetrates. This is more representative of the type of defensive play we are used to seeing from Mike Budenholzer led Hawks teams in playoff environments.
If the Hawks are going to enter Wednesday’s contest with any amount of optimism for leaving Washington with a series tied at 1-1, some significant adjustments are going to have be built into to how they attempt to deal with Wall and Gortat in their high screen action. Shaving off of a bit of volume in turnovers and/or the Wizards transition production will help. But that alone is not going to be enough to make me feel optimistic about the Hawks chances in this series. Schroder and Howard are going to have to demonstrate more energy and urgency in their defensive play.