So the Hawks first round playoff series is about to shift north to Atlanta with the series tied at one. The old saying is that a playoff series doesn’t really begin until a team wins a game on someone else’s home floor. Well the Hawks did that in game one, so consider this series well underway.
However, just what did we learn during those first two games in Orlando that we can take with us the rest of the series.
1- The referees are going to have a HUGE impact on this series, more than in most, simply due to the nature in which Dwight Howard plays.
I don’t think Howard has ever set a legal screen in his life, but the officials seem extremely reluctant to call him on this (though they do not hesitate to call a foul on Josh Smith for attempting to fight through said illegal screens), permitting him to free up teammates through means less than legal.
Additionally, every post move Howard attempts really results in one of two things; he either commits or a turnover, or, by definition of the rule, travels. Again, the referees have been exceptionally reluctant to enforce this rule as well with Howard.
As far as his physical play, well it goes both ways on that end, though Howard, individually, gets away with far, far more than anyone in a Hawks uniform can even dream about. But it’s not as big an issue as the previous two.
What it will come down to though for the Magic on offense, is what the officials will let Howard get away with. As long as he’s free to travel about in the post, he’s going to put up monster point totals.
As long as he’s able to set a screen in any fashion he chooses, Magic shooters are going to be freed up, and eventually, they will probably start knocking a couple of those downs, at least one would think.
So, the key to this series is going to be treatment by the men in stripes of Mr. Howard.
2- The Atlanta Hawks are an exceptionally stubborn bunch. I think we all knew this coming in, but it became more and more obvious down the stretch.
I think there was a point in time we felt maybe just a few individual players exhibited such stubbornness, but as the game went along, it definitely seemed to be an ailment infecting the entire squad.
People have longed label the Hawks as soft, and offensively, they are. Where are the highest percentage shots taken? Near the basket. How do you get near the basket? You attack the rim.
The Atlanta Hawks are perfectly content with jump shots. That’s great, when they are falling. But when they aren’t, you saw what happens. There are prolonged scoring droughts that turn double digit leads into double digit deficits.
To compare to baseball, it’s like a hitter who has a pretty high batting average, but never walks. Sure, when the hits are falling, he looks like the best hitter in the league, and things are rolling. But when things quit falling, suddenly he can’t buy his way on base as he has no other means of getting on base. The same goes for this Hawks offense. When jump shots quit falling, points quit going on the scoreboard.
If you continue to attack the rim, in general, one of two things will happen. You’ll get a decent percentage layup or shot around the basket, or you go to the free throw line.
Yes, the huge free throw disparity is somewhat due to the nature of the officiating, but there is something else at work here. Yes the Magic did indeed shoot 19 more free throws than the Hawks. However, the Hawks only had six more fouls called on them.
So what gives? Simple, the Hawks were committing shooting fouls on players attacking the basket, thus putting players on the stripe for free throws.
The Hawks simply did not do this. Joe Johnson, Kurt Hinrich, and Josh Smith combined to shoot two free throws all night long. Seriously? Two of those players hold large physical advantages over the players guarding them, yet they couldn’t get to the line?
No, because in this league, people don’t foul jump shooters.
3- The stubbornness of the Hawks though probably comes straight from the top.
I mentioned the Hawks failure to attack the rim, but there is one player on this roster who, when on the court, does. Granted, his percentage on running floaters isn’t very good, but at least he has the right idea.
Jeff Teague will attack another team, and go right after them. The problem is Jeff Teague doesn’t play. We’re told he’s “not ready”. We were also told Jordan Crawford isn’t ready either. But head coach Larry Drew is going to stick by his guns, this much we know.
Beyond not playing Teague, Drew’s obsession with not playing a player with two fouls is causing major problems.
Al Horford only played 26 minutes, meaning he missed 22 minutes of game time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player miss 22 minutes of floor time before due to “foul trouble” and yet finish the game with a grand total of TWO fouls.
With Horford off the floor and Hilton Armstrong and Josh Powell on it, Dwight Howard had no reason to stay down low in the lane, as there was no fear of any sort of offensive threat being positioned down there.
Instead, Howard could come show on the Hawks guards thinking about penetrating, and show a double team. The result was a lot of missed jump shots.
Powell, Armstrong and Jason Collins played a combined 34 minutes and attempted all of three shots and grabbed three rebounds.
I understand this talk of the defensive presence on Howard, but hasn’t he scored 79 points in three games?
So, they’ve allowed Howard 79 points, while contributing absolutely nothing on the offensive end of the floor, or on the glass. I’m sorry, that’s still a lot of wasted minutes. Especially when you consider the best, most consistent player you had committed fewer fouls than any of them, and yet himself only played 26 minutes.
Zaza Pachulia, if anyone, should be getting more of those bench minute than Powell and Armstrong take up. Pachulia finished with a +6 and added 8 rebounds, as well as at least offering somewhat of a threat of an attempt to score the basketball.
As long as Drew continues to stay this stubborn, we can expect similar things to happen, and the team is going to have to continue to follow its coach and continue to be a stubborn team incapable of making proper adjustments to adjust for weaknesses.
4- These aren’t last years Hawks. These guys didn’t quit, and they haven’t wilted. Down in the fourth quarter, they kept fighting, and put on a spirited run (remarkably spear headed by a more consistent attempt to attack the basket) that saw them within two points with a Hedo Turkoglu lay-up precariously located on the rim, staring at a chance of gaining possession with a chance to tie.
Of course, the shot dropped and the Magic pulled away, but that’s not the important aspect here. A Hawks team known for its eagerness to quit and throw in the towel showed great resiliency on the road.
5- This one is simple. What we learned in Orlando is that the Hawks can win this series, bottom line.