Posted by lethalweapon3 in lethalweapon3's Pre-Game Preview Blog, 27 April 2015 - · 12 views
“We are all safe from Jeff Teague! Hooray!”
Okay, so this is nobody’s idea of a Fo-Fo-Fo type of playoff team. Even Moses Malone could agree with that.
Still, whenever a number-one seed is beaten in an NBA playoff game, it’s supposed to be when they’re bested by another team while playing at their best themselves. Rasheed Wallace diagnosed the clinical term as “sunshiningonadogsasseritis.” The cure for that temporary condition is to stop playing like a dog yourself, lest you find yourself getting dogged out by fans and media.
The Atlanta Hawks take on the Atlanta Hawks at Barclays Center this evening (7:00 PM Eastern, Sportsouth in ATL, NBATV) hoping to widen their playoff series lead to 3-1 while the Washington Wizards kick back and await the series outcome. No, there’s no misprint, and no, there aren’t two additional refs joining the festivities today. Atlanta will be accompanied on the herringbone floor by the host Brooklyn Nets, of course. But now that an initial postseason loss hangs around their neck, the Hawks will be playing 5-on-10 on the floor, for at least the next 40 minutes of playoff hoops.
They’re playing against the knowledge that, the last time an Atlanta Hawks team won a playoff series, they needed a guy currently on the opposite end of tonight’s sideline to pour on 23 points just to get his team up to 84 for the night. On that late April 2011 evening, Al Horford shot just 3-for-9 from the field, finishing the series with a 12.0 PPG average in a deferring role while Jason Collins did the dirty work at starting center. That spring evening, starting point guard Kirk Hinrich got injured, forcing Larry Drew to reluctantly turn toward Jeff Teague, who was granted all of nine minutes in the Orlando series… but not during the Game 6 clincher. Four years later… is there a closer in the house?
These Hawks are playing against the awareness that they have the best regular season road record in franchise history, but that this record was built upon a 16-1 stretch from Thanksgiving through MLK Day, with a much healthier and sprier crew in tow. They haven’t enjoyed a double-digit road win since having to come back from seven points down midway through the fourth quarter just to beat Orlando back on March 25. Since beating back the Raptors and Bulls on back-to-back nights in January, Atlanta has just two away-game wins (the Nets on April 8, and the post-Knight-trade Bucks) under their belts against playoff competition.
The Hawks don’t want people to believe they think they can simply cruise at Philips Arena to moonwalk into The Finals. But to dispel that notion, they have to show they know how to knock others off in their buildings. Three months removed from being Road Warriors… is there a closer in the house?
Right now, the Hawks don’t just need guys to finish games, they need players who know how to finish shots around the rim. The Hawks went 1-for-17 on shots contested by the Nets’ Brook Lopez in Game 3, bagel-for-8 around the rim. They were an atrocious 3-for-10 within five feet of the rim in the opening quarter, as Brooklyn raced ahead at the start of a game for the first time in this series, building a quick double-digit lead.
It took two quarters for Atlanta to climb up the water spout and retake the lead. But when Brooklyn’s 18-0 deluge ensued, the Hawks missed five attempts within two feet of the rim, Mike Scott instinctively following a missed layup by Dennis Schröder to stop the bleeding. With the game still in hand, Teague came in for Dennis Schröder and promptly missed a freebie, lost the ball, and blew two layups in succession, the last three events spanning all of 19 seconds. That’s not exactly Teague Time.
Teague (team-high 15.0 PPG, on 39.0 FG% shooting) remains a threat to drive, but not to finish. Until he does, Brooklyn will take its chances shielding his teammates awaiting kickouts, settling for rebounds while Jeff plays wallball with the glass.
Meanwhile, B-Lo has lately found himself more concerned with the nuances of time travel than with his opponent at the 5-spot. Horford (two second-half attempts in the paint in Game 3, benched with five minutes left in the 4th quarter) failed to redirect his offensive attack when his mid-range shots weren’t falling (0-for-7 FGs beyond the rim). With these senior Hawks out of focus, Lionel Hollins and the Nets were able to sink their teeth deeply into Atlanta’s perimeter game.
Kyle Korver (1-for-8 FGs, 0-for-5 3FGs in Game 3) came off screens and repeatedly found at least one 6-foot-8-plus Brooklynite waiting for him; there was no need to cluster around the rim since the Hawks weren’t making baskets and no one aside from Paul Millsap (17 rebounds, 6 offensive) were threats to do anything with second chance opportunities. Without Horford’s mid-range game at a functional level, Brook Lopez can simply sit back on defense and flail in the vicinity of approaching Hawks while trying to stay out of foul trouble.
The Nets didn’t exactly sit back and let all this face-flattening by the Hawks unfold. They eliminated Atlanta’s advantage with turnovers in Game 3, coaxing a series-high 15 out of the Hawks while committing a series-low 15 themselves. They also got far better shot opportunities for Bojan Bogdanovic (7-for-13 FGs; 11 first-quarter points), spreading Atlanta’s defense out the way they’re accustomed to doing to others. Brooklyn got Joey Crawford’s crew to work the whistles to their advantage as well, drawing four additional personal fouls and getting to the free throw line eight more times.
Jarrett Jack continued to exploit his veteran and size advantages over Schröder, combining four assists with four defensive rebounds over a 3.5-minute span of Brooklyn’s decisive second-half run. Jack surprised by excelling without feeling compelled to jack shots, and Atlanta defensively has granted him ample room to create however he pleases.
While Dennis must conduct better ball movement and on-ball defense, his deficiencies in this series can be offset by Jeff Teague thoroughly outplaying Deron Williams (1-for-8 FGs in Game 3, but six assists and just two TOs). That aspect of the series needs to become crystal-clear if the Hawks intend to finish this series this week. Teague may not even get that opportunity, if Jack soon takes over the starting role from D-Will, who is now suffering from a back issue and severe tendinitis, among other things. Joe Johnson (29.4 FG% in Game 3 but 16 points, 10 boards and five dimes) is dealing with tendinitis, too, but Atlanta’s inability to force him to play the full floor has made things easier on him.
Brooklyn could misconstrue Atlanta’s continuously sliding shot percentages (43.0 FG% Game 1, 38.9% Game 2, 35.6% Game 3) as a function of their own adjustments and strategies over the course of the series. The Hawks are getting all the shots they need, specifically at close range, to bury Brooklyn. But three games into the playoffs, they’ve yet to find closers capable of shooting them with focus and confidence.
Teague and Horford have to cease waiting to find out who those closers are. Until they do, the Hawks are merely playing themselves. No one will take the Hawks seriously until at least the Nets have to.
Is there a closer in the house? No, not you, Joe Johnson, go sit down somewhere.
Let’s Go Hawks!