NBA

Hawks' offense won't cut it in playoffs

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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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GAME TIME: Hawks 86, Magic 84

When Joe Johnson missed an off-balance 10-footer, it took a spectacular beat-the-buzzer dunk-back by Josh Smith to give Atlanta its only win of the season against the visiting Magic. In fact, after going winless in five games versus Orlando and Cleveland, the victory was extremely important for the Hawks' collective psyche.

However, despite their dramatic, hard-earned triumph, the Hawks' highly predictable offensive game plan precludes the possibility of their venturing deep into the playoffs.

Here’s why:

The Hawks ran three discernible plays in their half-court sets that involved more than two players. Not three plays run several times each, but a total of three plays.

• A sequence of three staggered screens set for JJ after he himself had set a screen, followed by his curling toward, and receiving the ball.

• A cross-screen to position Smith, Marvin Williams or Al Horford in the low post.

• A weak-side screen enabling JJ to curl and meet the ball as he entered the lane.

Otherwise, Atlanta’s attack consisted of screens-and-pops initiated by Johnson and terminating with Horford nailing a few 15-footers, plus several drives-and-dishes, an occasional hand-off, a few half-hearted brush screen/rolls, plus a huge number of isolations.

Johnson was the chief practitioner of Atlanta’s one-on-one sequences. For sure, he’s mighty tricky with the ball, can finish and/or pull going either way, and is a willing passer (eight assists) when he’s stymied by a double-team. At the same time, while JJ had the ball on a string, his teammates were virtually statuesque.

The same absence of ball and player movement occurred when Smith, Williams, Horford and Jamal Crawford took their turns playing one-against-the-world.

Of the Hawks who played significant minutes, only Mike Bibby, Zaza Pachulia and Mo Evans were denied the opportunities to go off on their own recognizance.

This kind of offense simply puts too much pressure on the individual shot-makers while making spectators of their teammates.

POLL

  • If these teams meet in the playoffs, what will happen?
    • Magic in 4 or 5
    • Magic in 6 or 7
    • Hawks win series

Also, if superior defenses know exactly where the ball is going to wind up on any given sequence, they can easily force the isolator to help areas, prepare to ambush the available passing lanes, and rotate to cover dive-cutters. As the weak sisters are weeded out of the playoff picture, the defenses of the surviving teams get sharper and smarter with each succeeding round and iso-oriented offenses become increasingly ineffective.

In addition, the Hawks isolations lacked any inside presence whatsoever. Smith posted up six times resulting in two swatted shots, one turnover, a missed layup and a pair of fouls that led to his scoring three points.

Williams was 0-for-2 in the low post.

Horford had a shot blocked and scored a short jumper

That’s a total of only five points generated by 10 post-ups. Not exactly championship-caliber production.

Indeed, Smith’s dramatic game-deciding dunk to the contrary, the difference in the game was Atlanta’s perimeter shooting — 7-for-13 from beyond the arc, led by Bibby’s shooting 4-for-5 from out there.

On the other hand, Atlanta’s defense was often quite effective — especially when Smith zipped over from the weak side and blocked four shots. Their team total of nine steals attested to the success in challenging the passing lanes. In truth, the Hawks' stellar quickness, speed and athleticism (with the notable exception of Bibby) are more evident on defense than on offense.

Even so, their rotations after doubling Dwight Howard were atrocious; their strategy of switching every screen and roll led to too many mismatches (of which the Magic failed to take full advantage); and their defensive transitions were erratic.

The Magic’s bumbling efforts were also major factors in the outcome. Quick shots, unforced errors, a truckload of bricks unloaded by Howard, Jameer Nelson’s repeated over-handling and Orlando’s two best marksmen — J.J. Redick and Rashard Lewis — combining to shoot 3-for-16. All told, the Magic were 6-for-21 from the bonus side of the line, and shot a collective 37.5 percent.

Should the Hawks edge out Boston and cop the third seed, they’d likely have a relatively easy time beating either Charlotte, Miami or Toronto.

Should they fall to the fourth seed, they’d face a difficult series versus Milwaukee, but would probably prevail.

Either way, Atlanta would have no chance to top Cleveland or Orlando in a seven-game series.

While one-on-one basketball may pay handsome dividends in the regular season, it’s strictly a losing proposition in the money season.
Tagged: Hawks, Cavaliers, Magic, Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Al Horford

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