Running with Zaza

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Hawks Lose Heartbreaker to Celtics

The NBA is where amazing happens. I just finished watching an incredible finish to the Hawks and Celtics game. Then, I caught the last few minutes of the Miami Heat game. Dwayne Wade had a monster dunk over Travis Outlaw and LaMarcus Aldridge of the Trail Blazers. The Blazers won behind a great game from rookie Rudy Fernandez and Steve Blake’s clutch 3 point shot in the final minute. If you are not watching the NBA, you are missing out on great basketball.

Here was the situation for the Hawks--Josh Smith injured. Zaza out with a bum shoulder. Al Horford in foul trouble. Joe Johnson is not quite into the flow of the game. But the Hawks are up 77-76 at the start of the 4th quarter? The Hawks were out-manned and everything was against them. Still, the team fought hard, played together, and should have won the game. Here are three quick observations:

1. Hawks have a much deeper bench than last year, but not good enough yet to compete at the highest level. Coach Woodson was trying just about any combination of post players, because foul trouble killed the Hawks. Solomon Jones was too thin in this game. Randolph Morris was not a factor. When Marvin Williams has to play a ton of minutes at the 4 spot and guard Garnett, Powe, and Glen Davis, the Hawks are going to be in trouble. Really missed Zaza tonight.

2. Joe Johnson had to run the point in crunch time. Why? He was bringing the ball up even when Bibby and Flip Murray were on the court. Acie Law is not the answer and Coach Woodson knows it, but the Hawks need Johnson coming off screens in an offensive set. If Joe has to bring the basketball up the court, the Hawks do not get into an offensive set until about 14 seconds left on the shot clock. Probably not going to work over the course of the season.

3. The other thing that almost made me jump through the TV set was the Hawks’ strategy of switching on side ball screens and hand offs between Pierce and Garnett. Coach Woodson you have to make the in-game adjustment. Switching gave the Celtics two different ways to attack. They either threw the ball to Garnett on the post with a guard on him or Pierce took the ball off the dribble with a post on him. With just 7 seconds left on a side out of bounds, the Hawks should have switched up their coverage of this play. Maybe double Pierce on the handoff and make someone else beat you, or play on the high side and fight through the handoff.

Here is my play-by-play from the final five minutes of the telecast:

Johnson has to play big in this quarter for the Hawks to win this game. Celtics are hurting the Hawks with second chance points. The Hawks have no inside game on the offensive end of the court, and they are taking too many jump shots off the dribble. Garnett has been out of this game for a long stretch. He should be rested. Ray Allen has missed two straight wide open 3 point shots. Mo Evans just tied the score 88-88.

Five minutes to go and here comes Garnett into a tie game. Out of the timeout great defense by the Hawks, but Garnett hits a long two. Next time down—again great defense by Atlanta, but Garnett gets the rebound and scores on an alley oop pass for a dunk. Time out Atlanta.

After the time out, the Hawks have Joe Johnson bringing the ball up the floor because Rondo is pressuring Bibby. Boston’s Rondo fouls Bibby on a long jump shot. Bibby pulls a veteran NBA move by kicking out his leg. The Hawks desperately need a defensive stop. Boston runs a two man game with Garnett and Pierce. Hawks switch on the screen and Joe Johnson ends up behind Garnett in the post. Foul and free throws.

Rondo hits a 2. Evans responds with a 3. Huge shot. Pierce scores an old fashioned 3 point play with the fans chanting MVP. 99-95 Boston with 97 seconds left. Horford offensive goal tending! Bibby steals the ball back and is fouled. After a tough drive, 2 free throws by Super Joe. 99-97. The Hawks have been switching on the side ball screen and giving Boston a mismatch with Garnett. Please stop switching.

What will the Hawks do on this play out of the time-out? Superb defensive possession for Hawks. Quick and hard double on Garnett on the catch in the post. Rondo fires up a terrible shot on the ball reversal. Joe ties up the score on one of his patented drives down the right side of the lane against Pierce. Johnson cleared some space by fading away from Pierce for his 28th point of the game. 99-99. Johnson fouls Pierce. Pierce so good at going to his left. Marvin Williams for 3…Good! Doc Rivers brought in Tony Allen to guard Joe Johnson and Johnson beat him baseline before dishing to Marvin. 102-101 Hawks. Pierce hand off from Garnett and Pierce nails the game winning jumper. Again the Hawks switched and Horford ends up on Pierce. Inbounds pass goes through Bibby’s hands and the Hawks lose by one point 103-102. Ugh.


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