LeBron James dunked with 37 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to end a 13-1 run that drew the Atlanta Hawks within 91-87. Kent Bazemore’s layup with under a minute to play kept it close before James scored then combined with Iman Shumpert to ice the game at the free throw line. The Cleveland Cavaliers won 97-89 at Phillips Arena to take Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

In worse news for the Hawks, DeMarre Carroll sprawled on the ground and writhed in agony after suffering what appeared to be a serious left knee injury with five minutes remaining in the fourth. Carroll had to be helped from the court as he was unable to put any weight on his left leg. His diagnosis will not be confirmed until he can get an MRI.

James finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, six assists and a steal and JR Smith added 28 points (including 8-for-12 shooting from 3-point range), eight rebounds, three assists and a block. Cleveland seized control of the game with a 22-4 run spanning the third and fourth quarters. Smith hit the second of consecutive 3-pointers with 2:30 to play in the third to put the Cavs in front 71-63, then opened the fourth with three more to put Cleveland ahead 85-67. He also assisted Tristan Thompson on an alley-oop during the run. Continue Reading…

The Hawks were praised for their depth throughout the regular season, with Coach Budenholzer having the personnel to run his offense almost no matter which players were on the court. The combination of size and outside shooting off the Hawks’ bench allowed Budenholzer flexibility in his lineups, something that he’s clearly rolled over into the playoffs. Budenholzer mostly stuck with a nine-man rotation in the second-round series against the Wizards, but some of the lineups have infuriated fans of the team. As the Hawks move on to the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s going to become time for Budenholzer to cash in on all the rest he’s afforded his starters over the regular season and early rounds of the playoffs.

Budenholzer has regularly rolled out lineups with three of the Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore, Mike Muscala, and Pero Antic bench brigade in these playoffs, and they have regularly gotten killed while out there. The three-man combination of Schröder, Bazemore, and Antic has played 75 minutes in the postseason, posting a ghastly -10.2 net rating, per nbawowy.com, and lineups featuring Schröder, Bazemore, and Muscala have fared even worse with a -11.1 net rating in 25 minutes. It’s understandable that Budenholzer wants to spell his starters, but he needs to avoid these lineups that takes too many of them off the court at a time.

Continue Reading…

It’s no secret that the Atlanta Hawks have struggled shooting the ball in the post-season. Playoff teams generally rank above average defensively, and defenses are highly-motivated with the season on the line. But the Hawks’ shooting struggles can’t entirely be written off as the result of playoff defense. The Hawks are generating 20.6 wide-open shots (defined by NBA.com as a shot taken with no defender within six feet), by far the most of any playoff team, but have seen a drop in shooting percentage even on these shots.

During the regular season, Atlanta shot 46.1% from the field and 39.4% from 3-point range on wide-open shots. In the playoffs, those numbers have dropped to 41.7% from the field and 37.3% from three. As a result, while the Hawks generated 23.7 points per game via wide-open shots during the regular season, Atlanta is generating only 22 points per game in the playoffs.

Atlanta has seen a decrease of only about 1% in wide-open shot opportunities in the post-season. Thus, even when you account for decreased opportunities, Atlanta is still leaving about a point and a half per game on the table on wide-open attempts. When you consider how many close games the Hawks have played in the post-season, losing close to a full basket on open shots is significant. Continue Reading…

Sometimes we, as fans, need to just sit back and enjoy what we’re watching. In today’s current age of basketball, we are obsessed with teams playing “the right way”, or the smart way. The basketball needs to be in its purest form with crisp passing, perfect rotations, and not a single iota of ugliness to be found. Well sometimes basketball ain’t pretty and that’s probably a nice way to describe the Hawks-Wizards series that just wrapped up.

Atlanta managed to pull out a huge victory over Washington in six dramatic games that involved everything we ask for out of a playoff series. It had story lines, game winners, players toughing it out through injuries, and all the trash talk we could ever hope for. The only problems is that it wasn’t always the prettiest basketball in the world.

Atlanta was an extremely enjoyable team for much of the regular season, and they were champions of exactly what everybody wants their basketball to be. Washington on the other hand was one of the more painful teams to watch. Their offense was composed of mid-range jumpshots and an outdated philosophy that left many modern NBA fans throwing their hands in the air. When the two teams met, the series felt like it had already been decided. Atlanta played “the right way” while Washington had only recently shown an acknowledgement of 21st century basketball with their sweep of the Toronto Raptors. However, due to a lackluster first round from Atlanta, and John Wall being one of best point guards in the NBA, there was reason to believe this might be closer than originally thought. Continue Reading…

For the fans, it seemed like this was going to end the most Atlanta-way possible.

Late in the fourth quarter with a four-point lead, all the Hawks had to do was get the ball inbounded and take the foul to go to the free throw line. The inbound pass found its way to Al Horford, the steady rock for the Hawks, the franchise cornerstone… but Horford panicked, causing a turnover.

The turnover led to two free throws for the Wizards and with with seven seconds left, the Hawks found themselves in the same spot: they just needed to get to the free throw line.

This time Horford held on to the ball and took the foul, and he headed to the free throw line. There, Horford missed the first, the ball bouncing off the rim four times before finally caroming out. Horford connected on the second free throw, putting the Hawks up three with seven seconds remaining.

And then Paul Pierce happened… or at least, so we thought. The Hawks’ defense on the Wizards was stifling for those seven seconds, forcing Pierce to take a heavily contested, fadeaway corner 3. Pierce, who has been a thorn for the Hawks ever since the 2008 first round series between the Hawks and Celtics, continued to torture the fans of Atlanta, sinking the improbable shot as the buzzer was sounding. Continue Reading…

When Al Horford snatched Nenê’s lunch money and calmly deposited the layup that won Game 5, it brought national attention to a fact Hawks fans have been aware of for some time: Al Horford is a clutch player.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Horford is the best clutch shooter in the playoffs for the last five seasons by a wide margin (minimum 20 field goals attempted). During that time, Horford has shot 61.3% in the clutch, defined as in the last five minutes of a game with the score within five points. Horford’s closest competitor is Paul Pierce, whose 51.7% is almost 10% less than Horford.

We’ve long known that Horford was a clutch performer in the playoffs. In the 2012 playoffs, Horford returned from a pectoral injury and scored a combined nine fourth quarter baskets in Games 5 and 6 against the Celtics. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith totaled nine baskets in nine fourth quarter appearances between them for the series. Continue Reading…

Hawks game operations tried to conduct a post-game interview with Al Horford over the PA system after the game.

The crowd was so loud that it went on deaf ears.

Horford hit the game-winning layup after crashing the boards off of a missed Dennis Schröder drive to give the Hawks an 82-81 win and a 3-2 lead over the Washington Wizards in the Conference Semifinal. The shot was the bookend to a dominate game for Horford, who led the Hawks with 23 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocked shots.

“Al has been the cornerstone for us — for the Hawks — for a bunch of years,” said Kyle Korver on Horford. “It wasn’t just that play, though. Al played an amazing game.”

Horford was the steady force for the Hawks over the final 5:31 of the fourth quarter, which started with the Hawks down 73-64. In that time period, Horford scored nine points off of two free throws, a corner 3-pointer, a 20-foot jumper, and the game-winner. For good measure, Horford also blocked a layup attempt by John Wall and assisted on a DeMarre Carroll layup in transition during the Hawks’ comeback.

“We didn’t quit after being down,” said Horford.

Horford was not the only one to lead the Hawks down the stretch, as Coach Budenholzer made a surprise move by going with Dennis Schröder at point guard to close the game.

“We’ve been trying to keep Jeff kinda fresh, where he doesn’t get fatigued playing long stretches, so we were giving him a minute or two there around the five minute mark. We had him at the table to go back in. We made several plays and Dennis made a couple of them himself, and Jeff took over coaching and said leave him in.” Continue Reading…

Since I referred to Atlanta’s bench in the Game 3 preview as “a liability in the post-season,” here’s what they’ve done: In Game 3, five of seven reserves posted a positive plus-minus, including double digits for Shelvin Mack (plus-16), Mike Scott (plus-15) and Mike Muscala (plus-10). In Game 4, three of four reserves posted a positive plus-minus.

I like the fact that coach Mike Budenholzer took the performance of Scott and Mack from Game 3 and put it in his pocket for Game 4. In last year’s Game 5 win over the Pacers, the pair combined for 37 points, including 7-for-10 shooting from 3-point range. However, in the 10 intervening playoff games between Game 5 of the Pacers series and Game 3 of the Wizards series, Scott shot a combined 18-for-53 (34%) from the field and 5-for-26 (19%) from 3-point range. Although Scott and Mack have made an annual tradition of going off for one playoff game, the pair remain the lowest performers in net rating (the difference between what the Hawks score per 100 possessions with a player on the floor and what opponents score).

By contrast, Muscala has burst onto the scene with the best defensive rating (93.9 opponents’ points per 100 possessions) and net rating (plus-11.3) of any Hawk with at least four playoff appearances. His offensive rating is fourth behind Millsap, DeMarre Carroll and Jeff Teague in this group. It’s an extremely limited 37-minute sample, but the returns have been so positive that Muscala has surely earned more minutes. Continue Reading…

Paul Pierce had another chance to terrorize the Hawks on Monday night. With eight seconds left on the clock, Pierce shot around a huge Nene screen and had an open 3-pointer for a chance to tie the game.

Apparently he didn’t call game this time.

Pierce missed the open shot, allowing the Hawks to walk away with a 106-101 victory to tie the series at two games apiece. The win gives home-court of the series back to the Hawks, having lost it by dropping Game 1 at home.

The biggest change for the Hawks was the play of Jeff Teague, who had his best game of the playoffs. Teague was out of control at time, but his aggression was a welcome sight from how he had played the first three games of the series. Teague finished with 26 points, eight assists, four rebounds, and what became the dagger 3-pointer, which he hit with 1:12 left to put the Hawks up seven.

Teague’s play did enough to offset the work of Washington’s Bradley Beal, who was absolutely magnificent with 34 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and three steals. In the absence of John Wall, Beal took over the Wizards’ offense successfully, often imitating Wall by just out-dribbling the Hawks down the floor in transition. Beal has been great for Washington in this series and there is a huge reason for the Hawks to be concerned by him in Game 5. Continue Reading…

The way the Hawks played at the end of Game 3 against the Wizards was a breath of fresh air. There was defensive activity, ball movement, and open shots that actually went it.

Of course, this was not from the Hawks’ starters. This was Mike Muscala, Mike Scott, Dennis Schröder, and Shelvin Mack finally playing the way that the fans were accustomed to in the regular season. These players fought back from 20 points down to tie the game. Of course, the Hawks wound up with a loss, but the effort and revitalization of the bench was a welcome sight for Atlanta fans.

On Monday night, it’s time for the fans to see that effort from the starting unit.

In the first-round series against Brooklyn, the problem with the Hawks is that the bench unit was awful, save for Pero Antic. This somewhat carried over in the start of the series against the Wizards, forcing Mike Budenholzer to shorten his bench rotation as much as possible. However, the Hawks’ starters — except for DeMarre Carroll — have also had a problem for the nine games they have played so far in the playoffs: they have not made shots.

Jeff Teague’s true-shooting percentage in the playoffs? 46.0%, down from 56.6% in the regular season, a difference of 10.6%. Kyle Korver? 58.9%, which is still good, but it is down from 69.9% in the regular season. Paul Millsap? 50.4% in the playoffs, 56.5% in the regular season. And Al Horford? 49.2% in the postseason compared to 56.3% in the regular season. Continue Reading…