Archives For Game Recap

The Atlanta Hawks, historically, have had trouble acquiring star power via free agency. And in a summer where Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors shook the NBA to its core, Dwight Howard hardly seems to qualify.

 But Howard’s return to his hometown—where were first introduced to the 6-foot-10 slender teenage with a Hollywood smile in a no. 12 Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy jersey—couldn’t have come at a better time.

 The front office was unable or unwilling to come to terms with Al Horford on a long term deal, and Howard’s signing a three-year deal was good insurance for their franchise cornerstone’s eventual departure to the Boston Celtics. The move lets Atlanta remain competitive now without tying up the cap over a longer period of time.

Now, the Hawks job isn’t done. Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver still remain from the All-star foursome selected to represent Atlanta in New York a year ago. Kent Bazemore played the best basketball of his career this season and will return after signing a four-year $70 million dollar deal, and a confident Dennis Schroder steps into the starting point guard spot. But Atlanta still has a dearth of elite shot creation, and, even if Schroder takes a leap as the starting point guard, there’s still a lack of depth behind him. But perhaps Howard diving hard in pick and rolls can generate more gravity than Horford or Millsap were able to muster working from the elbows.

And though Atlanta already had a quality defense, maybe Howard’s different defensive skill set allows the team to shore up some weaknesses that appeared in the playoffs the past two seasons.

As the 2nd best defensive team in the league, you would be hard pressed to find a glaring weakness. Dwight’s biggest impact defensively will be providing rim protection for a team that ranked 2nd in rim protection field goal percentage holding a opponents to 44.9%. Atlanta also ranked first in blocks, defensive rebounds and field goal percentage defending 2 pointers. However, what we found out against bigger, longer, athletic teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers (swept) and Milwaukee Bucks (1-2 regular season series record) is that Atlanta doesn’t have the athletes to match.

https://streamable.com/zo6w

Lebron is unstoppable when he has a full head of steam headed towards the basket, but the lack of size and shot blocking ability is apparent

https://streamable.com/hb4u

Frye gets to the pain and because of his length there is no shot any Hawk has to contest.

As an individual, Dwight’s presence on the defensive end is far more imposing than Horford’s or Millsap; so opposing players are certainly more careful attempting a shot around the basket. Last season, when facing the champion Cleveland Cavaliers, Dwight’s defensive field goal percentage contesting shots less than 6 feet was 33.33%(2 games), compared to Al Horford’s 66.7%( 3 games). Watching Tristan Thompson gather several offensive rebounds for 2nd chance points throughout the semifinals was a reminder that Atlanta ranked 18th in that department, another area Howard’s 8.4 defensive rebounds per game will come in handy as opposed to Horford’s 5.5.

https://streamable.com/mfnk

Tristan Thompson out hustles entire Hawks frontcourt using his instincts and leaping ability. Two attributes Dwight uses when rebounding the ball.

https://streamable.com/s39c

Dwight howard rebounding activity

Budenholzer will have to tweak the scheme just a tad bit in order to fully capitalize off of Dwight’s strengths by not allowing him too far away from the basket as Horford might off been at times. Now not saying Howard doesn’t have the capability to cover a guard off a pick n roll for a couple seconds, but it’s not exactly his comfort zone. Luckily for him he will be playing with a supporting cast that is instructed to wreak havoc on the perimeter in order to reduce easy driving lanes to the rim. Nevertheless, Howard is one of the best erasers in this league and has been for quiet some time.

https://streamable.com/6ogm

Howard protecting the rim

 

The former three-time Defensive Player of the Year leaves an offense first, second, and then defense third mentality in Houston for one of the best defensive coaches in the league.

The Hawks finished in the top three in defensive rating over the past two seasons. What Budenholzer has done is highly impressive, given the lack of size and rebounding capabilities on the roster, and now he has a game-changing player with the ability to shore up both of those deficiencies. Atlanta has sorely missed that imposing presence anchoring the defense, sort of similar to what Tyson Chandler meant to those Dallas Maverick teams.

Al Horford and Paul Millsap did all they could in conjunction with a perimeter group who swarmed ball handlers with pressure defense to speed offenses up and out of their comfort zone, but they still lacked great size on the frontline. Howard is a rim protecting presence who should allow defenders to scramble less, maintain the integrity of their rotations, and clean the glass.

Another important note is that due to Budenholzer’s all hands on deck philosophy, he should be able to keep Howard’s minutes in check.

Over the past couple seasons Dwight has not looked like the Superman we saw in Orlando, and much of that can be attributed to injuries (knees and back) and poor coaching philosophies he was forced to endure. However, he is not absolved of blame. Defense is all about effort and he looked disengaged at times last season. The injuries are something Atlanta is taking a risk on, but the mental stability is much more concerning. Howard discussed the situation in Houston on Inside the NBA on TNT during the playoffs.
“As a big, sometimes you want to feel a part of what’s going on,” Howard said on TNT. “If I could bring the ball up the court, shoot threes, go between the legs and do all that stuff, that would be great. But I have to rely on my teammates to get the ball. Now, there have been times where I’ve been upset and I’ve taken myself out of games in situations, and that’s on me. I have to grow to be a better player at that.”
Howard played 71 games and the entire first round, so the issue as much a mental block as physical. He averaged just 13.7 points per game, the second lowest of his career, on just 8.5 field goals a game, on a team that took 7,392 regular season threes during his tenure.

He now joins a philosophy that believes in ball movement and has shown they don’t mind playing through their bigs as Atlanta averaged the most post touches last season with 19.8 a game—two factors I’m sure played a large part in his decision. Howard will certainly find much more comfort playing with a willing passer in Dennis Schroder, especially in pick and roll situations, which will force defenses into a tough circumstance with shooters like Korver and Bazemore spotting up.

https://streamable.com/altj

Howard in Pick and Roll

 

https://streamable.com/8af8

Howard rolling to rim

Schroder is much more prone to use picks to create better looks for his own scoring options. Last year he ranked third in frequency of using the pick and roll with a 54% rating, two spots above Chris Paul, and having five of his 11 points per game come from that play type. At this point in his career he is not threat to defenses shooting the ball and typically uses the likes of Millsap and Horford’s offensive prowess to his advantage. During Wednesday’s press conference Howard stated that Dennis reminds him “of a bigger Rondo.” And said that the pick and roll game with both of them will be hard to defend.

https://streamable.com/uihf

Schroder to Horford

Howard may not be the midrange shooter that Horford was for Atlanta, but he certainly is just as effective rolling to the rim awaiting a pass from a point guard. Even with the lack of touches he this past season, Howard still shot 60% as a roll man during it all. If you have watched him long enough you understand that he’s quiet comfortable in pick and rolls, but the real questions lie in the post. We were all optimistic when he walked into los Angeles to work with all time leading scorer Kareem Abdul Jabaar, but that soon faded after he battled a bad back all season long and never quiet got in sync with Mike Dantoni. He then heads to Houston where 3-time NBA champion Kevin Mchale and the masterful footwork teachings of Hakeem Olajuwon’s awaited him, but that too never manifested.

So for Atlanta, barring any vast improvement in his low post scoring ability, Dwight is already one of the top offensive rebounders in the league, which can be a source for points, but he will be most successful in Atlanta’s offense stationed closer to the basket (he shot 69.6% from less than 5 feet last season) feeding off the playmaking ability from his teammates, rather if it’s a drive and dish or off a pick and roll. Budenholzer will still need to call his number for post ups, but idea is not to exhaust him too much by demanding he create his own offense majority of the time. Although the playing style was not in his favor last year, just 244 of his 976 points came from post ups.

Another luxury Howard now has is that this scheme also encourages interior passing between its bigs to create easier scoring opportunities—a similar scheme is currently ran on the Los Angles Clippers between Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan whenever they play two-man game from a hi-low or pick and roll setting. Millsap is a better floor spacer than Griffin, and close enough of as a passer.

https://streamable.com/0moz

Here we see a series of clips showing Blake Griffins passing abilities in the Hi-Lo situations.

https://streamable.com/t227

Dwight did share time on the floor with a passing forward in Josh Smith; and Hi-Lo situations is something he’s shown no problem excelling in like Deandre Jordan.

https://streamable.com/w958

Millsap to Horford

Howard is now 30 years old with a history of injuries and enough drama to fill a Netflix series. The Hawks, on the court, have been a stable franchise in recent years in search of a catalyst to hit a higher ceiling. Beginning a new chapter, Howard will now wear #8 in hopes that a return to his Atlanta roots will be just what his career needed.  Recently, Howard spoke with the Atlanta Journal–Constitution about the ultimate goal in Atlanta and his motivation preparing for next season.

“I want to do whatever I can to bring a championship home,” Howard said Tuesday, “I know it’s not going to be easy. I’ve worked extremely hard this summer, every summer. I’m very motivated. I’m really ticked off about last season. I’m looking forward to coming back with a different mentality.”

 

This Hawks team has many qualities, their most important one being pride, was called upon in a potential sweep versus the Cleveland Cavaliers. Similar to Game 3 they fought hard, showed their mental toughness, togetherness, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to earn its first playoff victory over LeBron James and company in the past two seasons.

“Not sure, it’s something we have to go back and look at,” said Al Horford about what it will take to get over this hump. “Obviously, it’s not enough, it’s not enough of what we have. We fought hard, we gave it all we got, but we will see what happens.”

“Its unfortunate, we wanted to beat this team so bad,” said Paul Millsap. “They left a bad taste in our mouths last year. This year we thought we had them figured out. They did something completely different than last year. That they shot more 3s this year compared to last year and it killed us.”

Tyronne Lue’s implementation of more ball movement and the 3-point shot became the difference maker this year, covering up any difficulties or adjustments the Hawks may have given them. Kevin Love alone scored 12 of his 15 third quarter points from downtown (finishing with a game high 27 points) after Atlanta had out scored them in the paint and out hustled them on the boards in the first half. The team took a total 152 3-point attempts in this series — made 77 — with 45 attempts coming from Game 2’s eruption. Not even the league’s second best defensive team had an answer for that, especially with players like Kyrie Irving and LeBron James penetrating.

“Its a product of [LeBron and Kyrie] guys playing well and downhill,” said Love. “They’re so devastating and tough to stop when they are doing that, they can spray it out to the corner. They draw so much attention. They do it in different ways. But in doing that, Channing is going to be open, JR is going to be open and I’m going to be open.”

Millsap knows the new wave of high volume 3-point shooting team in the NBA isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

“That’s where this league is going. 3-point shots are killer man. They shot the mess out of the ball. When everybody on the basketball court can shoot like that, it puts your defense at a tough spot. We struggled with it all night, all series.”

Not having enough is nothing foreign to Atlanta Hawks fans over the past five to seven years. They have been sitting in limbo, teetering between elite and average for some time now, losing in the either the first or second round eight of the last nine seasons. Dennis Schroder’s last second possession to win the game defines this team’s issue in a nutshell; having to trust a 6-foot-1, 170 pound 22 year old backup point guard to force a Game 5 against a experienced bunch lead by King James.

The 2015-2016 Atlanta Hawks faced several uphill battles throughout the season, whether its a struggling Kyle Korver, a starting point guard conundrum or the loss of Tiago Splitter. Regardless, this team managed to re-invent itself into a defensive juggernaut, which speaks volumes.

The contract discussions of Kent Bazemore, Horford and adding more talent in the off-seeason (with the salary cap rising) will be the main focus for Mike Budenholzer. However, a lot of times for teams looking to get over the hump, hitting reset too soon may set the franchise back tenfold.

There are only two ways to look at it. Either the glass is half full or half empty. The success they shared over the past two years it could be the former and should not be taken for granted; but better yet each individual allow it to be used as fuel knowing how close they have come.

“I think that individually we can get better,” said a reassuring Millsap. “That’s from me on down the line. I think as a collective group we can all be better. I think if we keep everybody here, we will continue to grow. We will get better. We will get to the next level and I think that’s what this teams wants to do. We want to take that next step, get to the that next step in basketball.”

Home is a place of refuge, a place to reset, regroup and re-energize; but for the Hawks, all they received was a 121-108 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In the first two and a half quarters, they returned back to the style of basketball that brings the most success to them as they forced turnovers, played physical and mailed in good looks from 3-point land. This game, Coach Budenholzer decided to shake things up a bit by adding more defense and hustle to the lineup, replacing Kyle Korver with Thabo Sefolosha and giving Kris Humphries more meaningful minutes.

“You have to change. We’re in the playoffs,” said Al Horford, who scored 24 points. “We’re fighting for our playoff lives right now. At this point, we have to do some changes because what we’ve done hasn’t worked. We felt good about tonight, but we had some mistakes that cost us.”

Those mistakes Horford referred to came mostly in the the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, as Cleveland made adjustments that then forced the Hawks into questionable shot selections, wasteful possessions and worst of them all, turnovers. The fourth quarter defense looked much like every quarter in Game 2, as Cleveland’s ball movement found the right shooter at the right time.

Atlanta plays best when their defense initiates their offense, but that was no more, and they were forced into a shootout they had no bullets for. Continue Reading…

Atlanta came into the game as the veteran team and they responded like one lead behind a strong fourth quarter performance from Jeff Teague in a 102-101 Game 1 win over the Boston Celtics.

“Last year was a great run for us, Eastern Conference Finals,” said Kent Bazemore in postgame. “Going that deep it does help, some people think it does not just because it’s a different year. Experience at times does beat talent.”

“I have been in the playoff every year, so I’m used to how it goes,” said Jeff Teague, who scored nine of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. “You cant get too high when you win and you cant get too low when you lose. We have a veteran group around here. We have been through some wars.”

Two teams that mirror one another in many ways were easily distinguished by defensive intensity early on. Even with the playoff experience from last season, Boston looked as if that experience had never happened in the first half. For most of it, Isaiah Thomas probed and probed searching for a soft spot in the Hawks defensive shield, but to no avail. The team shot just 23-percent from the field and 12.5-percent from downtown.

Surely, the Hawks were aware of the fight Boston has shown throughout this season, just recently coming behind from a 20 point deficit to defeat the Miami Heat. They trailed by 17 after the first half against Atlanta.

“They are great team coming from behind,” said Bazemore. “You look at the last regular season game, down huge to Miami. They came out in the third quarter to make it interesting. They have some blue collard guys over there that I really respect. They are not going to quit.” Continue Reading…

Clinching the 3-seed is unquestionably a present goal for the Atlanta Hawks, but performances like tonight against a high caliber opponent like the Boston Celtics is more paramount heading into postseason.

“The most important thing for us is to keep winning and playing well,” said Al Horford. “That’s the most important thing.”

Atlanta’s defense was at the top of Budenholzer’s list for most important adjustment to make at the half. The Hawks’ defensive coverages, mainly its ability to guard the 3-point line, were a tad bit late and against a team that moves the ball as well as Boston, that leads to them shooting 59% from downtown and scoring 71 points in just 24 minutes.

“We were just making mental mistakes, so many mental mistakes on the defensive end of the floor,” said Kyle Korver. “Against a good team, you cant make those mistakes. You cant just try and run the coverage, you have to be great.”

In the second half, they looked great, lead by Paul Millsap’s energy — 17 of his 31 points came in the 2nd half — and a collective defensive conscious to make life just a little harder on Boston. One thing about these Hawks is that they always seem to find a way to make adjustments without sacrificing their identity in the process. They came out with mindset to force more ball pressure on pick and rolls at the top, but to never over-extend too much, leading to mismatch after mismatch. This is what repeatedly occurred in the first half.

That began with the head of the snake, All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas, who shot just 2-for-12 from the field in the second half along with three turnovers. They then made a valiant effort on reacting much sooner within their coverages on the 3-point line in order to limit or contest the Celtics attempts from the three point line. (just 1-for-11 in the second half)

Coach Budenholzer later spoke about the success of these adjustments.

“Sometimes there are subtle changes, every teams does different things -o pick and rolls — you try to have a few things that you can use. To be honest with you, we looked at some clips at halftime. There was basic breakdowns, and there was some shot-making. I think we thought we could reduce our mistakes and not give some open looks and opportunities.” Continue Reading…

No matter the record or seeding, some teams just give you a tough time.

For Atlanta, that has been the Milwaukee Bucks so far this season after defeating them three out of the four meetings last year. But this year has been a different story, as the Bucks have defeated Atlanta twice with both games defeats ending in overtime. This matchup has a boxing match feel to it, two contrasting styles, Rocky versus Drago.

This one ended with Atlanta’s arm being raised up last winning 101-90, capturing their first win over the Bucks this season.

“At the end of the day they are in the top two or three, if not the best at scoring in the paint,”said Coach Mike Budenholzer. “We wanted to do everything we could to take that away.”

Hawks only trailed momentarily in the first couple minutes of the game, but never did thereafter despite not shooting the ball well — 42.3% from the field and 15.6% from 3 — because of yet another strong defensive effort. Milwaukee’s length and athleticism are the main reasons the Hawks have such a difficult time running their offense. The Bucks decided this game to place more emphasis on the Hawks 3-point attempts, which meant more opportunities inside for Atlanta. They were able to capitalize, scoring 58 points in the paint.

On defense, Atlanta decided to pack the paint and limit the longer Bucks from points in the paint. Games like is just another testament to the Atlanta’s ability to win in a variety of ways, which will come in handy in late April or May. This time instead of their usual emphasis on aggressively guarding perimeter players, they showed the ability to clog the paint and still be effective.

“This is a team that has given us problems over the last couple years,” said Kyle Korver post-game. “They are a tough team for us to play against. We wanted to protect the paint and force them to shoot from the outside. It is important for us to grind games out against a team thats big when we are not shooting the ball that well.” Continue Reading…

After a couple days of much needed rest, the Hawks returned home to get their first win in 16 days against the Chicago Bulls. In the past three games, Atlanta has had no problem scoring the ball, but it has been their most reliable asset, defense, that hasn’t looked quiet the same.

Today, shooting just 42% from the field and 20% from 3, they buckled down and showed why they are currently the third ranked defense in the NBA.

“Before the All-Star break, I thought we were playing great defense,” said Kyle Korver after a 103-88 win over the Bulls. “If you look at all the analytics and rankings, I think we were number one in the NBA for a month and a half. We were playing great defense. We came out of the break and had a slippage. So it was good for that to end and get back tonight.”

The Bulls were under a constant barrage all night, as both units from the Hawks capitalized on the absence of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Aaron Brooks and E’twaun Moore attempted to hold the fort down, but never seemed comfortable and the lack of chemistry could not be more obvious. The two, who are viewed more as scorers than distributors, were accountable for nine of the teams 21 turnovers. Continue Reading…

Similar to the first meeting back in January, the lowly Bucks gave the Hawks all they had and then some.

Atlanta weathered the storm, came back, took the lead, but eventually fell in double OT 117-109. It’s the third straight loss at home, which has not happened since 2004.

“Anytime the game goes two overtimes, there are opportunities for both teams. In the second overtime, they got a little separation, a couple baskets we were not able to score. Our execution could be better in some situations, including at the end of games.”

So much buzz surrounded the team over the break about the futures of Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder, back-to-back losses like these only bring on more questions and frustration. The offense is a little out of sync, piling up 21 turnovers versus Miami on Friday and shooting just 44% from the field against Milwaukee.

“It’s very disappointing,” Horford, who ended with 17 points and nine rebounds, said postgame. “We have nice homestand here. This is not the way we pictured it going. We are really in a hole right now.” Continue Reading…

The Atlanta Hawks (30-23) fell to the Orlando Magic (22-28) behind yet another buzzer beater. It was their tenth in a row in this situation, per Jaryd Wilson of the Atlanta Hawks. The last second shot from Nikola Vucevic quelled a furious comeback attempt for the Hawks in a game in which the team was fighting uphill almost the entire way.

The Magic came in reeling, having lost 15 of their last 17 games and 11 of their last 12. The Hawks were riding high off of three straight victories and have chance to go into the All-Star break with some confidence.

Tobias Harris and C.J. Watson sat out with a mild ankle sprain and a sore calf respectively. On the other side, Tiago Splitter missed his fourth straight game with a hip injury for the Hawks and has been ruled out until after the All-Star break. It left the team with one less big body to bang with Vucevic, the talented big man from Montenegro. As a result, Nikola finished with 22 points and eight rebounds to go along with the victory.

Jeff Teague powered the Hawks behind 24 big points on 17 shots in 34 minutes with five assists to boot. Kent Bazemore came alive late with 23 points and eight rebounds. Atlanta had to lean on its long range shooting, as the team shot a paltry 22-of-63 (34.9%) from two point land compared to 13-of-28 (46.4%) from beyond the arc.

Continue Reading…

Hawks Dominate 76ers 124-86

 —  February 4, 2016 — Leave a comment

Atlanta stormed out to a 27-17 first quarter lead in Philadelphia and won every subsequent quarter by at least six points as the Hawks beat the 76ers 124-86 at Wells Fargo Center. Three starters scored in double figures and five players off Atlanta’s bench scored 12 or more in an incredibly-balanced scoring attack.

Kent Bazemore led the starters with 12 points and added three rebounds. Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague scored 10 each, Millsap with four rebounds and three assists and Teague with three rebounds, assists and steals. Mike Scott and Tim Hardaway Jr. shared the team scoring lead off the bench with 13. Hardaway added seven rebounds and four assists while Scott recorded a game-high nine rebounds. The remaining double-digit scorers for the Hawks were Dennis Schröder, Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Muscala who each scored 12. Sefolosha was a game-high plus-27 while adding six rebounds, two assists and two steals. Schröder added five rebounds and two assists.

With the win, the Hawks (29-22) climbed back into third in the East. The 76ers (7-42) were led by 17 points from Nick Stauskas, who added four rebounds. Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor rounded out the double-digit scorers for Philadelphia’s starting unit with 10 each. Noel added seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. Okafor had five rebounds and three assists. Isaiah Canaan added 11 points off the bench.

The Hawks return home to face the Indiana Pacers with an earlier-than-usual tip off time of 7 PM EST. The 76ers travel to face the Washington Wizards Friday. It was only the second double-digit scoring game since coming to the Hawks for Hardaway, who has averaged just under 11 points per game over the last three contests.