Hawks’ defensive struggles at root of Game 2 loss

Daniel Christian —  April 25, 2013

The Hawks can’t get out of their own way.

Every run seems punctuated with defensive ineptitude, every quarter seems closed with a sluggish submission, every game seems lost by the fourth quarter– the Hawks just can’t stop themselves from tripping over their own feet.

Game 2 against Indiana was more of the same.

The issue is not the ability to score points, it is getting stops. In the second quarter of Wednesday night’s game, the Hawks starters returned (with the abysmal bench lineup returning to their seats), and the offense was a buzz saw. Indiana could not contain Teague in transition or stop Smith from making plays in the halfcourt. Smith’s foul trouble quickly turned the tables on Atlanta, but the Hawks were and have been successful against the NBA’s top defense, an accomplishment worth noting. But, something you’d rather go unnoticed is the fact that Atlanta’s depth and inability to field a respectable lineup for 48 minutes has harpooned their chances of stealing home court advantage.

It can’t be easy on Larry Drew with the Hawks missing their two best bench players, Zaza Paculia and Lou Williams, but it’s no excuse for the lineups that are seeing the floor. Lineups with three players who are almost completely incapable offensively does nothing but enhance the proficiency of an already stringent defense. The Hawks cannot afford for Dahntay Jones, DeShawn Stevenson, and Johan Petro to all be on the floor at the same time. It just forces too much offensive reliance on the other two players, who, when this lineup was used on Wednesday night, I believe was Devin Harris and Al Horford.

But I feel for Drew because I’m unable to propose a solution. You can’t put Korver on the floor at times because he’s a defensive liability, you can’t play Smith because he’s in foul trouble, and Jeff Teague needs to sit at some point– so what you’re left with is a hodge-podge lineup that might be more capable of stopping the Pacers’ offense, but is certainly less capable of scoring their own points or maintaining any sort of extended offensive flow.

All of that said, Drew isn’t the one unnecessarily pushing the ball and throwing it into the hands of the defense whilst helplessly trying to increase the tempo, that would be DeShawn Stevenson. Drew isn’t the one failing to rotate or stay in front of his man, that would be Kyle Korver. He isn’t the one playing poor pick-and-roll defense, either, that would be Jeff Teague. No matter who Drew has thrown on the floor, defensive breakdowns have occurred, regardless of lineup. Some lineups work better than others offensively, but all lineups have failed defensively, and it’s something the coaching staff will need to seriously adjust going into Game 3.

There just seems to be a frustrating build-up of miscommunication: Jeff Pendergraph slips into the paint untouched for a putback, both players stick on the screen after an Indiana Pick-and-roll, or Gerald Green flies by his man, forcing everyone to rotate, but it’s too late, he’s airborne and already creating a poster. Those are tick-tacky things that should be fixable and shouldn’t happen, but there are other things that shouldn’t happen that are head-scratchers and perplexing, like the fact that Gerald Green scored 15 points in a playoff game. This is the second time he’s scorched the Hawks this season, courtesy of Kyle Korver’s defense. Or the fact that George Hill seems to be Indiana’s second best player this series, courtesy of Jeff Teague’s defense, or even the fact that Paul George seems completely and utterly unstoppable, courtesy of a myriad of confused defenders (although not to take anything away from PG, he is fantastic).

The absence of Pachulia is more apparent than ever. Horford often establishes solid defensive positioning on Hibbert, but unfortunately he doesn’t have four extra inches to contest that hook shot. He can guard him in short stretches, but Pachulia would have likely shouldered the load. In addition, Tyler Hansbrough is somehow wreaking havoc in the paint, which is inexcusable, but to be expected when Ivan Johnson is in foul trouble and Johan Petro is the only one left to cover him. There is just too much strain on the Hawks’ rebounding with Johnson and Smith out with fouls and Pachulia in a suit on the bench.

The Hawks had a chance to take Game 1, but they couldn’t get out of their own way: Horford played only 28 minutes and a bench unit was in at the game’s most critical juncture. The Hawks had a chance to take Game 2, but again couldn’t get out of their own way: they stunted their own momentum with careless lapses and unacceptable turnovers, while simultaneously failing to show any form of defensive resistance.

There’s still time and there’s still hope for Atlanta, but Game 3 has become a must win. Let’s see what the Hawks do with their backs against the wall.


Daniel Christian