The Atlanta Hawks put themselves back in the winning column with a 95-83 victory against the shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night. How shorthanded? Well, the Grizzlies were without:
Chris Andersen (not that he’s great, but he was someone playing significant minutes for the Grizzlies)
A few notable absentees, one might say.
On the night, and among the available players they did have, the Grizz were led by Lance Stephenson’s 18 points off the bench while the Hawks were led by Paul Millsap’s 21 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.
Home sweet home — an important victory
It feels good to be home. This was the Hawks’ first game in Atlanta since February 28th, a day when the Charlotte Hornets came to town.
When the Grizzlies went up by 12 early, it was beginning to look like the classic ‘first home game after a long road trip struggle’. But the Hawks rallied, and once they took control of affairs they never looked back, and the Grizzlies never seemed capable of mounting a comeback.
When the Hawks took on the injury depleted Miami Heat in mid February, they fell into the classic trap game situation and lost a game they should’ve won with relative ease. This time, however, the Hawks were more intentional in respecting the injury depleted Grizzlies and took care of business:
“They play hard. They are missing a lot of guys but they play hard as a team. I think we did a good job of not underestimating them and played hard as well.” — Jeff Teague
“They are the next on the list. We have to take care of them. They’ve been beating some good times. They’ve been playing well. We knew we couldn’t take them lightly. We’ll take the win.” — Al Horford
It was important that the Hawks didn’t lose ground in the race for playoff seeding, with the streaking Charlotte Hornets and the Indiana Pacers right on the Hawks’ tails. And with another home game against the aforementioned Pacers tonight, it was important for the Hawks to carry some momentum into this must win game.
Kirk Hinrich favoured instead of Dennis Schröder
I sat at my computer watching this game on League Pass, expecting the normal rotation of Hawks players — Humphries, Sefolosha, Schröder, and THJ — to all receive their usual minutes, while the likes of Muscala and Hinrich sit on the bench. And sure enough, Humphries, Sefolosha, Schröder, and THJ all entered as the Hawks’ second unit in the first quarter. So, nothing strange right? Same old, same old? Wrong.
Schröder checks in during the first quarter (as per usual), he misses two shots and turns the ball over twice, all before the first quarter ends. When the second quarter begins it’s Jeff Teague who is running the point, not Schröder — not a normal occurrence in Bud’s rotation. To the surprise of many, Captain Kirk walks over to the scorers table, and eventually checks in for Teague at the next dead ball. Kirk would get the nod as backup point guard for the remainder of the game while Schröder would not see another second of game time for the rest of the game — not even in garbage time.
Post game, Coach Bud didn’t really give a clear answer when asked about benching Dennis:
“We were up 18-14 at the three-minute timeout. We had a poor finish to the quarter. I put Jeff back in to change the mix a little bit. Kirk has been working hard in practice. Kirk is a pro. We feel like Kirk is going to help us. I think tonight was just one of those opportunities. At the end of the day, you are going to need your whole roster. You are going to need everyone confident and ready to play. We went with Kirk to give Jeff a break. Then we went with him again in the second half.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
A few of things from this quote stand out to me. Firstly, when Bud talks about giving Teague a “break“… “We went with Kirk to give Jeff a break“. What does that mean? Bud could’ve also played Dennis to give Teague a break — whichever point guard (be it Hinrich or Schröder) plays instead of Teague to give him a “break” is irrelevant — either could’ve played to do this, not just Kirk.
Secondly, “Kirk is a pro”… And Schröder isn’t? Am I reading too much into that part? More than likely…
Lastly, yes, you’re going to need your whole roster — but not three point guards. Only one of Schröder or Hinrich are going to see consistent playoff minutes as the backup point guard, not both. So, I’m not quite seeing the relevance of that quote. If you believe Kirk Hinrich is going to help you in regular season and post season while Schröder and Teague are both fit — more power to you. I’m not so sure…
Another thing that stood out in all of this was this happening in the fourth quarter:
As Memphis sent their bench to the scorers table (serving as the white flag of surrender, conceding that the game is up), Bud also sent his bench to the scorers table — Dennis Schröder was among the group of players sent to the scorers table. The Grizzlies call a timeout, to get their guys in there.
Very clearly, we see Dennis walking back toward the bench, from the scorers table, as the timeout is called. Just in case you wanted some visual evidence…
However during that timeout, Bud decided that he doesn’t want to send Schröder out after all, and he returns to the bench to join the starters — all kitted out and ready to go. This is not during the timeout, the five Hawks players have taken their place on the court.
Very strange. Coach Bud clearly wanted to send Schröder some sort of message. As to what exactly that message is, I am not sure. But this was a statement from Bud, make no mistake about it.
Returning to matters on the court, Hinrich performed very well with the minutes he was given. While he didn’t score a single point, he did dish out three assists but it was his aggression on the defensive end where he impressed. The Atlanta bench was pretty poor last night — everyone bar Hinrich and Humphries registered minus +/- ratings. In fact, despite going scoreless, Hinrich was a plus- 15 on the game. Plus/minus isn’t always a stat you can put a ton of stock into, but when a guy is scoreless and posts a plus- 15… That’s pretty impressive.
Kirk was ready to play, and Coach Bud praised his work ethic in practise (an extract from an already used quote about Schröder):
“Kirk has been working hard in practice. Kirk is a pro. We feel like Kirk is going to help us. I think tonight was just one of those opportunities” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
Even Kirk was surprised he got the call last night ahead of Schröder:
“Everybody wants to play. It’s kind of new to me. I wanted to make sure I was doing the things I needed to do to be ready. It’s hard because I’m used to playing. You have to make sure you get your court work and your conditioning. I was a little surprised I got the call tonight but I enjoyed being out there.” — Kirk Hinrich
It’ll be interesting to see what the backup point guard situation is when the Hawks play the Pacers tonight — will we something similar like last night? Will we see Dennis play at all? Bud has elected not to play Schröder at all a couple of times this season, so it’s possible. I’m intrigued.
Memphis out of sync and out of energy
With the additions of Ray McCallum and Alex Stepheson, the Grizzlies employed their 24th and 25th team members of this season — an NBA high. With so many new personnel trying to figure out their surroundings, mistakes are bound to happen… The Grizzlies didn’t look as though they were on the same page (which was completely understandable given all the fresh faces about), leading to frequent misunderstandings on the offensive end. The Grizz committed 16 turnovers, and the Hawks were sure to punish the Grizzlies by scoring 24 points in return. A muddled offense and turnovers are a hard combination to overcome…
The Grizzlies were also playing their second game in as many nights after prevailing in a thrilling overtime victory over the New Orleans Pelicans the night before — with eight healthy players. It was inevitable that they would eventually tire out, but not before giving the Hawks a great effort and keeping the game competitive until late in the fourth quarter. This was something that Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger was proud of:
“That was a hard game. We played our tails off. Sometimes it’s not pretty but we’re going out there and competing. We gave ourselves a real chance, playing a really good team that’s well-coached and won 60 games last year. It was one of those night.” — Coach Dave Joerger
Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal Memphis summed up the situation very well in his game recap with this line:
“The Hawks awoke from their slumber midway through the second quarter and made it so that playing hard was no longer good enough for the visitors.”
Another tough shooting night for Bazemore
I think we can officially declare that Kent Bazemore is in a prolonged shooting struggle. Over his last 15 games (including last night’s 0-of-6 shooting display from downtown), Baze is shooting just 25% from behind the arc. He was shooting over 40% for a good chunk of this season, but just can’t buy consistency from behind the arc of late. He’s in a slump, there’s no doubt about it.
As for last night’s game, Bazemore has seen better nights — zero points on 0-for-9 shooting, 0-of-6 from behind the arc, and zero free throw attempts. When Baze’s shot isn’t dropping, I’d love to see him drive to the cup and score some easier points (whether it’s on a layup attempt or free throws). Bazemore is a talented driver — he’s good at finishing near the rim and he should definitely utilise this talent more often when his outside shot isn’t falling.
Bazemore’s night on the offensive end was summed up when his shot attempt was blocked by the smallest players on the court at that time — Ray McCallum. I have to admit, I laughed pretty loudly when his shot was blocked by McCallum — it was pretty sad.
However, just like Hinrich, his defense more than made up for his poor shooting. Despite not scoring, Bazemore registered a +/- rating of plus- 24 — only Paul Millsap (who scored 21 points) could boast a better +/- rating (plus- 32) than Bazemore. When you can boast that kind of +/- rating without scoring a single point, you know you’re doing something right on the defensive end.
In any situation, there’s always something positive to takeaway from said situation, and Bazemore’s excellent defensive showing is just such a thing — a positive.