Tuesday, May 11, 2010

One Play Tells the Tale of a Team, of a Season

One play said it all. I saw it during game action. I saw it again, replayed, over and over on ESPN after the fact. One play told us why the Magic swept the Hawks by the largest average margin of victory, ever. 

You might have seen it. It was replayed only a dozen times. Dwight is posting on the left block, the Magic shooters are spaced around the 3-point line, and Al Horford is trying to front. Horford is a good player. He works hard, and by virtue of the things he does at his position, is a great piece for a playoff time. But just look at him. He gives up at least 20 pounds to Dwight just from the looks of his frame, and to top it off, Dwight is a little taller, too. 

What's telling about this play is the way the Hawks have chosen to defend Howard. I know you have to show him different looks. But whenever you front a good post player, you have to have a contingency plan in case the offense goes over the top. In this case, the contingency plan one. That's right. Against the best big man in the NBA, the Hawks decided to forget about getting between your man and the ball. 

I understand that this was a hard series for Atlanta. They were over-matched. Jamaal Crawford was right when he said that the Hawks would need to play perfectly just to be in this thing. But to leave your center on an island against Dwight? That is inexcusably bad coaching. Dwight is good, but he is not superman (at least not to me). He turns the ball over, and even a smaller help defender can swipe it him, maybe draw a charge, something. But you look at this play, and no one is within 7 feet of Howard/Horford. I know the Magic were sizzling from range yesterday, but to me, if you are going to lose the game, you have to make them make shots. You cannot let them dunk on you. You can't do anything about them raining 3's, you can make them work for those shots.

The second part of the play is also telling. Dwight goes up, catches the 'oop, then decides he doesn't have enough body control to dunk it, lands on the ground, gathers himself in (with a pump fake thrown in), then elevates for the jam. While he does all of this, Horford does...nothing. That's right, Al just stands there, knees straight, weight on his heels, and watches the whole thing unfurl. The one good thing is that Josh Smith comes flying in from the elbow to at least contest the shot (hence the pump fake), but Dwight sees it and waits it out (This also solidifies my belief that Josh Smith is the only worthwhile player on this team. I know he takes bad shots. So does LeBron. But don't tell me if he played for LA/PHX/CLE/BOS, Orlando wouldn't be a lot more scared of him. His team just sucks). 

I know what you might be thinking. At the rim, Howard will score whether you play defense or not. Horford isn't going to alter the outcome of the dunk, so he might as well just get ready to inbound the ball. But this is Dwight Howard we are talking about. An atrocious free-throw shooter. This is the playoffs we are talking about. You have to make him work for his points!!! You absolutely have to foul him in this situation. You have to hit him so hard that his shot won't fall. Who cares that you are the only serviceable center on your team!?!? This is the playoffs! You are down 0-3! THERE IS NO TOMORROW!!! Orlando should never have gotten a clean shot within 5 feet the whole game! I am incensed! The Hawks should have been setting playoff records for most free throws allowed to an opponent, not largest average losing margin. I don't care if the whole team fouls out (a la Doc Rivers, anyone?). This is the playoffs. You absolutely must make a terrible foul shooter go to the line. Why do you think the Cavs got Shaq, then re-signed Ilgauskus when they have Varejao and Hickson? They have 24 fouls between the four of them to throw at Howard (potentially). That is the mindset of correctly-executed playoff basketball.

All in all, this was an ugly night for Atlanta fans. There were other plays that you can watch ( I particularly like the part at about 34 seconds in where Jamaal Crawford helps on Vince, Bibby helps on the wing, and no one helps on Howard inside. What is Jamaal thinking here? Wow, that lane is far away. Howard is a big man. I think I'll go head the other way INSTEAD OF GETTING IN THE LANE AND FOULING. Even when it's all over, two Atlanta players can be seen rushing into the paint just in case...while Jamaal just stands there. Fantastic. If you can bear the torture, go to 1 minute in and you can see Dwayne Wade, I mean J. J. Redick totally blow past Maurice Evans and draw three defenders on the pick and roll before dishing for the corner 3. Because, you know, J. J. Redick is a threat like that, you absolutely have to help.

The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports GuyAnyways, great win for Orlando, they will deserve the rest they get before the Conference Finals (forget all this rust crap, this team is ready to play). All in all, the whole series can be summed up in that one Horford/Howard play. Is there any hope for these Hawks? You make the call.

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