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News » Hawks close to being title contender

Hawks close to being title contender

Hawks close to being title contender

Game time: Celtics 88, Hawks 85

After last season's elbow-throwing, trash-talking, seven-game playoff series, there's still some bad blood between Boston and Atlanta. Still, the pressure was on the Hawks to avenge their early-season one-point loss in Boston, and to also prove that winning three of three games at home in last season's series wasn't a fluke.

On the basis of this intense and hugely entertaining contest, here are some reasons why Atlanta is almost ready for prime-time competition:

  • They're an incredibly athletic squad, with Marvin Williams being by far the most athletic and Mike Bibby the least athletic.

  • When they can get out and go, they're virtually irresistible in a broken field.

  • Joe Johnson is a sterling defender.

  • J.J. is also the Hawks most creative scorer. Yet when he was doubled on every catch throughout the initial three quarters, Johnson was more interested in play-making than point-making.

  • In the critical 4th quarter, the Hawks found ways to discourage the Celtics from doubling Johnson. They set up a three-man triangle that created too much space for any weak-side defender to cover in order to help on J.J. — who promptly buried a midrange jumper. And they also moved the ball from side-to-side while Johnson executed a circle route that terminated when he accepted a handoff at the top of the key — and then looked for his shot.

  • Johnson also had time and space to create his own scoring opportunities whenever he carried the ball across the time line.

  • Flip Murray is a professional scorer off the bench.

  • Bibby has unlimited range.

  • The Hawks were extremely aggressive on defense, running down most loose balls and constantly threatening every passing lane.

  • Despite their lack of a true center, Atlanta certainly held their own in the rebounding department.

  • The unselfishness on offense is an important indication that this young team is rapidly maturing.

  • None of the Hawks were at all intimidated by the defending champs.

  • Early on, their strategy of playing soft defense against Kevin Garnett — and even helping off him — paid handsome rewards as KG missed a double-handful of open jumpers.

    On the other hand, here's why the Hawks are still not quite ready to mount a legitimate challenge for a championship:

  • While Josh Smith had his moments of grandeur, he's still not fully recuperated from his latest injury and isn't at the top of his game.

  • Smith plays defense as though he was on roller skates — always backing away and looking to block shots.

  • Bibby isn't quick enough to penetrate into the paint — which he managed to do only once — and is therefore strictly a perimeter shooter.

  • At times, their defense was too aggressive and left the basket unattended.

  • Whenever the Celtics moved the ball for 20 seconds, they always found a wide-open shot.

  • Neither Zaza Pachulia nor Al Horford play big enough. Even worse, Pachulia's offensive moves are incredibly clumsy — he attacked the basket twice and committed two offensive fouls.

  • Williams' stroke is inconsistent.

    Here's a chronological rundown of how ultimately ineffective the Hawks were in the clutch:

  • Bibby buried a critical triple.

  • Smith attacked the hoop with a strong left-handed dribble and executed a savage dunk — but then missed the ensuing free throw.

  • J.J. drove, was fouled, and nailed both freebies.

  • Williams drove, was fouled, and only converted one of two from the stripe.

  • Smith shot an air ball from 16-feet.

  • Horford turned his head on defense, thereby allowing Garnett to grab a lob pass and throw down a hard dunk.

  • J.J. hit a pull-up jumper and went with 2-for-2 from the line when he was fouled on the subsequent possession.

  • Meanwhile, the Hawks were unable to get a stop at the other end. Operating one-on-one from both a low- and a midpost position, Garnett had his way with both Horford and Smith. Why wasn't he doubled?

  • J.J. then missed a relatively easy 15-footer, grabbed the offensive rebound, and had his layup attempt blocked.

  • With the Celtics leading by two and only two seconds left, J.J. was fouled on a drive, made his first free throw, but missed his second. And that was the game.

    The Hawks athleticism and overall feistiness make them a dangerous ballclub. But to move up to the next level, they need Smith to fully regain his chops, a dependable post-up scorer and a quicker point guard.

    However, it bodes well for the future that the Hawks already have many more top-level components than they lack. A good indication of just how mature this team really is will be how/if they recover from this aggravating loss in their next game — at home versus the Warriors on Friday.

    In any event, with astute draft selections, trades, and/or free agent signings, Atlanta is perhaps two years away from becoming one of the league's elite teams.

  • Author: Fox Sports
    Author's Website:
    Added: December 18, 2008


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