For the third season in a row the Atlanta Hawks are in a Game 7 in the first round. That in itself can be look at as a glass half empty – glass half full proposition. No it shouldn’t have been that hard this time around, but the fact that there is going to be a game 7 feels like some sort of accomplishment.
After five total games of little to no adjustments the Hawks came out in game 6 with some different looks. Instead of switching every screen the Hawks came out showing and recovering, then in the decisive 3rd quarter went to a zone for the first time in the series. These adjustments are huge because the Hawks won this game defensively and on the boards. For the night they held the Bucks to 32% shooting. The Hawks needed every bit of that due to their own offensive inefficiencies.
The Hawks outscored the Bucks 29-11 in the third quarter. They turned a three point deficit at the half into a fifteen point lead going into the fourth. During that third period the Hawks held the Bucks to 3-17 shooting along with a 19-0 scoring run by the Hawks. The putrid shooting numbers by the Bucks was a direct result of the Hawks zone defense and closing off the drive and forcing the Bucks into long jump shots many times with a defender in their face. Also due to the zone it kept the Hawks bigger players closer to the basket which in turn helped the rebounding. For almost the entire third quarter the Bucks were limited to one shot on the offensive end.
The Hawks offense fed off of the defense in the third. While they still have not been able to get out and run against the Bucks, they were effective pushing the ball up the court. The biggest thing about the third quarter offensively was the Hawks were on the attack. They made quick decisions and executed properly. Which is something that completely vanished in the fourth quarter.
During the fourth the Hawks were able to hold off the Bucks but went right back to their stagnant offensive habits. I admit that I am as big a Joe Johnson fan that is out there. Even I had to worry that he was going to shoot us right back out of the game. The greatness of Joe is not only his scoring ability but his ability to make others better with his passing. That is where he could be most effective now and it would open things up for him offensively as well. However, the Hawks stand around on offense more than any team still playing in the playoffs. When they move off the ball they find good shots. Too often though they are stationary. That is bad design and that falls directly on the shoulders of Mike Woodson.
Luckily due to the big third quarter the Hawks were able to make it work. Big nights offensively from Jamal Crawford (24 points) Johnson (22 points) and Al Horford (15 points, 15 rebounds) were enough to get the Hawks a much needed victory on the road. Numbers aside the story of this game was the Hawks defense and how it suffocated the Bucks. An underlying theme was the few adjustments that were actually made. On one hand you are happy that they mixed it up and it worked and on another it makes you wonder what took so long?
Still with the victory the Hawks have snatched back the momentum in the series and are coming back to Phillips Arena for game 7. No it wasn’t supposed to be this hard but we as fans can find some solace in the fact that we are still alive.