Drama Continues to Eat Hawks Alive (video)


Surviving the drama has been the Atlanta Hawks theme. LeBron James, who has been playing like a man possessed, has helped the Cavs get to within one game of the NBA Finals.

The Hawks now find themselves with their backs against the wall as they play in Cleveland for Game Four.

As far as the drama goes, the Eastern Conference Finals have been like a re-run episode from Days of Our Lives. Matthew Dellavedova appears to be the star in his very own hit T.V. series. The Cavs back-up point guard has now been involved in three plays where he makes clear contact with the lower body of opposing players.

The latest incident involved Hawks star big man Al Horford who was ejected after being hit with a very questionable Flagrant Two foul. Horford and the Hawks were looking like they were in the driver’s seat but couldn’t close things out in the end. Horford recognizes his part, talking in detail about the incident.

Atlanta’s struggles stretch far beyond Jelly Delly. The Hawks have been flattened for most of the series. The Hawks haven’t been able to find the magic formula that helped earn them 60 regular season wins, plus victories in the first two rounds of the 2015 playoffs.

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The foundation of this season has been based upon defense, ball rotation, unselfish play, and effort. Mike Budenholzer’s troops have shown heart at times in this series but don’t look prepared on either end to win the series.

Atlanta has broken down during critical moments of all three games played. The pressure of LeBron’s presence, accompanied by Cleveland’s sharp shooting beyond the arc, have proven to be too much thus far for the Hawks. Atlanta now finds themselves trying to climb out of a gigantic hole they have helped dig.

It is going to be tough to get back in this thing without Thabo Sefolosha, Kyle Korver, and with an ailing DeMarre Carroll defending the best player on the planet.

The Hawks will need to win four straight, which includes two more stops in Cleveland.

Offensive & Defensive Struggles

The Hawks have made 21 three point baskets in the series while shooting 26% from downtown. Cleveland is scoring 15 more points per game than Atlanta from beyond the arc. That number is helping create a huge gap on the scoreboard as Atlanta is only averaging 94 points per game.

More alarming is that the Hawks are tallying only 18 total team assists per game. This group thrives on ball distribution and can’t afford to dip under 20 total team assists. When that goes out the window, so does everything else.

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Atlanta averaged around 25 total team assists against the Wizards. With that number down to 18, it’s a points differential of minus seven on the scoreboard. This roster doesn’t showcase one guy that is going to go out and drop 30 a night. Periodically, the Hawks have a different player step up but lack that one dynamic player who is a lock for enormous point production.

The Hawks can get away with it but not when the basketball stops rotating. It is absolutely their ultimate key to victory and is looking more like their Achilles Heel in this series.

The Hawks are protecting the basketball, averaging only 10 turnovers per game, but aren’t giving themselves a chance to win. Collectively, the team is only shooting 42% from the field and Paul Millsap has really struggled.

Atlanta is actually outscoring Cleveland in a few key areas. They have advantages in points in the paint and points created as a direct result from turnovers. The Hawks also have a small advantage in fast break points. So why does it look so lopsided?

Cleveland Is Dominating From Deep and on the Glass

The Cavaliers have drained 36 total three pointers in this series through the first three games.  This is where Thabo Sefolosha is dearly missed. Atlanta is being picked apart from downtown. On the other side of the ball, the Cavaliers defense is looking sharp from the perimeter, holding the Hawks to 26% from deep.

The other area of grave concern is on the offensive glass. Coming in, Atlanta knew this was going to be a problem with Tristan Thompson seeing extended minutes. The Hawks haven’t had to deal with two solid big men in either of their first two series.

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  • They played against Brook Lopez and then Martin Gortat but both of those front courts lacked a real counterpart. Timofey Mozgov and Thompson are exposing a lack of size on the Hawks front line.

    Coach Budenholzer needs to implement a defensive strategy to cope with the Hawks being out rebounded like this. Atlanta is giving up almost 11 more total rebounds per game to the Cavs while allowing Cleveland to collect 14 offensive boards per game. This has to change. Sometimes a team is just better on the glass but you can always make adjustments.

    A 1-4 flat zone or something similar might help Atlanta tremendously. Golden State uses this defensive scheme and it has worked against the Rockets. It does work best against the high pick & roll which isn’t a real staple in the Cavs lineup but it gives the Hawks a defender uptop to pester LeBron before he engages in dribble penetration. More importantly, it leaves four players in and around the painted area to box out on a missed field goal attempt.

    Atlanta isn’t boxing out opposing players that are on the offensive side of the ball which is causing all kinds of problems. They also must find a way to rotate over and close out the space they are giving the Cavs from three point land. This is  Coach Bundenholzer’s job, what he has to game plan for. Ultimately the players have to execute but adjustments have to be in the cards at this point.

    Avoiding the Sweep and Climbing Back Into the Series

    Atlanta is playing without 3pt specialist Kyle Korver and the ailing DeMarre Carroll is required to defend the best player on the planet. However, Cleveland is getting things done without two of their own studs in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.

    The injury bug has bitten both sides. Atlanta is simply losing to the better team right now, despite this looking like a good match-up on paper. The Hawks have been in two of these games but have just fallen apart at times. One thing is for sure. Their was no lack of effort in game three without Al Horford.

    Atlanta needs to find a way to avoid getting dismantled from the three point line. The front court has been so concerned with play on the inside, they are failing to defend the perimeter.

    LeBron in particular is eating them alive with dribble penetration. The Cavs are also creating additional passes along the perimeter which is subsequently leading them to find the open man, J.R Smith in particular.

    Poor perimeter defense started in the Washinton series and has followed the Hawks to the East Finals. Second chance points are an easy way to help you lose a game. The 14 points off turnovers that Cleveland is getting isn’t helping things. Offensive rebounds are costing the Hawks too many baskets on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

    The fate of the season rests in one game. Atlanta looks to close things out with some dignity and take a game at home. Pressure is the name of the game and the Hawks need to find some balance amid all of the chaos taking place on the basketball court. This could be the last ride of 2014-15.

    Either way, 60 regular season wins and a trip to the Conference Finals is a great platform and spring board for next year. But, it isn’t over until it’s over.

    Next: Atlanta Hawks Fight Adversity, Come Up Short