HAWKS 88 RAPTORS 93: Don’t look now, but suddenly the Hawks are struggling mightily on the road. They have dropped their last five road games (Boston, Indiana, New Jersey, Cleveland and Toronto) and are starting to conjure up memories of last year’s road struggles where the home road dichotemy was almost unpalatable for Woody & Co. As always, I will insert this lone caveat: there has been no Josh Smith, which after three weeks of basketball with him out has proven that he provides an essential element and dynamic to this team that no bench player can remotely substitute for.
While the Hawks were blown out against Indiana and Cleveland, they put together a strong effort against a tough Toronto team. Chris Bosh couldn’t be stopped, even though Zaza Pachulia was solid defensively for most of the first three quarters. I say three quarters of Pachulia because the Georgian center was inexplicably benched in the fourth quarter as Woody decided to go with a smaller line-up (Evans subbed in for Pachulia and played the majority of the fourth). By the end of the third, Pachulia had amassed 17 rebounds, 9 of which were offensive. Why Woody decided to go away from playing Pachulia with the Hawks struggling to make shots – and Pachulia rebounding half the misses – is beyond anyone’s best guess. I had the game on Toronto’s broadcast and they were giving Pachulia more love than ANYONE on the Hawks roster – they were even thankful that Woody was benching him! Yet, another strange Woody coaching decision.
Even with the Hawks shooting below 40% for the majority of the contest, they still managed to rally late in the game and cut the Raptors lead to three. Off the timeout, Woody called a kick-out to Marvin who drove the ball and left it short at the rim. I really have no problem with what amounts to a rather agressive play call. More than 30 seconds was left on the clock, and if Williams makes the shot it extends the game and the Hawks potentially come back and tie with a two. (As an aside, Williams may be the most difficult player I have ever tried to watch and comprehend. His jumpshot is silky smooth. He has added the three point shot to his repetoire. Yet he still has trouble taking the ball to the basket despite standing 6’9 and being incredibly athletic. He should be averaging 20 and 10 if he would just assert himself more.)
The Hawks now have to turn it around quickly and play a Washington team which just picked up its second win of the season. The Wizards have some solid post players, with Andray Blatche coming around and JaVale McGee being a nice surprise. This is a dangerous game on the road for Atlanta, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Woody decides to greenlight Josh Smith for this one before the upcoming three day break.
BAD BAD FLIP: I have lauded Flip Murray for his bench scoring in post’s past, but Murray has been downright awful in three of the past four contests. Murray was 0 for 5 against Toronto, turning the ball over twice – once on a drive in traffic and again on an awful pass out of bounds. Over the last four contests, Murray has shot 9 of 29 with 10 turnovers (to his credit, he does have 6 assists, but a .6 assist/turnover ratio is absolutely nothing to be proud of). Look, Murray is not this bad. He’s a solid bench/role player. But Murray, just like Pachulia, needs to understand his limitations. He’s not Lebron. He’s not going to drive through four people in traffic and hoist up some highlight reel layup. He’s a jumpshooter who when matched up against smaller players can post them up effectively. Flip, your team needs you, but know your limits.