A quick note before I delve into this blog post. Congratulations to the Atlanta Falcons, who have defied all odds by advancing into the NFL playoffs. Proving all the critics – ahem, Sporting News – wrong, the Dirty Birds have helped get the city of Atlanta excited about professional football again. While I still think they are a year away from truly being capable of playing for the hardware, I would be stupid to think they didn’t at least have a shot this year. And a shot, my friends, is sometimes all you need.
DET 78 ATL 85: Did the Detroit Pistons fall asleep on their way to Atlanta? While the Pistons started red hot in the first six minutes of the first quarter, they stalled quickly and by the third quarter resembled a Ford Pinto begging to be kicked to the curb. The Pistons did nothing to resemble the former crew which challenged for the Eastern Conference championship on a yearly basis. Their proverbial “window” has indeed closed, and it could end up being a sad spectacle as the team races towards the finish line. Was anyone else shocked to see A.I. disciplined on the bench in crunch time (only to be re-inserted after the Hamilton ejection)? I guess that’s what happens when you don’t practice.
While the score indicates a fairly close contest, the Pistons were truthfully never really in the game. At times they looked lost on offense, not really having a go-to guy to attack the Hawks defense. While Rasheed Wallace provided a spark down the stretch, he was the end all be all. (Speaking of Wallace, I have no clue how Joe D. snagged the militant power forward for a mere first round pick from the Hawks; if you have that Rasheed Hawks replica from his one game stint, hold onto it and maybe you can trade it for a second mortgage.)
What I noticed was simply a younger, better Hawks team running circles around an aging Pistons squad. Mike Bibby was terrific, hitting a high percentage from deep and attacking the rim on occasion. For Bibby, on occasion is significantly more than usual. Anyone questioning Bibby’s importance need only look at his shooting percentage from three point land (.433; good for second best in the league) and the teams’ reliance on him down the stretch (if not Joe, then Bibby).
While the Hawks really struggled in the fourth quarter, they played a flawless first half. They played defense, shared the ball, and dominated what amounted to a lethargic Pistons team. Granted, the Hawks were once again doing their damage at home, where they are 10-2 and for the most part on a tear. But I think its fair to say the Hawks are here to stay and will challenge for a top 4 seed in the East for the rest of the season. They could potentially give Orlando a run for their money, although Dwight Howard might have something to say about that. As for catching Boston and Cleveland, I think it is fair to say that for now, they are in a league of their own.
BENCH ME: Aside from Murray’s scintillating performance on Friday vs. Golden State, the Hawks bench has been practically non-existent and at times resembled a motley crew of NBDL’ers. Specifically, Maurice Evans has struggled mightily, shooting 28% from the field and a disgusting 12.9% (4 for 31) from the three point line in the month of December. I’m starting to think I might have to backtrack on my earlier post about Bill Worrell and his awful announcing for Rocket games (for those that don’t remember, Worrell criticized Evans’ shooting ability). Murray hasn’t been much better, posting a paultry 6.8 PPG average in December with a .6 assist/turnover ratio. That’s an atrocious ratio for a guy who plays point guard off the bench and tries to instigate the offense. For those that were wondering, Acie Law has been permanently planted at the end of the bench next to Harry the Hawk. In fact, I sometimes I wonder if he’s the one in that stupid Hawks outfit.