Josh Smith's Uninspired Play Is Large Part Of Hawks' 0-2 Hole

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Hawks' Adjustments Not Enough To Overcome Magic In Game 2

Sometimes you just know. A team gives it their best shot...and still loses. They're simply outclassed. Say hello to the Atlanta Hawks. First, let's give Mike Woodson's squad some credit: after their emphatic, epically embarrassing 43-point blowout loss in Game 1, they came back and were competitive in the sequel. And, in an unexpected development, they even made adjustments.

Indeed, after the shellacking they received in Game 1, pundits dissected Atlanta's myriad failures and pointed out that their no-ball-movement, take-turns-going-one-on-one offense might not exactly be conducive to playoff success. ESPN's John Hollinger noted that Portland and Atlanta, both of whom employ iso-heavy offensive attacks, had managed to pile up impressive offensive efficiencies the past few seasons (that were masked by their slow tempos), but had definitively struggled in the second season that is the playoffs. From Hollinger (Insider access required):

It turns out the iso-heavy offense has some benefits. Though hard on the eyes, the "iso-Joe" and "iso-Brandon" attacks produce remarkably few turnovers. Since both Roy and Johnson are good ballhandlers and nothing technically precise was asked of the other players, Atlanta and Portland were first and second, respectively, in avoiding turnovers.

Additionally, perhaps because they knew when to time their runs to the board while Johnson and Roy created shots, both Atlanta and Portland landed in the top five in offensive rebound rate -- each grabbed 28.4 percent of missed shots. [...]

[But] Iso-heavy offenses apparently have a lot more trouble when opponents have time to devise a game plan against them in a playoff series. [...] Atlanta, as the league's third-best offense, should at least be able to battle these defenses to a draw. But even before Tuesday's Game 1 implosion against Orlando, the Hawks were struggling. They can't make shots, ranking just 14th out of 16 teams in postseason TS percentage.

It certainly didn't help that the Hawks only managed to snag 18.9% of their misses in Game 1, which -- along with their horrid shooting -- doomed them to their dismal display.

So how did the Hawks manage to build a lead late into the third quarter in Game 2? They reinvented themselves. They moved the ball. Got to the free throw line. Made (almost) all of their shots from the charity stripe (30 of 31 to be exact). Hit the offensive glass (they grabbed 36.4% of their misfires). Slowed the game down even more (contrary to what you may imagine, the Hawks prefer to play at a crawl, despite their athleticism). In short, they fixed everything their critics had harped upon -- at least for three quarters. As SB Nation's Orlando Pinstriped Post points out:

It's indicative of a different strategy Atlanta coach Mike Woodson employed. The Hawks never really looked to get out in transition, and instead walked the ball up to set up a halfcourt offense, which explains the absurdly slow pace of 81 possessions. But unlike Game 1, the possessions rarely devolved into one-on-one exhibitions. No, the Hawks moved the ball from side to side, inside to outside, and it became easy to see how they finished second in offensive efficiency this season. [...]

Woodson doesn't have the best reputation, but whatever he told his team, it worked. His guys executed his offense effectively, and their coming up short in the second half has more to do with the Magic's D than anything else. The difference in the second half, I thought, was how Smith unravelled, and took the Hawks with him. Three turnovers in the third quarter, and Brown showed on replay how Smith subsequently sulked and played at half speed on Atlanta's next few possessions.

So yes: Josh Smith really does deserve much of the blame for the Hawks' Game 2 defeat. And while Atlanta should be encouraged that they can execute a game-plan that gives them a chance to win, it's just as dispiriting that despite putting together a near flawless offensive exhibition through the first three quarters, they were still neck and neck with Orlando.

And that's the key: Atlanta got absolutely pummeled defensively, giving up an absurd offensive efficiency of 135.4 to the Magic. Unless the Hawks can figure out an antidote to the high pick-and-roll between Vince Carter and Dwight Howard -- or unless the Magic's big man finds himself in foul trouble -- it's difficult to imagine Atlanta extending this series beyond a Game 5.

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Josh Smith Is Hurting The Hawks With His Uninspired Play

The Josh Smith we saw in the regular season was a sight to behold. For the first time, he put together an extended stretch where he was locked in and playing to his strengths. He stopped shooting threes. He defended. He killed people in the post and in transition. The result? An all-star caliber season that should have been rewarded with an actual all-star berth.

Then, the playoffs came along, and Josh Smith reverted back into the old Josh Smith. Smith is still putting up very good numbers, don't get me wrong. While the per-game numbers are down, the advanced numbers (20.7 PER, 54.% true shooting percentage, etc) are still very good. But to steal a line from the great Bill Walton, the impact just isn't there. He's floating through games, not consistently imposing his will like he did in the regular season. He's complaining to referees and pouting when things don't go his way. He's committing untimely turnovers and otherwise standing around on offense instead of cutting to the basket. 

And last night, his uninspired play arguably cost the Hawks a winnable game. SB Nation's Hawks blog Peachtree Hoops lit into Smith after the Hawks' fourth-quarter collapse.

It is fitting that the man was -24 for the game (worst on the team). Sure the final stats look ok, but he may have single handedly cost the game with fake injuries, pouting, lack of effort, and turnovers. Listen, I love Josh Smith, but he has no make up switch. There exists nothing in his person that inspires a vendetta like atmosphere on his own horrible actions. Josh is always right, and when he is wrong, it clearly does not matter. That is his mindset. I have never seen an above average starter play less like it was playoff basketball in my life than Josh did tonight. For all the Atlanta pride he speaks of and righteous gripes about talent under utilized, there was no excuse for Josh, and he has no reason to hold his head high when he dominates next year in January. This city will not get behind his poor effort, his fake fouls, his pouting. We pay money to watch you be great Josh. Intentionally being horrible is unacceptable. It is insulting. It makes people not show up to see that brilliance in Janurary. And that my friend is why you did not make an all-star game, and that is why you did not deserve to.  

The best way to illustrate Smith's focus is to look at how many three-pointers he's attempting. In the past, Smith stubbornly launched too many threes, even though he's a career 27% shooter. From 2005 to 2009, Smith launched anywhere between 1.2 and 2.1 threes per game, and it killed his value. This year, however, he had an epiphany and only launched seven threes all season - and that includes a handful of end-of-quarter heaves that basically don't count. That, more than anything, vaulted Smith from being a talented headcase to one of the most dynamic players in the league.

In the playoffs? That's changed. The Hawks have played nine games, and Smith has already attempted five threes. Several of those three-point attempts have been in big spots too. In Game 5 of the Milwaukee series, with the game slipping away down the stretch, Smith launched a contested three that effectively killed any chance of the Hawks rallying. Last night, he took a key shot early in the fourth quarter that led to a Magic fast break. These are shots he stopped taking in the regular season, and all of a sudden, he's taking them again. It's not a coincidence that the Hawks have, by and large, played poorly in the playoffs as a result.

If the Hawks want any chance to come back in this series, Smith needs to be the kind of player he was in the regular season. We're running out of time to see that Smith again. 

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In Progress, Game 2: Hawks Trying To Rebound Against Magic After Embarrassment Of Game 1

Orlando, FL (Sports Network) - Dwight Howard scored 29 points and pulled down 17 rebounds, and the Magic pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 112-98 win over Atlanta in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Although the outcome was the same as the opener, the Magic used a much later rally than Tuesday to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. In Game 1, the Magic outscored the Hawks, 60-21, over the middle two quarters to win going away, 114-71. Orlando held a 63-41 advantage in the second half Thursday, including 28-15 in the last quarter.

Vince Carter scored 20 of his 24 points in the second half for the Magic, who have won 12 straight contests, including their four-game sweep of Charlotte in the first round.

Jameer Nelson had 16 of his 20 points in the second half and Rashard Lewis also finished with 20 for Orlando, which shot a sizzling 61.8 percent (21-of-34) over the final 24 minutes. The Magic used a 19-2 spurt in the final quarter to seal the win.

The Hawks missed just one of their 31 foul shots for the game, but were hurt by going 12-of-33 from the field in the second half. That included a dismal 5-of-21 clip in the fourth quarter. They also turned the ball over eight times in the final two quarters, leading to 17 Orlando points.

Al Horford had 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks, who are a dismal 0-13 all-time in conference semifinal series since the round was renamed as such in 1971. Additionally, Atlanta has lost 13 straight conference semifinal games dating back to 1997.

Jamal Crawford tallied 23 points, Joe Johnson 19 and Josh Smith ended with 18 points and nine boards in defeat.

Game 3 is Saturday in Atlanta.

Horford made two free throws for an 88-87 Hawks deficit 1 1/2 minutes into the final quarter. Orlando then used its dominating push to send the Hawks to another rough defeat. Howard started the spurt with a pair of foul shots and Carter hit a three-pointer for a 93-87 margin. Mickael Pietrus added one from beyond the arc, and Lewis and Nelson each sank long-distance jumpers for a 107-89 cushion with 4:29 to play.

"We were better tonight in terms of our overall play," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "I like how we came out and started the game and going in at halftime was great. We just have to finish up, put four solid quarters together to beat this team."

Howard went 8-of-9 from the field and 13-of-18 at the charity stripe. He also had at least five fouls for the fifth time in these playoffs. He scored 18 points in the first quarter, helping the Magic take a 32-27 lead after 12 minutes.

"He took some very hard hits on the offensive end of the floor," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "A lot of times that led to a lot of frustration and at times retaliation from him. He really kept his head tonight."

The Hawks scored 11 in a row during the second quarter for a 40-34 lead and they carried a 57-49 lead into the half. Orlando then scored nine in a row to start the third quarter, gaining the lead on Nelson's jumper. It was a back- and-forth contest the rest of the period, with some dramatics at the end. Crawford hit a three-pointer in the waning seconds, but Nelson banked in one from beyond the arc at the buzzer for an 84-83 Magic edge.

Atlanta has lost 19 of his last 21 road playoff games...Marvin Williams had nine points and 11 rebounds...Orlando finished 55.9 percent from the field, compared to 41.3 for Atlanta.

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