Game #1 Recap: Hawks 120 - Pacers 109, Actual Observations and Related, Possibly Stupid Conjectures

25 turnovers. Not really much more to say about why the final result resulted as it did.

There’s really no excuse for an NBA coughing up the ball that many times. Still, it was the opener. For a squad that really needs to get off to a good start to avert a woe-is-me attitude that’s constantly lingering after three years without a playoff game and more games missed due to injuries than I care to count, begining the season this sloppily is very bad. But it is only one game. And the only thing less important than October basketball is preseason basketball.

So they get a pass. There are 81 more of these things, so there is no need to over-analyze a game where the team shot well enough to beat the reigning fourth seed in the Eastern Conference but valued the ball poorly enough to lose to the Fever.

Instead of trying to pretend we can learn much of anything from tonight’s performance, then, my plan was to just stick to straight observations for this recap. Of course, I’m completely incapable of not over-analyzing minutiae and trying to inject nuance into the mundane, so please humor me. But just so we can all easily recognize that the things I’m reading into certain plays and “trends” are coming entirely too early to have any real significance, I’ll break these thoughts down into two parts each:

  1. Actual, legitimate, objective observations from the game
  2. Related, possibly stupid conjectures that have, I’d say, a roughly 50/50 shot of being complete lies and/or total wastes of your time

Away we go.

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Ummmm … Turnovers.

1. Keep It High, Hibbert — You’re Very Tall

Actual Observation - About one minute into the game, Roy Hibbert muscled aggressively to grab an offensive board. He then kept his arms fully extended with the ball way above his head. He then easily laid it in the basket for two points.

Related, Possibly Stupid Conjecture – This should happen threes times per game.

2. Granger Gets Buckets

Actual Observation – About two minutes into the game, Granger allayed all fears about his heel early being worrisome with a great dribble drive to the rim for a lay in.

Related, Possibly Stupid Conjecture – After the whole league had a full summer to acknowledge, watch film on and gameplan around his range, Danny is going to get like easy buckets like this several times each night when he catches a rotating defender closing out him too hard and then walks right by them all the way to the rim. And scoring will get even easier for him as this virtuous circle comes around again and people start to worry about his penetration and just buries jumper after jumper in people’s mugs. Danny has a chance to top 28 ppg this year. There are that many possession out there and this offense makes it difficult to stop him from getting points even if the defense’s plan it to try to take that away.

3. Was Troy Shaving Points?

Actual Observation - Multiple times throughout the night, Troy Murphy threw the ball away in such a baffling manner that it made me think he might be shaving points. About two minutes into the game, he got in trouble in the post and picked up his dribble and threw the ball directly to Marvin Williams. Later, Murphy pretty much gave Josh Smith a dribble hand-off in the half court. Later still, he hit a defender in the chest with Stocktonesque accuracy on an outlet pass after a defensive rebound.

Related, Possibly Stupid Conjecture – This behavior seems completely anomalous, and I obviously know he was not actually shaving points in any way whatsoever, so let’s just call it “one of those nights.” Regardless, I will from now on start referring to these as “I Know Troy Is From New Jersey But He Doesn’t Have any Mafia Bookie Connections, Does He?” turnovers.

In legitimate concern news, his horrible decision-making made me again think about David Berri pointing out Troy’s wild statistitical variance from year-to-year. And that really wasn’t something I wanted to think about ever again. So … Let’s all just pretend Murphy is a leadpipe lock to be just as productive as he was last year and never speak of tonight’s turnovers again. Ok?

4. Brandon Should Focus on Defense

Actual Observation – One one possession in the first quarter, Brandon Rush completely flustered Joe Johnson with his defense, knocking the ball away from Mr. Johnson. Joe quickly regathered the ball, but seemed very frustrated and soon launched a fallaway 20-footer with Rush pretty much inside his jersey. Joe didn’t even draw iron.

Related, Possibly Stupid Conjecture – I know everyone wants Brandon to be a complementary scorer to Granger. And, yes, anyone who saw the fourth quarter last night now knows that the offense certainly could use that. But if Rush is going to cement himself as a starter-level player in this league, this is where he earns his money. This is what he needs to be doing. He did it well throughout the game last night and looking at the larger sample size of last season, it’s safe to say that he is a guy who gets his hands on lots of balls. (I know how that sounds, but there’s no other way to write it. Seriously. Ok, maybe it could have been written a little better.) What Brandon should try to do is emulate the blueprint plans that Trevor Ariza laid out. (1) Be a plus defender, (2) float on offense, and (3) get your buckets in open space within the natural flow of the offense. Whether those points come from knockdown threes after a swing pass, catching and converting on passes while cutting through the paint, or quick drives from the perimeter when there is a clear lane to attack is not really important. What is important, however, is that he makes playing high-quality defense his primary mission and doesn’t burn a ton of calories trying to be cute with the ball on the perimeter while trying to score. In this offense, opportunities to score will come.

5. Small, Quick Bigs Will Be a Problem

Actual Observation – In the first quarter, Horford caught the ball at the high post with Hibbert guarding him. He dribbled hard right and went right by Hibbert with ease. He finished just as easily. He was too quick for Hibbert and Horford knew it. They both did. In a similar situation later in the first half, Horford, who was holding the ball in the high post and being guarded by Hibbert again, passed cross court to Josh Smith, who was hanging out near the baseline. Hibbert rotated over to proper helpside location on the pass. But when Smith quickly whipped the ball back to Horford, Al was able to stick a relatively unguarded six-footer.

Related, Possibly Stupid Conjecture – Sure, you will rarely see an interior give-and-go done this quickly or with this much precision. And, sure, most centers would get beat by this play. But most would get a better contest on the shot. Here, Horford got off the attempt as comfortably as he would in shootaround. Hibbert got beat worse than most big men would because of his poor lateral quickness. And Horford was able to exploit this all night. Smaller big men like Horford will continue to give the Pacers front court fits. We saw it very often last year, most memorably that night in November when Amaré came through Conseco like a tornado. We will see it consistently this year, too. Small, athletic centers will be able to score in bunches, then rinse and repeat.

6. Frenetic Play Is Good and Bad

Actual Observation – Right after Solomon Jones entered the game, he found himself playing helpside D when the ball-handler was in the corner and his man was near the opposite elbow. He stood there under the basket, wildly looking back and forth between his two responsibilities and seemed to be overwhelmed by all the excitement going on around him.

Related, Possibly Stupid Conjecture – I’ll chalk this up to Solo still being inexperienced and having nerves due to the fact that he is trying to carve out a role on a new team that he might actually be able to get burn for. But Solomon Jones looked lost and frenetic out there — and it wasn’t just on this one play. Again, let’s cut him a lot of slack because he unfairly tasked with checking Josh Smith when he entered the game, but his head was on a complete swivel. And not in a good way. He looked like it was one of those instances where the game was seeing a game that was moving at 130 mph. With more minutes, I’m sure the game will slow down for him, but the catch-22 of this situation is — as always — that it’s hard for a coach to give a guy enough minutes for the game to start slowing down for him as long as the guy plays like a confused bobblehead out there.

On a larger scale, this “game is too fast” thing is a problem with this entire roster — and it was last year. The team is full of frenetic players. Almost no one out there can just catch the ball, breathe easy and do something constructive. Everything feels rushed and urgent. And, again, not urgent in a good way. Few Pacer players are able to obey the proverbial “Be Quick, But Don’t Hurry” mantra. Granger can mostly, but even he gets a little over-eager at times.

The one guy who seems most able to provide a sense of calm to a possession is Mike Dunleavy Jr. Or, at least he could two seasons ago when he was healthy. He could hold the ball and move with it for effect and to allow the other guys to run the offense and find proper positioning. TJ struggles with that. He is always water-bugging around out there. He’s never still. Never calming. Obviously, one of the reasons that the Pacers offense can be so potent for stretches is that other teams can’t keep up with that frenetic pace. But, again, there is someone of a catch-22 there since the teams has a roster full of players who often can’t keep up either. Unless these guys learn to keep up, it’s hard to see a lot more consistency or any ability to properly harness the offense late in games when necessary — which means we’re probably in store for just as many blown leads, overcome deficits and wild swings as last year. Exhibit A, is the team’s scoring by quarter last night: 32, 33, 29, 15.

7. Bully Mentality

Actual Observation – In a momentary lack of discipline, Earl Watson bit on a jump-fake by Joe Smith, leaped into him and put a jump-shooter on the line.

Related, Possibly Stupid Conjecture – Whatever. Happens. What’s interesting is that he flew in to the big fella, knocking him down hard and looked down like “What? Get up” as he did it. Then, later, in the fourth quarter, Dahntay Jones “tangled feet” with Joe Johnson, sending the silent assassin to the floor. Dahntay seemed to have a similar attitude after that play.

Neither one of these plays were mean or nasty. Neither was cheap or unprofessional. But they both had an edgy feel to them that made the guys seem a little bit like bullies. This roster could use some bullies.

8. Dahntay Jones: Not For Offense

Actual Observation – Dahntay Jones did some work in the second quarter. To kick things off, he made a nice move to the right to get into the paint for a finger roll at the cup. Then, on the other end of the floor, he aggressively attacked the glass, leaping laterally to snatch one of those “a couple of guys on my team probably could have gotten it that rebound but it’s mine — MINE” rebounds. After he grabbed the board, he dribbled hard up the floor and, near the top of the key, stutter-step faked to shake a defender at the top of the key, freezing him just enough to go by him and leave the defender with no choice but to foul and send him to the line, where he knocks down two freebies. Fast forward another two possessions, and Dahntay drove by Marvin Williams from the wing (after a Pacer who was posting up clears out to give Jones the lane) and not only got to the rim for a lay-in, but also got to the line to complete the three-point play.

Related, Possibly Stupid Conjecture – This offensive flurry was impressive from a guy constantly characterized as having no offensive game. It made me think, maybe he can score? Maybe his production was just retarded in Denver because they so many other guys capable of filling it up? Maybe he can not only bring tough-nosed D to Indiana but also a be a legitimate third option who can create his own shot?

Then I remembered that I watched Denver play like 30 times last season.

Sure, he can do these things on offesne a little. Like, in very limited bursts. Because as was foreshadowed about one minute after his highly effective, early second quarter scoring spree, he also tries to do too much if he’s given the green light. He’s not a great penetrator. He has quickness and some ball-handling ability so can catch guys leaning the wrong way. Guys who close out on him lazily are prone to being caught flat-footed. But Denver fans will be the first to let you know that he should not be facing people up and trying to make a move. He’s a good finisher, a capable slasher and an occasional penetrator. But he’s not a creator. He is not the guy you want to be holding the ball and trying to create a shot when the defense is set. To be productive, he needs to be in open space. Offensively, he thrives in chaos. Havoc is his comfort zone. He regresses within structure. Order is his poison.

If this is the case and if my earlier suggestion is correct that Brandon Rush is more suited to be a good defender in this league than a scorer, then where do the Pacers get their points. The offense shoutd create opportunities, but it is still an uphill battle until Dunleavy gets back. I was hoping that Luther Head can bring some firepower. He looked semi-capable last night. And, hey, maybe Watson can keep shooting like that. We can also assume that TJ Ford won’t put up a Baron Davis-like 1-for-9 shooting every night.

No matter where it comes from, however, and no matter how impressive Dahntay looks here and there, they way the fourth quarter went last night should tell have at least taught us one thing: If the Pacers need to rely on Dahntay Jones to create offense, things could get ugly.

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Tags: Al Horford Amare Stoudemire Atlanta Hawks Brandon Rush Dahntay Jones Danny Granger Denver Nuggets Earl Watson Game #1 Game Recap Joe Johnson Marvin Williams Mike Dunleavy Jr Roy Hibbert Soloman Jones TJ Ford Trevor Ariza Troy Murphy

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