Opening Statements: Rd. 2, Gm. 2 — One Adjustment to Rule Them All | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Rd. 2, Gm. 2 — One Adjustment to Rule Them All

By
Updated: May 5, 2015
nene

This is the Nene that needs to show up in Game 2 and wreak havoc on Atlanta’s undersized frontcourt.

Before the series started, the big question was how Washington’s ground-and-pound front court of Nene and Marcin Gortat would match up against Atlanta’s more versatile duo of Paul Millsap and Al Horford. Within the first few minutes of Game 1 it was painfully obvious that Nene was the odd man out. He just cannot cover Millsap. Nene was not nimble enough to stay with Millsap on the perimeter and not quick enough to recover after hedging on picks. Nene’s slow reactions caused a ripple effect as his teammates scrambled to cover his assignment and ended up chasing Atlanta’s whip-fast passes like a dog trying to catch its tail. Millsap assisted on three of Atlanta’s first four baskets and could have done more damage if not for two turnovers (travelling; stepping out of bounds).

The playoffs are about adjustments. With Atlanta up against the wall, down 0-1, Mike Budenholzer is no doubt cooking up some changes for Game 2. But it’s Randy Wittman who has the opportunity to shock the world (or at least Twitter) and solidify the legacy of “Playoff Randy Wittman” by making an uncharacteristically bold move: shift Nene to the bench.

Here’s why Washington’s starting lineup matters. As ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz explained, Atlanta’s offensive numbers are off the charts when all five of their starters are on the floor. However, they only played together for 18 minutes in Game 1 (and only averaged 16 minutes per game during the regular season). With Nene in the starting lineup Atlanta is at its offensive best exactly when Washington is at its defensive worst. It’s a recipe for a big (and unnecessary) first-quarter deficit. Why not bring Nene off the bench with explicit instructions to punish whichever Hawks bench player is checking him in the post?

In Game 1 Wittman appeared to recognize the futility of playing Nene on Millsap. He subbed in Drew Gooden for Nene midway through the third quarter and Nene did not return for the rest of the game. Nene only played 17 minutes the entire night. Of course, there is very little chance Wittman changes his starting lineup at this late stage of the season. He’s not that big of a possum.

So, assuming Nene will be on the court for the opening tip, what can Washington do to prevent Atlanta from building a quick double-digit lead? Unleash Nene in the post. If Atlanta is going to abuse him on defense, then let Nene beat the hell out of Millsap on the other end. Washington attempted to feed Nene on the opening possession in Game 1 and he drew a foul on Millsap within the first 18 seconds of the game as he cut through the lane on his way to the post. However, Washington never challenged Millsap again. Here’s hoping Game 2 features a healthy dose of Angry Nene.

Joining me to discuss the view from the other side of this series is Buddy Grizzard (@BuddyGrizzard) from ESPN TrueHoop Network’s HawksHoop.com.

#1) It is often said that the playoffs are about adjustments. After watching the Wizards up close in Game 1, what adjustments do you expect (or hope) Atlanta makes in Game 2?

@BuddyGrizzard: The key to this series is, can the Wizards continue to take away what got the Hawks here? Atlanta didn’t score for the first 5:30 of the fourth quarter until Al Horford hit a pair of free throws. On the Hawks’ next possession, the offense continued to stagnate as Paul Millsap isolated against John Wall on a switch and missed a layup. Kevin Seraphin tapped the rebound straight to Kyle Korver, who hit a 3 to draw the Hawks within 91-88 with 6:38 to play.

Despite 25 percent shooting in the second half, despite the lengthy offensive droughts, the Hawks stayed within a single possession with the game headed into the final stretch. Moments later, with the Hawks trailing 95-91, Millsap pulled down an offensive rebound and gave the Hawks a fresh shot clock with 3:47 to play. As Millsap, Korver and DeMarre Carroll stood motionless around the 3-point arc, Teague isolated against John Wall and missed a step-back with 15 seconds remaining on the shot clock.

At the other end, Wall drove into the lane on Carroll. Teague helped and left Otto Porter wide-open in the corner. His catch-and-shoot 3-pointer put the Wizards in front 98-91 with 3:16 to play, a lead that would prove insurmountable.

During the season, the Hawks led the NBA in effective field goal percentage in catch-and-shoot situations (55.7%). The Hawks were middle-of-the pack in effective field goal percentage on pull-up shots (41.6%, 11th). Thus, any time the Hawks shot a jumper that did not result from a pass, it effectively trimmed their field goal percentage by 14 percent. Taking step-back jumpers in isolation is not Atlanta Hawks basketball. For the second post-season in a row, Teague’s attempt at hero ball may cost the Hawks their season.

#2) ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz wrote an article about how the Hawks starters are playing really well but they are not playing enough minutes together (only 18 minutes in Game 1).

Do you agree with his argument? Are you happy with Budenholzer’s rotations?

@BuddyGrizzard: Leave it to Arnovitz to cut through the BS to what matters. Take away Mike Scott’s outlier game in the 2014 playoffs when he shot 5-for-6 from 3 and Scott is minus-39 in 186 post-season minutes over two seasons. Scott is shooting 20 percent from 3-point range in the current playoffs and the Hawks have been outscored by 14 points per 36 minutes with Scott on the floor.

Meanwhile the Hawks are plus-41 in 266 playoff minutes for Pero Antić in two seasons. Antić has shot 8-for-18 (44.4%) from 3-point range in the current playoffs.

The Hawks are walking a razor’s edge. The team will either reach the Eastern Conference Finals and become the greatest team in Atlanta history or it will fall short and become the greatest disappointment. There’s no middle ground and there’s no logical reason for Scott to see the floor again in this series. The Hawks were also outscored by eight points in 1:31 after Antić and Kent Bazemore replaced Horford and Korver in the first quarter of Game 1, and closed the third quarter minus-7 after the same substitutions. Budenholzer rested his starters during the regular season, presumably so they could play extended minutes in the playoffs. If the Hawks get bounced in the second round because Budenholzer over-relied on his bench, it will represent an inexplicable coaching meltdown.

#3) Atlanta is a well-rounded team with four All-Stars but no true superstar. Is there any one player that has to step up for the Hawks to even the series?

@BuddyGrizzardIf Gregg Popovich coached the Hawks and watched the team stagnate on offense and chuck isolation shots for most of the fourth quarter of a pivotal playoff game, he would have called timeout and ripped the team a new orifice. Jeff Teague is the coach on the floor. If his teammates are standing around and not getting into their sets, he’s responsible for vocalizing and getting the Hawks organized.

Instead, Teague responded to a stagnant offense by going iso, which cost the team an opportunity to stay within one possession. Teague was also responsible for leaving Porter wide-open in the corner. If Teague fails to step up as a leader on offense and make better decisions on defense, the Hawks will have the entire off-season to ponder whether a passive, deferential player is the right point guard to take the Atlanta to the next level.

Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.