“SHOOTIN’ AT THE WALLS OF HEARTACHE… BANG! BANG!...”
Our Atlanta Hawks came at The King and missed, but they’ve got another Golden State opportunity ahead of them during this four-game road swing. The Hawks outraced the Warriors from Staples Center up to Oakland ahead of tonight’s game (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area in SFO), and they hope to take advantage in what is, very likely, their final visit to Oracle Arena.
The Hawks’ connections with this venue, the oldest one in the NBA, run deep. It was here, with the Warriors, where Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon (out for tonight again, personal leave) and Jeremy Lin, all undrafted players shuttling back-and-forth from the D-League, began formally charting the course of their careers as NBA pros.
GM Travis Schlenk and Coach Lloyd Pierce built up much of their impressive resumes here, the former playing critical roles in the scouting and drafting of the modern Dubs’ first championship core, the latter working with Stephen Curry and pre-Linsanity Jeremy during a half-season as an assistant in 2010-11.
The Dedmon-less Hawks failed to make the critical plays in the paint they needed to fend off the Lakers in Sunday’s 107-106 last-minute loss. Atlanta (3-10) having to play without Dedmon again tonight ought to make things easy on the Warriors (11-3). That is, if only coach Steve Kerr can get Kevin Durant and his pal Draymond Green focused on tearing into the Hawks, instead of each other.
Freshly returned from injury, Green failed to look for KD, or any other teammates, at the close of a tie game in regulation last night, after the defending NBA champs had scored 11 consecutive points to draw even with the host Clippers in L.A. After stealing a rebound away from Durant, Draymond dribbled up the court and lost the ball in traffic as time expired.
The misfortune of being caught between Durant’s passive-aggressive commentary and Green’s dragon breath fell to their Warrior teammates, who were reduced to clapping in a futile effort to drown out the stars feuding on the sideline prior to the overtime period.
The Dubs fell short in OT to the Clips, 121-116, after Durant fouled out with his squad up by three. They headed back upstate late last night ahead of tonight’s contest, but not before Durant and teammates spent time bickering boisterously (as reported by ESPN) in the postgame locker room about Green’s decision-making during regulation. “One of the most intense and volatile scenes of this Golden State championship era,” tweeted Woj on ESPN’s report, my emphasis on the words, “One of”.
The Hawks are the kind of opponent that can cure a lot of ills, at least momentarily. But the longer Golden State fails to take their aggressions out on Atlanta (17.2 second-chance opponent points per-48, 2nd-most in NBA; NBA-high 24.2 opponent points per-48 off TOs), the more likely they’ll find themselves in a late-game situation as precarious as the Lakers found themselves in on Sunday night, with the basket in Trae Young’s sights.
Sure, it sucks not having the shot-making magic of Curry (6th in NBA for 3FG%, out with a groin strain, GSW 39-60 all-time without him) around to obscure your team’s internal squabbles. Fortunately for Golden State, they do have former Hawks preseason standout Quinn Cook (4th in NBA for 3FG%) standing in for Steph in their starting lineup.
Cook will get some help from Shaun Livingston, who himself just returned from injury, to add to the maze the Hawks’ rookie star must navigate on his adventures to the hoop, a path that will feature Andre Iguodala, Durant and Green, at turns. As per NBA Stats, Young currently ranks second in made field goals and field goal percentage, and third in assists, in the league off drives.
When you have a phenom like Curry, good things can happen just by virtue of a couple degrees of separation. Ex-Hawk Damion Lee got hitched to Curry’s sister, Seydel, in the offseason, and now joins his brother-in-law on the Dubs’ roster with a two-way deal.
One of Steph’s security guys had a cousin, undrafted out of Wisconsin-Green Bay and out of the league after going through the motions last season with Toronto. That cuz (no relation to DeMarcus) got a chance to shine in training camp, and now Alfonzo McKinnie (48.3 3FG%) gets major minutes relieving the Warriors’ swingmen, doing many of the things former fan-favorite Bazemore once did here at Oracle. With the Warriors playing a back-to-back, look for both Lee and McKinnie to get pressed by Kerr into significant action tonight.
After Klay Thompson jacked up 16 attempts, sinking five, in last night’s loss to the Clips, Kerr will want to make sure his off-guard doesn’t shoot his arm off trying to bombard Atlanta. Pressed into a high pace of play, Hawks’ opponents are lofting nearly 35 attempts per game and hitting on 38.5 percent of them (4th-highest in NBA). The Dubs’ opponents similarly shoot as many, but they struggle to convert (31.4 opponent 3FG%, 2nd-lowest in NBA) due to superior perimeter defense and their signature switching.
That’s why, despite the back-to-back, tonight’s contest could be a breeze for the Warriors if they take care of business on the interior, and don’t resort to shooting fouls (26.0 opponent FTAs per-48, 5th-most in NBA; Atlanta’s 27.5 tied with Miami for the most) to make up for listless defense.
One of the Hawks’ few advantages thus far on the season has been inside scoring (+2.6 paint points per-48), even without Dedmon and John Collins around, and the Warriors will need the platoon of Jordan Bell, Kevon Looney, and momentary starter Damian Jones to neutralize that edge. The Warriors rank 6th in the league for blocking shots, despite no one aside from Bell (1.0 BPG) averaging more than a swat per contest.
Despite their obligatory collapse during the third quarter, Atlanta stayed in their game versus a Laker team that was, like Golden State, playing the back end of a back-to-back, by outscoring them in the paint (46-44), on fastbreaks (19-14), and off turnovers (30-25). They’ll need a similarly active effort on defense and in transition if they intend to bid farewell to Oracle with their first win in this building since 2011.
With the rest advantage, the Hawks will be… 2 Legit 2 Quit in their Oaktown finale, so a victorious outcome for Golden State can’t be foreseen as… Automatic. It always… Feels Good to leave the champs pointing fingers at one another, and Life Is… Too Short not to take advantage of a distracted and shorthanded bunch from the… Jump. Will Atlanta have enough focus and firepower to leave these Warriors feeling… The Blues?
Let’s Go Hawks!