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Hawks Winning In Playoffs With Isolations, Timely Shooting

All the Atlanta Hawks have done so far this postseason is upset the fourth-seeded Orlando Magic in the first round, then take Game 1 of their second-round series against the Chicago Bulls, who own the league's best record, to steal homecourt advantage. That's a huge step up for a team that hasn't advanced past the second round since 1970.

Success in isolation basketball, or "iso-Joe" as some Hawks fans have grown to call it, has fueled Atlanta this postseason. The Hawks isolate on almost one-fifth of their possessions, according to Synergy Sports Technology, the highest figure of any team left in the postseason. Moreover, the Hawks' 0.9318 points-per-possession average on isolation plays ranks second among teams still in the championship hunt.

Iso-Joe isn't pretty, and really only comes under fire when it fails; nobody's complaining about Joe Johnson's using more than 40 percent of his individual possessions in one-on-one play because Atlanta's winning right now. But an ancillary benefit of isolation basketball is that it can create open shots for spot-up shooters, which is where the Hawks have truly excelled.

Atlanta is scoring 1.092 points per shot, the third-best figure in these playoffs, on spot-up shots. (Note that, to Synergy, "spot-up" does not necessarily mean "catch-and-shoot.") The 1.092 figure represents a marked improvement from the regular season, in which Atlanta got just 0.95 points per shot in spot-up situations.

As with any mini-streak of hot shooting in a small sample size, there's an element of luck involved; for example, the Hawks have shot 38-of-89, with thirteen three-pointers, in the final four seconds of shot clocks this postseason. On average, that's more than five real late buckets per game. They'll be hard pressed to maintain that sort of timely shooting.

But unless and until those shots stop dropping, the Hawks will continue to be a tough out. Their defense has proven, on a nightly basis, it can keep opponents in line just well enough to give their offense a chance to win.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.