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Atlanta Hawks' Game 2 Loss To Chicago Bulls Highlights Problems With Isolation Offense

Wednesday afternoon, I wrote in this space that isolation offense had helped the Atlanta Hawks surprise some folks in the postseason, what with their upset of the Orlando Magic in the first round and Game 1 victory over the Chicago Bulls in the second. Their loss in Game 2 doesn't make what I wrote less true--it doesn't change the outcome of the Magic series or the first Bulls game--but it does highlight how unreliable one-on-one, jumper-driven basketball can be.

Atlanta shot 33.8 percent from the floor and scored just 73 points in Game 2 against Chicago's league-best defense. That sort of offensive performance won't get it done, even if the Hawks' defense continues to play well; the Bulls shot 39.3 percent themselves, committed 14 turnovers, and still won by 13. That's how awful Atlanta played offensively. And it could have been worse: were it not for some uncharacteristic foul-drawing from Joe Johnson, Jamal Craword, and Josh Smith (they combined to take 20 of the Hawks' 24 free throws), Atlanta may have found itself scoring in the low-to-mid sixties.

Remarks TNT analyst Charles Barkley made before the game look prescient in hindsight. Regarding the Hawks, Barkley said, "they get what I call the dribble flu. And I get sick of watching it. They take too many dribbles and don’t want to pass the basketball."

Indeed, Atlanta tallied just 14 assists on its 26 baskets last night, with Al Horford's six leading the way. Johnson and Crawford, who dominate the ball to a staggering degree, combined for 25 shot attempts and two assists. When the ball stops, so does the Hawks' offense.

Which brings me to a larger point: the Hawks' one-on-one style works fine when the shots drop, but the team needs to develop a sort of contingency plan for the occasions when they don't. Run Johnson off screens; have Jeff Teague run a pick-and-roll with Horford, with Crawford spotting up on the weak side; get someone to set a back-pick for Josh Smith to free him for a lob dunk. Anything that involves quick passes leading to open, in-rhythm shots.

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