1. Get Al Horford in an Early Rhythm
Al Horford is the cornerstone of the Hawks franchise for years. Since being drafted third overall by the Hawks in 2007, the Center out of Florida has become one of the faces of Atlanta sports. People can talk about how Jeff Teague leads this team or the key is Korver’s shooting, but that isn’t the case. This team will go as far as Al Horford can take them. This is the first time in Horford’s career in which there are real expectations for the Hawks to perform in the Playoffs, and so far he has not been at his best. It’s unclear whether the dislocated finger he suffered in the first round is what has affected his jumpshot, but it simply has not been there. Al Horford has made a living shooting a 16 to 18 foot jump shot. Other centers in the league do not want to go out and guard that shot. If they try, Horford’s quickness blows by them for easy lay ups most of the time. When the shot is not working, centers can lay off of him and he doesn’t get his easy layups or easy kick outs for wide open threes for guys like Korver and Carroll. It is clear Horford has lost some confidence in his mid-range jump shot, so it is key for the Hawks to look for Horford early in the game and get him into an offensive rhythm. If Horford can get going early, the rest of the pieces will fall into place accordingly and the Hawks will cruise to a Game 3 win.
2. Closing Out on Jump Shooters
The Hawks have been a tremendous defensive unit all year. They ranked seventh in defensive efficiency and fourth in opponents points per game over the regular season. However, if the Hawks do have one chink in their armor on defense, it is closing out on three-point shooters. The Washington Wizards are a tremendous shooting team and have been killing the Hawks so far in this series from the perimeter. Even in a Game 2 loss, the Wizards were able to shoot a ridiculous 55% from behind the arc. The Hawks were able to pull out the win, but again and again the Wizards were able to get wide open shots from the perimeter. If the Hawks want to win this series, they have to do a better job of closing out on the shooters. It is true that some of these open threes are due to great ball movement from the Wizards, but some of it is coming from mental lapses and poor discipline on defense. Over the year, the Hawks have been a very disciplined team, especially on defense. It is imperative that they stay focused on defense and not allow the Wizards to rain down open shots from deep.
3. Jeff Teague Needs to Get his Aggression Back
Coach Mike Budenholzer has stated it time and time again that Jeff Teague and the Atlanta Hawks as a whole are at their best when Teague is aggressive. He has the quickness and awareness to get in the paint with ease and make the right decisions with the basketball. He has done it all year with great success, and it is one of the key reasons that the Hawks won 60 games this season. Lately, Teague has completely lost his aggressiveness. He looks very tentative and seems to be scared out on the court. The Hawks were much better in Game 2 with Dennis Schroder on the floor. There are rumors that injuries are hindering his play, but at this point of the year, every player is playing with some sort of injury. Teague needs to fight through whatever he is going through and start playing like he did all year. The Hawks cannot win this series, let alone a NBA Championship, with Teague playing like he has so far this series. Look for him to come out and set the tone by attacking the paint and creating easy shots for his teammates, or else we will be seeing a lot of Dennis Schroder in Game 3.