Welcome to “Basketball, Neat.” This is an intermittent column throughout the 2015-16 NBA season where DIME will discuss some basketball play or trend without extraneous information.
If you’re a fan of single-malt Scotch, you should be familiar with ordering a drink, neat. That’s what this is, but with basketball. So, there will be none of the usual contextual or superficial noise you might hear on Twitter or even in our pieces at DIME. This isn’t some referendum on basketball coverage or anything quite so lofty; it’s just a tiny place to talk exclusively about hoops. We’d like to nerd out about basketball for a little bit before we go back to the overarching culture of basketball and the NBA we normally cover. We hope you like it, but it’s primarily just a selfish way to publish what we’re already talking about with each other.
Let’s keep it simple: Basketball is beautiful, and plays like this are among the many, many reasons why.
Jack: No, the Atlanta Hawks didn’t beat the Utah Jazz on Sunday night. Mike Budenholzer’s team lost one of the young season’s best games by a score of 97-96. But the Hawks wouldn’t have even had the chance to steal a victory sans the injured Jeff Teague if not for the late-game brilliance of their head coach.
Atlanta trailed 97-93 after the ascendant Derrick Favors nailed a jumper as the clock read 38 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Budenholzer called for timeout immediately after the Jazz’s make, allowing his team to advance the ball with no time ticking off the clock. That’s crucial. The Hawks were down two scores, and would preserve a 2-for-1 opportunity if their ensuing possession ended both successfully and quickly.
Mission accomplished. Who cares if Atlanta lost? How Budenholzer leveraged the unique strengths of his players versus the weaknesses of Utah’s was basketball genius, and indicative of just how much coaching matters in waning moments of a close game.
Kyle Korver in-bounds with Al Horford standing at the near elbow, Thabo Sefolosha on the far wing, Denis Schröder in the opposite corner, and Paul Millsap on the right block. The positioning of each individual Hawk and the specific Jazz defender checking them matter. If Atlanta had been stationed or guarded any differently, it’s fair to say the outcome of this play would have changed. And it’s just as safe to say that Budenholzer knew it, too.