WITNESSVILLE - Now is not the time Hawks.
And the postseason is certainly not the appropriate place to come apart at the seams.
The Cleveland Cavaliers don’t need the assist.
So to hear the Hawks talk of not “sharing the ball” and needing to “attack from all over” screams of a team in need of reconstitution (and if you don’t like what you hear coming from the Hawks’ locker room since their Game 1 loss to King James and his crew that’s a good thing, because you shouldn’t).
It’s not something that can be done by a coach or general manager intervening. It’s also not something that can be fixed with one of those trendy players’ only team meetings or any of the other conventional tools used by most NBA teams.
This is a calculated regeneration of a team that can only come from individual catharsis, and the Hawks need it to happen 15 times in 15 different rooms at the tony Ritz-Carlton at Tower Center (where NBA soul searching goes on regularly in this city) before Game 2 of this Eastern Conference semifinal tonight at the Q (the arena better known as King James’ Camelot).
As meticulous AJC wordsmith Mark Bradley points out, the choice to either fight back or get smashed, belongs to the Hawks.
Each loss the Hawks have suffered this postseason has been uglier than the one before it. The average margin of defeat (24.2 points) is preposterous at best, and an affront to the game at it’s core.
No playoff team capable of winning a seven-game series, as the Hawks have already done, should be on the receiving end of tail-whippings of 15, 29, 26 and 27 points, respectively. Those lopsided efforts speak to a team that, despite nearly eight months in the fox hole together, still does not trust each other completely, a team that can’t muster the collective energy and focus to at least make a loss respectable as opposed to making themselves a spectacle.
The first thing you hear in the Hawks’ locker room after a bad loss is, “We didn’t play together. We didn’t help each other out. We’ve got to blah, blah, blah.”
If you think I’m making this stuff up, here’s a sampling (edited ever so slightly to omit the verbal offender’s specific identity) of what’s come out of the mouths of your Hawks after playoff losses the past few weeks:
“We just have to play with a sense of urgency like we did in Game 1. We have to get after them defensively. And as long as we share the ball offensively, I think everything else on the floor clicks.”
“We’re up against it now. And we’ve got look at ourselves in the mirror and realize that we can’t get out of this mess without doing it together.”
“We’ve just got to pick up our intensity. We’ve got to do a lot of things. But it all stems from our effort. We have to play hard as a unit. That’s the key for us. And we have to bring that [today]. Because our backs are against the wall now, really against the wall. We’re going to see what this team is made of.”
“We came out and talked about hitting them first and not letting things get out of hand early like they did in Game 2. But we let them hit us first again.”
“We lost our composure, no doubt. Things weren’t going our way, calls weren’t going our way and we lost it. We let them build that big lead and it got to us. We were never in sync defensively and we just didn’t handle ourselves well.”
“In the second half we just didn’t get into any offensive sets. We were careless with the ball. We had too many turnovers. Any time we have 17 turnovers it’s never a good night for us.”
“It was very disappointing, knowing that we’ve come this far. Looking back on the first series that we had (with Miami), that was very tough, and I thought we would come into this game a little more enthused and come ready to play. I thought we had a pretty good first half, but the second half wasn’t so great.”
It never fails.
Whenever things go sideways for the Hawks they all start speaking French (”We, We”). For once, it would be nice to hear someone talk about what “I could have done” or that “I didn’t give my team” what it needed?
On paper, there’s no way the Hawks should do anything more than annoy the Cavaliers for a few games. Al Horford’s sprained right ankle won’t allow him to play at full strength during these playoffs.
Marvin Williams has a wrist injury that followed his late-season back injury, shredding what was easily his best (and breakout) season as a pro.
So no one is expecting these Hawks to shock the world.
But these Hawks have defied paper logic since training camp, including making a return trip to the playoffs whenever publication on the planet predicted they would not.
That they’ve made it this far, even with all the setbacks, is a testament to the resolve of this stubborn but flawed bunch.
Just how stubborn they are and just how flawed they are will come into better focus as this series continues, be it three more games or more.
Whatever happens, the time has come for these Hawks to dispense with all the locker room rhetoric and simply play the game like a team that belongs. Play it for 48 minutes, with the required fire in the belly and without any remorse.
Anything else is an injustice to those who have watched this team evolve from the 13-69 train wreck of a four years ago into the promising bunch that has defied all the odds the last year.