LOS ANGELES – It probably feels just as nasty this morning as it did last night, that taste in the Hawks’ beaks after the Lakers kicked dirt all over them.
How a two-point game mushrooms into a 24-point rout in a matter of minutes would normally require CSI-level examination.
But not where the Hawks are concerned. The anatomy of their latest road debacle is similar to so many of its predecessors.
By now you know the routine. The Hawks trade punches, they make a decent game of it until things go slightly awry and the sky starts falling. The fall began with their disastrous third quarter, when the Hawks started handing the ball over to the Lakers like they were ordered to by the LA County Sherriff’s office.
And they wouldn’t stop giving it up. Play after play, they just kept turning it over. Josh Smith got his hands dirty, Al Horford, Jamal Crawford and Zaza Pachulia did, too.
The meltdown on the bench soon followed, with players shouting back and forth about the sloppiness.
The Lakers didn’t need the help. But they were happy to take advantage of the Hawks ineptitude and immaturity.
They piled up 12 fast break points in the third quarter alone, an 18-0 run ensued and the Lakers ended the game a good 20 minutes before the final buzzer sounded.
“We were so sluggish with the basketball, throwing it all over the gym,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “They had a lot to do with it because they got up on us defensively and we went the other way.”
It didn’t help that the Hawks’ momentum early was halted by a head-scratching substitution. Joe Johnson was on a tear in the first few minutes of the game, piling up 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting, when Woodson inexplicably pulled him from the game with 2:39 to play in the quarter. For all the times we’ve moaned and groaned around here about JJ playing too many minutes, this was not the time to interrupt his flow. The playing rotation be darned, let the man shoot until he missed five straight. He stays on the floor until he misses, right?
Not this time.
Lakers star defender Ron Artest deserves a lot of credit for holding Johnson to just one field goal the rest of the way (Kobe Bryant certainly had no luck slowing Johnson down), but in hindsight, that quick and unexpected hook from Woodson seems even more perplexing after the fact.
“I’m not the coach of this team and I don’t decide who goes in and who comes out or when they do it,” a still upset Johnson said after the game about his groove being interrupted. “That’s beside the point. We didn’t fight at all in that third quarter. We just let things get out of hand and didn’t take it on ourselves to man up and defend the way we have to. You saw it, we just let them punch us in the face and we didn’t stand up for each other, we didn’t help each other at all. That can’t happen, not against a good team or any team. That just can’t happen.”
It did, like it has many times in the past for this team.
And the Hawks took yet another shot to their pride and profile on the big stage.