Cleveland– What I saw was similar to what happened at Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Toronto, New York, Miami and Golden State. The details may differ somewhat but the bottom line doesn’t: The Hawks couldn’t make plays to close out a close game on the road.
– If the Hawks win just three of those seven, they would be 20-16 on the road and just one loss behind Orlando in the Southeastern Division. Instead, the Magic is running away from them and the Hawks haven’t proved they belong in the discussion with Cleveland and Orlando in the East’s elite.
– So I asked Woody about what I called a “persistent problem” with failing to close out road games since the All-Star break. He didn’t like that characterization. ““I wish I knew (why),” he said. “But I can’t say it’s been that way since the All-Star game, but it’s been that way against the Cavaliers. We’ve had close games against them and we can’t find any offense in the fourth quarter.”
– Woody also didn’t like it when Cleveland reporters kept up the (fair) line of questioning about the Hawks’ road woes holding them back. “It’s not easy to win on the road,” he said. “They’ve lost how many road games here? Can you tell me that? (Cavs are 33-4 here). It’s not like teams just come in here and win ballgames. We’ve had a couple games here where if things had gone our way, we would have come away with a win.”
– But you can say that about all those games I mentioned. The fact is things don’t go the Hawks’ ways in tight games on the road. They often cite their record of 41-5 when leading with five minutes or less but that doesn’t take into account games like this, when they were up 76-74 with 6:43 to go and didn’t score again until they were down 88-76.
– After LeBron and Mo Williams made consecutive 3-pointers for an 84-76 lead, the Hawks missed two free throws and three straight shots. “I thought their defense stiffened in the last six minutes and we didn’t respond,” Woody said. “We just didn’t answer.”
– That stretch featured the kind of plays that tend to doom the Hawks in tight road games: Mo Williams left wide open for a corner three on a missed switch. Ilgauskas standing under the basket for two offensive rebounds and a putback. Smoove coming out of a timeout and throwing the ball away. Horford hurriedly throwing up a jump hook despite no defenders near him and failing to catch rim.
– That’s three games where the Hawks had a chance to beat Cleveland and couldn’t do it. This time there was no shot clock screw-up to blame.
– A tight deadline prevented me from talking to Hawks players but Jamal was quoted by Cavs PR: “For whatever reason, we play good up until the last five or six minutes of each game. All three times, we gave ourselves a chanceto win. And this is a team we can potentially see in the playoffs. We have to figure it out. I don’t think we’re that far away at all, but we have to figure it out.”
– They could start by blocking out the Cavs on the boards. Time after time the Cavs soared in unchecked for rebounds, and that might have been a bigger problem than the stalled offense in the fourth quarter. The Hawks shot 9 of 22 in the fourth, not good but not terrible, but the Cavs beat them 14-6 on the boards.
– Their advantage for the game was 55-36. The Cavs got 20 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds. “That was huge,” Woody said. “That’s another area that we have to clean up.”
– The Cavs controlled the glass without big men Shaq and Varejao. What’s going to happen if the Hawks face the Cavs in the playoffs with those two back in the lineup?
– Jamal got the Hawks back in it by scoring six points in the final two minutes of the third. Then he shot the Hawks out of it by missing 5 of 6 in the fourth. He was 6 of 18 from the field and J.J. was 6 of 17 for a combined 34 percent. The rest of the Hawks were 25 of 55 (45 percent).
– “I thought they had good looks, shots they normally make, but we just couldn’t get them to go down,” Woody said. “Then we couldn’t get stops the other way. That’s a helluva tough combination.”
– The Cavs notched their second consecutive 60-win season. They clinched the East’s top seed when Orlando lost later in the night.
– I’m out, Hawks fans.