MILWAUKEE– No deep analysis necessary for this one. Basically Game 4 will show us what the Hawks are about. Are they mentally tough? Do they have pride? Are they for real?
They’ve said the right things about being embarrassed by what happened in Game 3 and vowing to respond this time once they get challenged but right now the Hawks are in a show-me state. That’s what happens when you get blown out on the road by a team you handled at home. The game was barely four minutes old, the Hawks down just 14-5, and Smoove knew they were in trouble.
“It felt like in the huddle we was down by 20 in the fourth quarter,” he said. “It was only the first timeout. I could tell everybody was tensed up. I could tell we wasn’t having fun at that point and time and it carried on pretty much the whole game. We’ve got to be able to play loose and free, and not worry about what’s going on around us and play with a lot of confidence.”
So after getting humbled like that, after a brutal video session Sunday morning followed by a practice, after two days to think about how they got bullied, are the Hawks better prepared mentally for Game 4?
“I think so,” Josh said. “Everybody is focused. Nobody wants to get blown out, I don’t care if it’s at home or on the road. It left a sour taste in our mouths yesterday. Definitely a wake-up call. We’ve just got to be prepared for anything they throw at us. I think we will play with a sense of urgency early on and not wait until we are down by 20-plus to be able to answer back.”
If there are skeptics among you, that’s with good reason. You’ve seen this story too many times. Hawks win home playoff games. Hawks don’t compete in road playoff games (with that one notable exception in Miami). Hawks can’t quite fulfill their potential. Hawks remain a second-tier team.
It’s got to feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick that football with Lucy holding. This would be the time you finally kick the dang thing only to have her pull it away again and ending up on your back feeling like a simp. Heck, I wasn’t sure where I was going with that but it’s actually not a bad analogy for Game 3, huh?
“For me it was a little disappointing because we didn’t respond,” Woody said. “You would hope that you’ve grown a little bit from last two years so the games won’t be [as] lopsided as it was [Saturday] night. You have got to learn from it and improve.”
Let’s forget what’s happening to Denver, Dallas, and the Lakers. Sure, those series show that nothing is for certain in the playoffs, even for the defending champs, but let’s not pretend they have anything to do with the Hawks. For one thing, all of those teams have more currency than the Hawks, who took another step by winning 53 games but won’t earn real respect until they can make a legit postseason run.
The Hawks have internal questions to answer and can’t be looking elsewhere to take comfort from getting blistered in the Bradley Center. Josh said the Hawks know winning tonight would help answer lingering questions about this group.
“The first two times [in the playoffs], especially when we first got in, we was new we didn’t understand things about the playoffs and the postseason,” Josh said. “We was just playing with a lot of momentum at home. We didn’t really know what to do on the road. Last year we still was young but we had the depth that we needed and we had the maturity and growth that we needed to be able to win games on the road.
“We’ve got to be able to approach every road game like we do home games: confident and not worried about the crowd and get back to having fun.”
The Hawks can earn redemption tonight. That’s always the cool thing about the playoffs. Win tonight for a 3-1 lead and so much pressure is alleviated from the Hawks. The questions would be about how the Bucks can possibly hope to avoid elimination at Philips Arena on Wednesday.
Lose and … well, at least the Hawks have homecourt.
“You play the regular season to get homecourt advantage,” Woody said. “Just in case. [Tonight] is a big game. If we win tomorrow night we can go home and wrap it up. If not we’ve just got to go home and handle our business there and continue to play it out until we can win four games.”
If the Hawks need to rely on homecourt advantage to win a series nearly everyone expected them to win convincingly it wouldn’t feel like they’ve taken another step, would it? And that’s before you consider what it would mean for a second-round series against the Magic, whose only concern is whether they can sweep the Bobcats tonight.
Better for the Hawks to win tonight and prove that Saturday wasn’t what they are about. They can show that they can win road playoff games under pressure. They can put down a plucky opponent that rose up for a quick minute but couldn’t hang when the Hawks played their game.
“The great teams, they figure it out eventually and we are not there yet,” Woody said. “We are still learning.”