ORLANDO–It says something about how badly the Hawks got thrashed in Game 1 that they already are taking questions about their state of mind.
Also telling: The Hawks, emboldened against their critics after rallying to beat Milwaukee, realize these already are relevant questions against Orlando.
It was just one game, but it was an embarrassment.
“Yeah, it is,” J.J. said at practice today. “But it happens. Put it behind us and move on.”
They’ll get that chance tomorrow in Game 2. Until then, there are those questions.
Do they believe they can beat the Magic in a playoff series when they hardly ever beat them anymore? Can they win at Amway Arena when they keep getting blasted there and aren’t a good road playoff team to begin with? Do they really trust that they have the people and the plan to pull this off?
“I think we can beat them,” J.J said. “We just have to be poised and take our time on both ends of the court.”
“You look at it as a fluke,” Jamal said.
But how can that be when they’ve lost by more than 30 points three of their last four times here? When the Magic has won 7 of their last 8 games against the Hawks? When the Hawks’ offense so often stalls and the defense couldn’t slow the Magic’s inside or outside game?
“If it was a 15-point win, we can kind of be like, ‘Wow, they just beat us,’” Jamal said. “But 40-something points? They are not 40-something points better than us.”
So a day after taking the largest L in the franchise’s Atlanta history, the Hawks went back to work. Before they could even begin to consider their considerable problems with tactics and planning, the Hawks tried to fend off any creeping thoughts about the Magic just being better, period.
The Hawks have to win at Amyway to win this series. Woody said he still thinks they can do both.
“Sure, I do,” Woody said. “Without a doubt I do. But they’ve got to believe, too.”
How does he convince them?
“If we can just be competitive here for four quarters and make it a game, win or lose,” he said. “Make it a game. And then you go home and handle your business at home, which we’ve done. Anything can happen but we can’t just be lopsided like [Game 1].
“And I’ve got to take responsibility for that as the coach. I don’t always put it on the players. As the coach, I’ve got to take full responsibility. I’ve got to get them over the hump for four quarters.”
The Hawks spent a lot of time looking at the first quarter from Game 1, trying to reinforce the idea that if they do follow the plan they can score on the Magic. In that period, the Hawks made 11 of 26 shots with five assists, two turnovers, 16 points in the paint and eight points in transition. They still took a lot of long jump shots [3 of 8] but moved the ball to get open looks and had eight points in transition and 16 in the paint.
And then the second quarter happened. Woody put it on the bench.
“[The Magic] didn’t do anything different,” Woody said. “They just substituted.”
The Hawks didn’t spend too much time looking at those three quarters after the first. Well, really, the 2 1/2 quarters when the Magic was still playing and the Hawks hadn’t yet officially surrendered.
Guess they figured it’s probably better for their collective psyche to look more at the good from the first period than all that bad that came later.
“It was good for us to look at the first quarter and see some of the positive things that we did do early,” Joe said. “And that the gameplan does work as long as you stick to it. In the second quarter, we got out of the game plan, started forcing a lot of things offensively. And defensively we just collapsed.”
Woody thought the Hawks did a pretty good job against Dwight Howard. The Hawks wanted to limit his dunks but he got four of his eight field goals that way.
Howard went baseline for two dunks, one past Zaza and another past Al. He caught a lob dunk when Bibby didn’t chase the ballhander on a pick-and-roll and forced Al to help off Dwight. Dwight got yet another dunk when Pietrus easily blew past Bibby and got in middle of the lane to bounce a pass to Dwight on the baseline.
Woody said Howard’s baseline and pick-and-roll dunks “should never happen.” The Hawks wanted to deny Howard the ball but Woody said all the foul calls held them back.
“They called it a little close,” he said. “There were a couple of times where I thought Jason didn’t get a chance to defend him before the whistle blew. That is going to happen. We’ve just got keep banging him.”
Woody said he probably will activate Randolph Morris, who was out sick for Game 1. But neither Morris nor any of the other centers can do anything about the Hawks’ problems guarding the Magic on the perimeter.
It might be a personnel issue. The Hawks’ weak perimeter defense is a major liability in this series and they don’t have the advantage inside like they did against Milwaukee. The Hawks have Bibby, J.J., Jamal, and Mo chasing VC, Jameer Nelson, Redick, J-Will, Pietrus and Ryan Anderson. For the Hawks there’s an imbalance of numbers and an abundance of bad matchups.
It didn’t help that the Hawks were back to those timid closeouts.
“A couple of times we were too lax for sure,” Jamal said. “We were giving their shooters good, clean, open looks. You have got to run them off the line a little bit. Make them think about putting it down. That can change a person’s [shooting] percentage for sure.”
The Hawks will try to be better at that and all the other things they didn’t do in Game 1. They press on in the face of serious doubts.
It’s true that the Hawks overcame dire straits against Milwaukee but nothing like this. There was always the feeling that if the Hawks played to their potential against Milwaukee they would win the series. Now there are questions about their ability to play to their potential against the Magic and, if they do, if that will be enough to win at Amway Arena.
Even after Game 1, the Hawks say they still believe it can be done.
“It’s a new day,” Jamal said.