MIAMI — It really doesn’t matter what it was the Miami Heat finally zeroed in on Friday night as a source of motivation. Pretty much everything had been thrown out there — an “insulting” showboating dunk attempt by Josh Smith in Game 5, an excitable turbo-lipped broadcaster, possibly even global warming.
Here’s the only real question that matters: What happened to the Hawks’ motivation?
With a chance to clinch their first playoff series in 10 years, they instead reminded everybody why it has been 10 years.
They lost 98-72. That’s really only an assumption because most people stopped paying in the third quarter.
“I didn’t have a good game, and a lot players on the team didn’t have a good game,” said Josh Smith. If nothing else, he gets points for his ability to summarize. (And there is nothing else: He was 3-for-13 for eight points.)
The Hawks shot 37 percent. They watched Dwyane Wade score 41 points and rookie Michael Beasley add 22 points and 15 rebounds. If the first is forgivable, the second isn’t. They were outworked on the boards. They didn’t play defense, constantly allowing the Heat to drive into the lane.
Instead of knocking Miami players down, they held up traffic for them.
The Hawks had mused over the Heat’s seemingly artificial motivation techniques. Maybe they should’ve been more concerned about their own — artificial or otherwise.
They led only once — at 8-7. They trailed by 14 points in the first quarter, nine at halftime, 21 in the third and by then everybody in blue stopped watching, not that their eyes seemed open to begin with.
This was not how a team closes out an opponent in the playoffs
Mike Bibby actually was the only Hawk who acted like he was ready for LeBron James and Cleveland in Round 2. He had 20 points by halftime, and that’s about the only thing that created any second-half suspense, such as it was. But when Miami scored the first 10 points of the third quarter, that was gone, too.
Had the Hawks won Friday, they would’ve flown to Cleveland after the game. Instead, it’s quite possibly the strangest 3-3 series in NBA playoff history. The final point spreads have been 26, 15, 29, 10, 15 and 26.
“This series has been a little bit schizophrenic,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra.
Certainly, the Hawks have. They had better hope they have at least one road trip left in the season because now they’re going to a seventh game with Miami. It will be at Philips Arena on Sunday. Home-court advantage is what the Hawks worked for all season.
That should be a comforting thought for Hawks fans. But after what we witnessed Friday night — not so much the loss but the lopsided nature of it — can we possibly know what to expect?
Can home-court dominance (33-11, including the playoffs) trump a team that shows it’s capable of shooting 37 percent in a potential clinching game? Joe Johnson had two fouls in the first two minutes and struggled to get back into the flow of the game in the second quarter. Smith was alternately invisible or out of control.
Worst of all, the Hawks lacked any sense of urgency, particularly on defense. Miami players were left wide open for easy jumpers. Beasley and Joel Anthony controlled the boards.
We could’ve figured the Hawks would be hurt by the absence of Al Horford, who rapidly has become one of the team’s more indispensable players. But that doesn’t explain everything. And the Heat was missing Jermaine O’Neal.
What was it Flip Murray had said before the game? “We want to end it tonight. We want to come out strong and execute, take their crowd out of the game early and end this thing.
What was it Bibby had said? “In this series the main thing has been who hits the other team first. That’s the team that comes out on top.”
Miami hit. The Hawks forgot to duck.