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A message for Joe Johnson: Leaders don't look down. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Here's the Hawks' Joe Johnson looking down in Game 3. It's kind of hard to lead that way, isn't it? (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Before getting to some pre-game thoughts, let’s talk about what’s really important.

  As far I know, LeBron James has not booked any restaurants for a post-game party tonight in Atlanta. I’m not sure if that’s because he figured “24″ would hold down the crowd, or simply because the Cavaliers have a charter flight taking them back to Cleveland immediately following the game.

I mention this only because word of James pre-booking a party at Trois in midtown following Game 3 Saturday night sparked quite a bit of reaction in the blogosphere, and some even in the locker room. Al Horford was stunned, and even said after the Game 3 loss, “I wish I had known that before the game.”

  Question: Would it really have made a difference? I mean, would that little bit of extra anger have carried the Hawks over the top in Game 3, setting up the possibility of them evening the series tonight?

  Uh, no.

  Which leads to tonight. I’ve covered several potential sweep-completing Game 4s before, and in three difference sports — basketball, baseball, hockey. There’s one common thread: The team on the verge of being swept ALWAYS comes out playing hard. The vast majority of professional athletes have a ense of pride and they don’t like being associated with a playoff sweep.

  But what tends to happen is, the moment the team that’s up 3-0 punches the 0-3 team in the mouth, things quickly unravel. Negative thoughts creep into players’ minds. A sense of, “Just get me to the end of this game,” takes over.

  That’s my concern about the Hawks tonight — not that they won’t play hard at the outset, but how’ll they’ll react when James basically says, “OK. Enough of this. Take that!”

  And how will Joe Johnson react? The playoffs the last two years have revealed more bad than good about him. That’s something I might get into more in tonight’s game column. It’s not always about scoring for a star player, it’s about leadership, and Johnson hasn’t provided it. What he shows tonight could impact how he’s viewed by fans, media and even the organization. Remember: he only has one year left on his contract.

  Josh Smith sometimes says one thing and does another. But at least he said the right thing after today’s shoot-around: “It’s all about pride, not giving up, not throwing in the towel. Even though they only have one more game to win, you don’t want to just roll over and give them that win, without at least giving them a fight.

 ”It left a sour taste in my mouth how the season ended last year. I don’t want to go through another summer of having nightmares of not performing the way I know how to perform.”

  A CAVS LETDOWN? Not likely. I just asked Cavs coach Mike Brown if he would feel the need to talk to his players about not giving the Hawks life in the playoff series. “I’m not a big cliché go or anything like that. This team has been very good the entire year in terms of focusing just on the next game because it’s the next game and hopefully this game is no different. I have not told them that. I’m sure I won’t tell them that. I have heard them say it, led by LeBron.”

  Now that’s a leader.

  LIVE FROM PRESS ROW: Had some wireless issues in Game 3, causing hiccuping in responses to reader posts. But technical issues aside, we’ll try it again tonight.

205 comments Add your comment

wxwax

May 11th, 2009
6:12 pm

The Hawks will probably lose. That’s not important.

What is important is the manner in which they lose. If they go down fighting, then the city and the team’s management will end the season with a reasonably positive vibe.

But if they get pounded and lose the will to fight, I think the city may lose its interest in this team. And I think it will force Sund to consider making major changes to the roster.

We already know the Hawks need more leadership in the locker room. What the guys are playing for tonight could be their jobs.

Ben

May 11th, 2009
6:35 pm

This team better come out with some fire and win or i’m done! i’m not going to spend anymore money going to games watching this leaderless team. Smoove needs to get pissed and start dunking on folks. Someone needs to elbow Lebron in the mouth and send him a message. We have been manhandled this WHOLE series and it’s time to get physical!

Kenneth

May 11th, 2009
6:39 pm

Lack of confidence of the bench players are what’s behind this fall from grace. All year long we have begged Woodson to develop his bench just for situations like this. There is no team unity even among the starters much less the bench. Cleveland is a team of 12 or 13 deep and anyone they put in will play with confidence. Overworking the starters and injuries is the sure fire method of being dead in the playoffs.The signs were there against the Heat, now it’s just more pronounced. This a painful lesson that I hope the Hawks management learn from.Changes are necessary in the leadership of this team despite its acomplishments this seasons because to me, they still under achieved based upon their talent. Cleveland will win tonight and end their misery so they can go nurse their wounds.!

maurice

May 11th, 2009
6:43 pm

So right Kenneth! So Right!

Todd

May 11th, 2009
6:52 pm

Love the Hawks, win or loose and back the [layers on the roster and the team thats on the floor. That being said, this has never been a team that can win it all or take it to the championship series; just can’t do it with a bunch of 2, 3 and 4 position players; cant have your power forward shooting three’s when his best game is taking it to the rim and throwing it down; can’t with a star that’s not a star. The Phoenix trade was a good trade, but his talent level is not on par with DWade, Kobe, Iverson in his prime.I like the fact that Joe Johnson si on this team, but the Hawks need a real big man in the middle and a flat out scorer that donot give a crap about the other team.

I hope we get a win to night, but even with two otr three wins or perhaps pull off the unthinkable and do a back end sweep, the Hawks just do not have what it takes.

herbK

May 11th, 2009
7:10 pm

Hawks will attempt to do something, but………………….
Final: Cavs 104 Hawks 80

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
7:11 pm

Hawks respond to 12-6 with back to back buckets by Joe and Marvin. A good VERY EARLY sign.

HawkDawg

May 11th, 2009
7:13 pm

I would love to see a hard elbow into the side of LeBron’s head. The sweep will be OK if I can witness a elbow to his head! The whole season would be a success.

I hope he is fouled very hard while going up for a dunk and lands hard on his back. PAIN!!!!! Make him hurt!!!!!

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
7:13 pm

For those of you not here — and that’s probably all of you — there’s at least 3,000 empty seats, including a few almost completely empty sections upstairs.

CaliHawks

May 11th, 2009
7:15 pm

Come on hawks dont go down like this…..

HawkDawg

May 11th, 2009
7:16 pm

I would rather watch re-runs of the Gilmore Girls with my wife than to trek downtown and watch a the Hawks get corn-holed.

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
7:16 pm

WxWax – I think that’s the case for the whole series. Don’t think many people really expected the Hawks to win this series. The question was how difficult would they be to beat.

Ben – I think this team can use you in the locker room. For speeches, if nothing else.

HawkDawg – Maybe Ben needs an assistant.

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
7:21 pm

Nice little run: Hawks 10-3 since trailing 12-6 and Flip going to the line.
It’s over!
Kidding.

NOBAMA

May 11th, 2009
7:24 pm

Hawks are playing well so far, love the swarming defense

NOBAMA

May 11th, 2009
7:25 pm

Have you seen how many pass deflections we have had, that’s a sign of desire that was lacking in games 1-3

CaliHawks

May 11th, 2009
7:26 pm

hawks are acutually healthy for tha 1st time all series…

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
7:28 pm

Hawks now on 10-0/16-3 runs and with 7-pt lead (22-15).

RealSquawk

May 11th, 2009
7:28 pm

Hopefully that’s just a late arriving crowd.

I know personally for me it’s hard to go to games when they are not playing like they care it really messes up my week.

CaliHawks

May 11th, 2009
7:31 pm

Best 1st qtr of the series ….

RJ

May 11th, 2009
7:32 pm

why doesn’t joe just pull up for a 3 at the end of quarters?

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
7:33 pm

Nobama — agreed. That was some nice defense. But Cavs also have looked a little sluggish so far.

Calihawks: sprained ankles and sprained wrists don’t heal in a couple of days. more like weeks. but at this point every team is playing through injuries.

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
7:35 pm

What you’re missing during the commercial: Harrry The Hawk is playing musical cheers with four kids at center court. Hey, high priced entertainment here.

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
7:36 pm

Harry’s being very physical. I think this team needs him on the front line.

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
7:42 pm

Bad sign: Cavs pull even (24-24) with LeBron on the bench — and LeBron has only 7 pts.

RealSquawk

May 11th, 2009
7:44 pm

Mo Evans is supposed to be our defense specialist?

RJ

May 11th, 2009
7:44 pm

mo evans is awful

RealSquawk

May 11th, 2009
7:44 pm

RealSquawk

May 11th, 2009
7:45 pm

I think we should get Mike Tyson to be our coach

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
7:47 pm

He certainly hasn’t been the offensive specialist.

LeBron’s coming back into the game.

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
7:49 pm

RealSquawk: You want Tyson on or off his medication?

RealSquawk

May 11th, 2009
7:49 pm

should Bibby really be deferring to Al Horford as the clock runs down

RealSquawk

May 11th, 2009
7:52 pm

Didn’t know there was a difference, but I will say off the medication.

And didn’t Zaza get ejected for such antics just two days ago.

Finally somebody wrapped up Lebron.

HawkDawg

May 11th, 2009
7:53 pm

Can we trade Joe Johnson back to Phoenix?

CaliHawks

May 11th, 2009
7:59 pm

dam goin back and fourth.. wheres joe johnson??

COME ON AL

May 11th, 2009
7:59 pm

I have counted 3 Air Balls by Hortford. Bend your knees, have you forgotten how to shoot the basketball. COME ON

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
8:01 pm

Might be better if Al just goes to the basket.

CaliHawks

May 11th, 2009
8:02 pm

there makein there free throws.. dam where that been all playoffs

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
8:04 pm

Cavs don’t seem to grimace when Ilgauskas shoots 3s like Hawks do when Josh fires them up.

CaliHawks

May 11th, 2009
8:07 pm

ahhhh dam Lebron…..

Eman

May 11th, 2009
8:10 pm

Joe Johnson does not care!! He is heart less!!

Rollins Tree

May 11th, 2009
8:10 pm

Woodson looks like he knows already his days as coach are over in Atlanta. Can see it in his face.

Big R

May 11th, 2009
8:11 pm

Solid effort in the 1st half

Here we go again

May 11th, 2009
8:11 pm

sloppy first half…. normally when both teams have an “off” night, the cavs would be way up… so at least it’s close. on the other hand, it says a lot that lebron sat for that long (how long, jeff?) and scored that few points (how many, jeff?) and the hawks are STILL down at the half.

we had an AWFUL lot of missed shots coming off wide-open looks.

Tony

May 11th, 2009
8:12 pm

Way to sell out the arena. No wonder Atlanta is the worst sports city in America

NoleRick

May 11th, 2009
8:13 pm

Haha at Tree Rollins. We can only hope that is the case.

Dr.Dialtone

May 11th, 2009
8:15 pm

Cleveland has always been a strong 2nd half team… If you don’t have a 20 point lead at the half, you can forget it. They have a awesome coaching staff, and make the necessary adjustments. Coach Brown lets the assistant coaches do their thing.

PlusSizeModel

May 11th, 2009
8:16 pm

The worst thing that could happen here is a Hawks win, because the fools at Atlanta Spirit may decide to keep Woodson around.

Jeff Schultz

May 11th, 2009
8:16 pm

Rollins: You’re a face reader?

Here we go: Agreed. Sloppy first half. And not a good sign for the hawks that the Cavs are up and LeBron hasn’t done anything yet.

Big R

May 11th, 2009
8:17 pm

JJ needs to take over the 2nd half

TNT Crew

May 11th, 2009
8:19 pm

I have never seen a more bias one sided halftime show than that. Charles Barkley basically ranked the Hawks as a d-leauge time and said they have no chance of winning this game. I love Charles but come on. How do they let a criminal/cheater like C-Web on tv.