Hawks, Johnson saved their worst for rematch with Cavaliers

This is a significant moment for Joe Johnson: scoring with two minutes left in the game after tossing up bricks since the six-minute mark of the first.

This is a significant moment for Joe Johnson: scoring with two minutes left after tossing up nothing but bricks since the first. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Seven months after they walked off this same court, losing to this same team, wondering if they could make moves to elevate themselves to higher ground, the Hawks met the Cleveland Cavaliers again Tuesday night.

Some went right. LeBron James looked ordinary, and Jamal Crawford again looked like the greatest offseason acquisition of the millennium.

Most went wrong. Joe Johnson hit his first four shots, then dropped into a black hole. Mike Bibby didn’t even have the first four shots to brag about. Collectively, Team New and Improved failed to score in the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter, which isn’t good when there’s only 12 minutes in a quarter.

You wanted a sign that there was something to look forward to in the playoffs. The Hawks instead gave you acid flashbacks to a 13-win team and Predrag Drobnjak. Bad things, man. They lost to a very average-looking Cleveland team 95-84 at sold-out Philips Arena.

So much buildup. So little to show for it.

If the Hawks don’t want everybody to quickly forget about their wonderful 21-8 start, they might want to come with a little better effort in the return match Wednesday night in Cleveland.

Theories, anybody?

“I think we put too much pressure on ourselves to go win a game instead of just playing the way we know how to play,” Josh Smith said. “We definitely thought about this game too hard.”

Let’s put it another way: The wrong guys didn’t show up. Jamal Crawford poured in 26 points. That’s great for him and a testament to the strength of the Hawks’ bench. But when the sixth man leads you in scoring — and outscores the Hawks’ starting backcourt 26-17 — there’s a problem.

Bibby was 1-for-7 from the floor and, for the most part, invisible. And Joe? Oh, Joe.

He’s looking for a new contract, the kind of contract that validates him as one of the game’s elite players. But he’s going to need the performance to validate that status first. This is the kind of game that hurts him. Great players play great against great teams — not the Bobcats.

The Hawks ran their offense through Johnson on Tuesday. He responded like a souffle when somebody slams the door too hard. Poooof. After six minutes, he had 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting. The Hawks led 18-10. He missed his next nine shots. He didn’t make another bucket until there were two minutes left in the game.

Let me repeat that: two minutes left in the game.

By then, his team had fallen behind hopelessly by 11 points, 89-78.

“I don’t know,” Johnson responded when asked what happened after his start. “Things just didn’t go my way after that I guess. It happens.”

That’s the problem.

The Hawks won 21 of their first 29 games this season. It was reason enough to believe that the improvements they made were legitimate. They were deep, versatile, talented. They played hard. They played defense. But Game No. 30 was different. They call these measuring stick games — the idea being to get measured, not get slapped by the stick.

In the playoffs last May, the Hawks eliminated Miami in the first round. They hoped to at least compete with Cleveland in the second round. Maybe even steal a game or two. But they never came close. The Cavs won the first two games at home by a combined 47 points, then returned to Atlanta and closed out a sweep with two wins.

This game was supposed to be different. It was. The Hawks were worse. The Cavs weren’t great — credit the Hawks’ defense somewhat for that — but they took over the game physically. Smith complained about some no-calls for “a couple of elbows, a couple of shots to the face.” But he wasn’t using that as an excuse.

“They’re a physical team and they brought it, and we didn’t respond,” he said. “Tomorrow night, we have to be the aggressors, we have to be physical.”

At least one thing will be different in Cleveland: the buildup.

113 comments Add your comment

Sonny Clusters

December 29th, 2009
9:49 pm

Sonny Clusters

December 29th, 2009
9:50 pm

They need somebody with Clusters-like quickness.

Sonny Clusters

December 29th, 2009
9:51 pm

Clusters is posting in clusters.

Sonny Clusters

December 29th, 2009
9:51 pm

Whoa! Clusters is on!

Sonny Clusters

December 29th, 2009
9:51 pm

This is too easy. Clusters is out.

Ree Roe

December 29th, 2009
10:03 pm

Disgusted. Disappointed. Disheartened. We didn’t compete in the 4th Q & that’s what makes it worst of all. Great article Jeff

-REEcently Roe ;-(

Herschel Talker

December 29th, 2009
10:17 pm

They’ll choke as usual. Crappy team.

Grumpy Old Man

December 29th, 2009
10:17 pm

Hawks suck. Always have, always will.

Season Ticket Holder

December 29th, 2009
10:24 pm

The Hawks looked and played scared. It was like the JV team was forced to play the varsity team, and the JV team didn’t want any part of the varsity team (yes, tonight the JV team was the Hawks). The Hawks usually come out on fire during the 3rd quarter. Josh Smith did too much complaining when calls did not go his way, Bibby’s offense was missing… Crawford came to play and showed he’s the real deal – may be the new face of the franchise. I was very impressed with Zaza and his defensive toughness against Cleveland’s bigs – especially Shaq. We’ll see if they show up in Cleveland because the were missing in action in the ATL!

Herschel Talker

December 29th, 2009
10:29 pm

Schultzie – why do you routinely answer comments in reverse chronological order?

Mychelfromatl

December 29th, 2009
10:35 pm

JUST GOT BACK FROM THE GAME….

FIRST AND FOREMOST..HATS OFF TO MARVIN WILLIAMS..WHAT HE DID MAY NOT SHOW UP IN THE STAT SHEET, BUT THIS DUDE PLAYED ONE OF THE BEST DEFENSIVE GAMES AGAINST LEBROM THAT I’VE SAW ANYBODY PLAY..NICE WORK MARVIN..AND FOR THOSE WHO WILL SOMEONE GO ALONG WITH THEIR MARVIN RANTS..GO HEAD BECAUSE IT WILL FALL ON DEAF EARS.

FOR ANYBODY THAT SAY AL CAN’T HOLD HIS ON AS A CENTER CAN IT. MATTER OF FACT..I GOTTA GIVE A CUDOS TO THE FRONTLINE AS A WHOLE..AL, JOSH( DUDE STAY OUTTA FOUL TROUBLE), MARVIN, ZAZA.

NOW FOR THE BACKCOURT…JOE (DUDE ARE YOU REALLY PLAYING FOR A BIG TIME CONTRACT?), JAMAL, MO EVANS. ALL IM GOING TO SAY IS THAT PERFORMANCE IN THE FOURTH QUARTER WAS DISHEARTENING. C’MON FELLAS…FIRST ORLANDO, NOW THIS…I CANT LIE I’M DISSAPOINTED AS HELL.

COACH WOODSON…MIKE BIBBY NEEDED TO PLAY THE WHOLE FOURTH QUARTER..FOR THOSE THAT CAN’T UNDERSTAND BIBBY’S VALUE..THERE YOU HAVE IT.

SHOUTS TO THE FANS…WE TRIED TO HOLD ON TO THE END…BUT MAN!!

NOW, THERE IS NOTHING I SAW THAT TELLS ME THE HAWKS CAN’T BEAT CLEVELAND TOMORROW IF THEY COME TO PLAY (JOE, JAMAL, MO EVANS).

THIS IS DISSAPOINTING, BUT IT CAN ALL BE MADE RIGHT TOMORROW.

coach g

December 29th, 2009
10:40 pm

Too, hard, somebody slammed the door toO hard. I’d say it was D-West and Big Z!!!!

Tomorrow’s game is already over TOO!

lenny

December 29th, 2009
10:58 pm

Thanks, Everybody For The Comments, You Are All Correct In Your Statements. I Personally Believe That The Team Is In Turmoil. It Includes Coach Woodson, Joe Johnson And Josh Smith.
Lets Start With The Coach, This Guy Is Dumb As They Get. I Believe That He Does Not Know What Is Actually Going On In The Games. I Have Observed The Other Coaches Telling Him What To Do ( it Was Evident In The Cleveland Game Tonite). He Also Has The Team Playing Undisciplined Basketball (they are the cardiac kids of the NBA, HELTER/SKELTER) You Never Know What You Are Going To Get From Them. WOODSON EVENTUALLY HAS TO GO, He’s Too Stupid. Joe Johnson Is UP TO SOMETHING, I HAVE OBSERVED HIS PLAY AND IT SUCKS. FOR SOMEONE WHOM IS PLAYING FOR A BIG CONTRACT NEXT YEAR, I WOULD SAY THAT IF ANYBODY TOUCHED HIM, THAT THEY WOULD BE MAKING A GRAVE MISTAKE. HE DOES NOT PLAY HARD, ESPECIALLY DEFENSE. LET HIM GO, BECAUSE I THINK HE IS JEALOUS OF JAMALL CRAWFORD. JOSH SMITH NEEDS TO GROW-UP, HE MAKES REAL STUPID DECISIONS. HE HAS GREAT TALENT, BUT IT LOOKS BAD IN THE LONG RUN, BECAUSE HE MAKES SO MANY STUPID MISTAKES. THE OTHER PLAYERS ON THE TEAM ARE WHO THEY ARE, BIBBY CAN ONLY HAVE 1 GOOD SHOOTING GAME OUT OF 15, MARVIN IS OKAY BUT IS SLOW AS MOLLASSES GOING UPHILL, POOR AL HORFORD HE NEEDS SERIOUS HELP, HE IS THE ONLY CONSTSNT ON THE TEAM. ZAZA IS OKAY BUT IS PLAYING SCARED HALF THE TIME, HE ALSO LACKS IN THE THINKING DEPARTMENT,TOO. THE TRUE FACT IS ( THE HAWKS ARE A BUNCH OF TEASERS), THEY ARE NOT GOING TO GET PAST CLEVELAND, ORLANDO, AND BOSTON. DON’T YOU JUST HATED WHEN THAT GIRL TEASED YOU IN THAT BACK CAR SEAT,HA!HA!……………..THATS WHAT THE HAWKS ARE DOING TO THEIR FANS.

Reid Adair

December 29th, 2009
11:17 pm

I kept waiting for Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby to make something – OK, anything – in the fourth quarter. For nine minutes, not only did they not make anything, but no one else did either.

That was unfortunate because, as bad as Johnson and Bibby were, the Hawks were still in it going into the final quarter.

Allen

December 29th, 2009
11:29 pm

The NBA clearly has a big 4 (LA, Boston, Orlando, Cleveland). The Hawks have shown us this season that they do not belong in that group. Tonight, with the scoreless stretch for 8 minutes or so in the 4th quarter turning a close game into a laugher. The Thanksgiving game against Orlando, only putting up 25 points in the entire 2nd half turning a closr game into a blow out for the Magic. A horrible 3rd quarter in LA in early November turned a close game into a blowout for the Lakers. The Hawks do have a nice win at Boston, but beyond that, we have gotten creamed against 3 of the “big 4″. I think the Hawks are clearly in the top 4 of the East, but, can we crack the top 3, I doubt it.

hollywould

December 29th, 2009
11:37 pm

Woodson drives me nuts. Try some different players if things aren’t working. Run a PLAY sometime. Josh Smith had better learn to shut up. He cries an anything. I saw him arguing with the ref on the free throw line. The ref told him to move back. He acted like he was right but you could clearly see his foot was over the line. Not a big thing but why argue? These brain farts he has will come back to get him.

Good Grief

December 29th, 2009
11:53 pm

Was at the game tonight and there were definitely a lot of calls that went against the Hawks, but putting all of that aside the Hawks missed tons of free throws, Woody’s tech (while i like that he did complain about the horrible calls) he got it at THE WRONG TIME, and then there’s the disappearing act that our “all star” likes to play in big games.

Not only was JJ missing shots he also held down our offense tonight – holding the ball to long, hesitant, awful passes, and to top it all off he played terrible defense. It was almost like Joe Johnson was playing at a different game then everybody else and like you said Bibby didn’t even bother to show up.

Sucks because other guys played a really good game – Crawford, Marvin, Zaza, and even Mo Evans played really good games tonight. It was actually fun sitting in the arena and listen to the majority of the crowd boo Lebron who was played as worst as Joe. I dont expect us to win tomorrow night…just dont see it happening.

chemdawg

December 29th, 2009
11:58 pm

“Mychelfromatl”: It does show on the stat sheet. Marvin Williams was the only guy on the hawks with a positive +/- rating (+3). He shut down Lebron. Apparently Jamal Crawford didn’t play a minute of defense because his +/- was -22 (by far the worst for the hawks tonight). Someone needs to convince him to try on both ends of the court…

Moxie

December 30th, 2009
12:17 am

Well I’m personally upset at this loss. I felt they could have won it. I didn’t even think of the possibility of losing. Well I guess that was where my undoing began. I think we can learn alot about them tomorrow. Something in me says that they can win it, it just becomes a matter if they want to win it. Now I’m the biggest Joe supporter there ever was , but he was invisible. We all know he is playing for a contract and wants to be paid like an elite player, but he has a knack for disappearing at the absoulte wrong times. I think that maybe its a good thing he will go into free agency. Because this team is no longer his. They were his when they were young and craptastic, but now they aren’t. I actually believe this team belongs to Josh. No one else fits the bill like he does. Now he didnt have a good game either but he had the excuse of foul trouble. I want Joe to take over a game and win it for the Hawks but I think it won’t happen ever. I really hope I’m wrong.
-Moxie
P.S. Please don’t embarrass yourselves tomorrow. I don’t think I could take another week of “The Cavs are the best team in the NBA”. That really burns me up, because they are my equivalent of the Tampa Bay Bucs. I really hate them! GO HAWKS!

FaceDaSadTruth

December 30th, 2009
12:34 am

Your Hawks are always gonna be the Hawks…decent once in a while, downright disappointing for the most part, and wholly incapable and unworthy of winning a title. Sounds like your loser $hitbirds? Of course, they do. At least the Braves did this cesspool of a city and their fair-weather fans a favor and actually won a title for a change(1 out of many chances in the 90’s)

bruceworthy

December 30th, 2009
12:57 am

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Brandon Ladson

December 30th, 2009
1:04 am

Chill out this is the NBA not the NFL there is a lot more basketball to be played we are not even halfway through so relax. Stop hating on Woodson to. He has in terms of age guys that are still 2 years younger than Lebron and they are still getting better this has been a process every year they are a better team by the end of the season this is not a sprint to the finish. Now Joe Johnson he can kick rock we should trade him for McGrady straight up both of their contracts are up this year. Joe has to know by now he is not getting a max deal and we might as well get a real superstar that has never had anything close to what the hawks have as a supporting cast. Joe is a good player but not consistent enough to be a great player. I hope this lights a fire under Joe’s ass but I doubt it trade him Belkin was right.

Eric

December 30th, 2009
1:23 am

I just don’t get it with Cleveland, on paper the Hawks match-up with this team. Then the game starts and Joe can’t handle Delonte West, Josh gets out hustled by Anderson Varejao, and Hortford lets Zydrunas Ilgauskas look like Larry Bird. As for the fans in Atlanta, worst in America just don’t have any faith in their teams. That 21-9 record, I know about 24 teams in the N.B.A. that would love that record right now!!!

Friend of Lebron's

December 30th, 2009
1:32 am

CAWWWWW CAWWWWW go Hawks

Dr. Warren

December 30th, 2009
3:29 am

The Hawks can possibly get past Boston, but no Orlando or Cleveland.

joe for 3

December 30th, 2009
4:21 am

Woody’s T after the Josh Smith foul, turning point. Show some restraint. The fourth quarter was ugly. We know the hawks love to run the court, but there were some costly turnovers when the team was pushing the ball.

JustaThought

December 30th, 2009
6:29 am

What! Where are all the “CHAMPIONSHIP” hawks fans…………The ones that was saying this team will be in the ECC………..Why does it seems like Cleveland is on cruise control for the year and the hawks are playing balls-out, and they still can’t get over the hump.

jource sourcer

December 30th, 2009
7:43 am

I went on line looking to buy a couple decent tickets and they were $250 a piece up to an absurd $1000 per so I bagged it because I just can’t get over how expensive a good seat costs. So I watched that joke of a 4th quarter on TV. Can’t believe people pay that much money to see crap like that.

Elvis DePressedly

December 30th, 2009
8:10 am

Why do all Atlanta teams do this? They build us up to think they can compete and then ALWAYS lose the game that will get them over the hump. ALWAYS. I’m tired of it. And the Falcons will lose to the Bucs this Sunday and the curse will continue. Guaranteed.

Mike Hunt

December 30th, 2009
8:12 am

FaceDaSadTruth – Phuck you.

bigclaude

December 30th, 2009
8:14 am

What you saw last night is exactly the reason the Hawks are not an elite team. Do you think for one second that the Lakers, Celtics, Magic, or Cavs would ever go without a bucket for 9 minutes in a spot like that? And the reason for that is they have legitimate superstars who would impose their will and never allow such a prolonged drought to happen. The Hawks do not have that legitmate “go to” guy for when the going gets tough. Joe Johnson is just what the team is and that is a notch below elite. They won’t be any better than fourth in the East as currently constructed.

BTW, DOES BIBBY EVER MAKE A SHOT??

Mother Teresa

December 30th, 2009
8:24 am

Why does anyone even care about the Hawks? They’re just a gang of grotesquely overpaid losers.

If they moved back to St. Louis, who would miss them.

trebor jaxon

December 30th, 2009
8:25 am

Yeah ok the Hawks didn’t show up…But neither did the Atlanta fan base. Typical ATL fanbase, no guts! We had LeBron and Shaq where we wanted them, looking flustered and confused. But the fans sat on their hands all night as if we expected to lose. I bought tix for my son’s 10th birthday and we were disappointed but we yelled our hearts out until the end. In Boston and Clevland the fans put the team on thier backs and will them to win. Yes Atlanta we can do that too, if we weren’t such fairweather jerks!!!! Just wait and see how the Cav fans respond to thier team tonite. Go Hawks, Falcons, Braves and Dawgs (to hell with Tech!)

dap01

December 30th, 2009
8:35 am

Good article Jeff. The only positive is that Cleveland looked very beatable. Cleveland wat not really impressive at all.

The Hawks simply choked. Al was scared to shhot, Joe shot terrible and Bibby look like he was afraid that he could not dribble without some stealing it.

Crawford is a player.

MVP23

December 30th, 2009
8:48 am

First, props to the fans of ATL. The fans showed up and gave it a championship try. Too bad the team did not. The bad news is that the cavs won when LBJ had his worse game of the season. What happens tonight when LBJ rebounds ?? Maybe he lays another egg ?? Don’t count on it ! Although the Cavs won… this game will motivate LeBron tonight and I see another double digit Cavs win. Too bad … hawk fans are legit !

krtlandpat

December 30th, 2009
9:05 am

It’s interesting to read how you guys think the Cavs looked average and beatable. Pretty bold talk considering the 4th quarter beat down you took. LeBron had an off night shooting but was two rebounds away from a triple double. The Cavs are far more balanced this year and the new players create matchup problems for everybody in the league. Ask Orlando, Miami, Phoenix (twice) and the Lakers if the Cavs are better this year. ATL has shooters but no heart. The Cavs have there number. See you in CLE tonight. We’ll see who looks average and beatable.

Chris Murphy, Atlanta, GA

December 30th, 2009
9:10 am

The Cavs did what a good team does: swats down any opponent with pretensions of grandeur, and grinds it into their faces (same as was done by the Magic and Lakers). The Hawks have the league’s attention, tonight will show whether they merit any respect.

Erin Andrews' Landing Strip

December 30th, 2009
9:11 am

Come on, Jeff, you know exactly what the Hawks need. Fire Woodson and replace him with the greatest coach in the history of Western civilization: Super Genius Paul Johnson.

Whack Hyder was Basketball

December 30th, 2009
9:14 am

They were walking all night. Nobody set a screen. Jump shots weren’t pure.

David Smith

December 30th, 2009
9:16 am

What frustrates me most about this team is that they just can’t seem to play at a high level when the spotlight is on them. I remember LeBron posing and dancing on the sidelines with his teammates in the midst of them whooping us on our own floor last year in the playoffs. The next 16 games will really show what these guys are made of and, if they can’t handle it then we will have to absorb another embarrassing spectacle in the playoffs yet again.

Jo

December 30th, 2009
9:20 am

Hawks could have executed much better in the 4th but MAN! There was horrible officiating and that for me was the most disheartning factor. If the Hawks would have gotten the fouls called (obvious ones mind you) against Cleveland for that 9 minute stretch, this would have been a much tighter game. As it was, your not shooting well, the refs are favoring the other guys, and the noose just gets tighter around the neck….having said that ATL can play with these clowns and need to get agressive and ignore the poor f’ing refs.

PMC

December 30th, 2009
9:22 am

They probably just were really tight. They need to relax and just play tonight.

Joe has to stop disapearing against the best competition. He needs to step up and be the superstar he is paid to be.

Crawford should just change his last name to MONEY. In all caps.

duane wade

December 30th, 2009
9:23 am

Win a championship with Joe Johnson LOL!!!

PMC

December 30th, 2009
9:27 am

Also….it’s freaking December. Let’s calm down a bit over one loss.

If they lost to New Jersey… I’d be worried. It just didn’t go thier way last night. It’s a long season and the Cavs are on a roll right now playing really good defense.

The Hawks have proven the last 2 seasons in the playoffs they can play with any team in the NBA come playoff time and now they have Crawford to pick it up when Joe and Bibby are flat. There is absolutely no cause for alarm. 21-9 is a solid start.

they get a chance to redeem themselves tonight. No need for any doom or gloom. They are fine.

www.nflteamstoday.com

December 30th, 2009
9:41 am

they should just go ahead and sign Vick already!

lmno

December 30th, 2009
9:43 am

Its one game.

This team earlier this season beat the Celtics on the road. The previous three seasons we were improving but had failed to beat an elite team on the road. Now we are capable of doing that. Also, we are capable of losing now and again.

Art Vandelay

December 30th, 2009
9:45 am

I can count on one hand the number of uncontested shots the Hawks took in that miserable excuse for a 4th quarter. Joe was dribbling into traffic with no plan once he got there; Al was shooting 17-foot jumpers over Ilgauskas; Josh reverted to the old whiny, pouty, non-hustling version of himself that we all suffered through for the first 4 years of his career. After 30 seconds of the 4th quarter, I knew we were done because of the team’s body language. Joe was hanging his shoulders because the Cavs had shut him down after his early outburst, Josh was doing what Josh does when something–anything–doesn’t go his way, and the rest of the team took their cues from the supposed leaders of this bunch and folded up the tent.

Personally, I’m so sick and freaking tired of watching Josh Smith melt down like a kindergärtner whenever he doesn’t get his way. Sure, the refs probably missed a call or two on him, but what he fails to realize is that until he starts showing the officials some respect and just plays his game the way he’s capable, they’ll NEVER give him the benefit of the doubt. Any borderline call will go against him for the rest of his career, because he’s built a reputation for himself as a player who refuses to accept any accountability for his mistakes, and would rather blame the refs when things go wrong.

Another performance like this tonight, and we’ll lose by 40 in Cleveland.

[...] some inane and profane race debate. After becoming aware of it last night from a reader (while I was covering the Hawks’ dreadful performance), I had to close commenting and eventually deleted about 60 [...]

Er1c

December 30th, 2009
9:48 am

Cavs are “average-looking”, right. How about that 4th quarter defense, not so average was it? Ask the Magic, Suns, and Lakers if the Cavs are average-looking. Can’t wait to see the Hawks in the playoffs again this season for another 4 game beatdown.

Scott K

December 30th, 2009
9:49 am

Average Cavs team? A team that holds a 12-1 team at home to 10 points in the 4th Q, and blows out the Suns and the Lakers on the road is NOT an “average” team.