Hawks find a perfect playoff pairing: victory and humility

Josh Smith congratulates Joe Johnson after his jumper helped seal a win (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Josh Smith congratulates Joe Johnson after his jumper helped seal a win. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe if a team comes out and blows the doors off an opponent in the playoff opener, it gets lulled into a false sense of security. It takes a 22-point lead at the end of the first half, makes a sandwich in the second, rolls to an easy victory and starts to think, “Bucks, Magic, Cavaliers: You are mere specks of dust on my cashmere on the way to the finals. Away with you.”

Well, there is good news. The Hawks are 1-0 in this postseason — and there is no chance of them getting cocky before Game 2.

They led Milwaukee (minus Andrew Bogut) by as much as 23 points in the second quarter, only to see that spread shrink to seven in the fourth. They settled for a 102-92 win at Philips Arena.

Victory and humility can be a wonderful pairing in the playoffs.

“It’s a good thing,” Al Horford said later. “It keeps us on edge. Last year against Miami we blew them out in the first game, and I think guys got a little complacent. They won the second game and made the series tough for us.”

Good memory. The Hawks dumped the Heat by 26 points in that series opener, then actually dropped the next two games of the series. It took seven games, but the Hawks finally advanced.

Al Horford and the Hawks' front line dominated in the first half. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Al Horford and the Hawks' front line dominated in the first half before the Bucks closed the middle. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

This series isn’t expected to go seven games. Expectations are higher. The Hawks won 53 games. Maybe network executives already are planning marketing campaigns around LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard for the Eastern Conference finals. But Atlanta kinda thinks this thing is wide open.

When players arrived in the dressing room for practice Friday, each had a photo copy of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, which is given to the league champion, taped to their dressing cubicle.

Coach Mike Woodson also has a miniature version of the trophy on his desk. He brought it into the locker room Friday and put it on a ledge, just below the white board, for his pep talk.

“He basically said, ‘This is what we’re here for,’” guard Mike Bibby said.

“What are you in it for if you don’t have big dreams?” said Josh Smith. “You’ve got to think the unthinkable. That’s how you’re going to be successful: not just going in thinking you’re going to win a series or two. When you’re in the postseason, you’re in there for one reason, and that’s to win a ring.”

That’s how the Hawks looked at the outset Saturday. They ran and jammed and stuffed the ball inside, taking advantage of Bogut’s absence. They shot nearly 62 percent in the first half (26-of-42). Milwaukee also took 42 shots, but made only 16. Actually, Brandon Jennings made eight of 14. The rest of the Bucks made eight of 28.

“We played as good a first half as we played all year,” Woodson said.

But in the second half, the Bucks’ defense toughened in the middle. The Hawks had a hard time adjusting and cooled off just enough to make it a game. Only some timely jumpers by Mike Bibby (19 points on 8-of-9 shooting) and a couple of defensive stops prevented catastrophe. Jennings finished with 34 points. But he had 32 points through three quarters before being held to a deuce in the fourth on 1-of-5 shooting.

So the Hawks made two statements: 1) They can be really good; 2) They can be really average.

This kind of thing can create doubts. Perhaps that’s why there are still some disbelievers in this city. Maybe that’s why there were a couple of thousand empty seats in the upper deck, even though it was announced as a sellout. Right up to game time, there were tickets for sale on the Web site, StubHub.com, for as low as 89 cents in the upper level.

That’s right: 89 cents. Maybe it was Throwback Night?

“Wow — 89 cents. Really?” said Smith.

He said he noticed the empty seats, but added, “I hope next game they’re filled.”

But he was more concerned about the game.

“We have to come back and play with that same sense of urgency we played with in the first half,” he said.

Humility shouldn’t be an issue.

Recent Hawks posts

We’re LIVE from Hawks-Bucks (and tickets for 98 cents?)

As Hawks open playoffs, what’s acceptable to you?

Joe Johnson says playoffs need to be his time to shine

Hawks apparently have some convincing to do

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and on Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

63 comments Add your comment

wesleywhatwhat

April 17th, 2010
9:34 pm

JSS

April 17th, 2010
9:35 pm

Closer than expected? Nah, not by me!!!

Jeff Schultz

April 17th, 2010
9:43 pm

JSS — How are you with lottery numbers?

JSS

April 17th, 2010
9:53 pm

A very family friend won a half-a-million on scratch off in the last month and a half! Good luck by extension, and my Mom is home after 3 weeks in the hospital… Small victories, big victories, they are all relative as you know so well… Atlanta, RISE UP!!!

JSS

April 17th, 2010
9:55 pm

And that is “a very good family friend!”

JSS

April 17th, 2010
9:56 pm

I guess urinate is “shellshocked?”

falcondawg

April 17th, 2010
10:02 pm

Tickets on StubHub for Tuesday’s game start at $3. Must be inflation

Jeff Schultz

April 17th, 2010
11:03 pm

JSS –You mom being home from the hospital is worth more than the scratch off ticket, I’m sure you know.

Jeff Schultz

April 17th, 2010
11:04 pm

Falcondawg — Wow. This is crazy. I mean, I know about the economy. I live in the economy. But it’s the playoffs!$3?

LouFan

April 17th, 2010
11:18 pm

Humility is correct Jeff.

I really hope they have learned that focused basketball, is championship basketball. They were doing great the first half. Ball movement, points in the paint, and good defense. They came out cocky in the second half and got a rude awakening.

Yet, what I like about this is that the Hawks kept them back by seven and if you watched the Cavs and Bulls… The Cavs did the same. Even though I feel ESPN is biased, I understand why they make those statements. It is because of our history and throwing away games. To be respected you have to earn respect and we still haven’t made it to the ECF.

I feel that the Hawks needed this and I agree that it will cause them to come out the second game and make heads roll.

Lets go Hawks!

Dawgs2010

April 17th, 2010
11:20 pm

Jeff, You people(The Media), never seen to understand what a major pain-in-the-arse it is to drag a family to downtown Atlanta to watch a game. Traffic is always a NIGHTMARE even on the weekend. There are always so many different events scheduled for the same day and sometimes, in the World Congress Center right next door.

Not to mention the vast army of aggressive “Homeless/Low-lifes”, which roam the streets and are always badgering you and your kids for some change with another sob story.

Also, it is ONLY the first round. Wake me when it gets interesting. The first round is comaparable to the first two rounds of the “Big Dance” before the Sweet 16 for good teams.

Jamaaliver

April 17th, 2010
11:30 pm

Jeff, the playoffs have become so watered down now. And I think this series is one of the least anticipated series in NBA history. Neither of these cities is exactly a basketball town, neither team boasts a recognizable superstar, and neither team is expected to legitimately contend for the championship.

This series is, sadly, an afterthought. And rightfully so. That’s why Game 2 will be on NBA TV instead of ESPN or TNT. Nobody outside of GA or Wisconsin really cares.

Fitten

April 18th, 2010
12:02 am

If we could trade solid Joe Johnson for superstar Dwayne Wade this summer, and find a wat to keep Crawford… But I suppose it is too early to think about next year

[...] Hawks find a perfect playoff pairing: victory and humility | Jeff … Do You Believe Imperfect Is Really Perfect? – Find Answers to this …Toledo's Dantin perfect in spring game – College Fantasy Football …Bulls finally win; a look at the race for 8th – Chicago Bulls …Md. racetrack to stay open, despite no card games – wtop.comPayments Council examines the card revolutionCash is 'king no more' as debit card payments soar » Bill Payments …“How can I start a homeschooling group?” | Education Info 101Azadea Group initiates launching of international retail brands in …What is the best way to divide baseball playoff tickets between 8 …North Sumatra Government Efforts to Decrease Digital Divide | News … View the Contact Powered by Video [...]

UGA owns you tasty bees..

April 18th, 2010
12:25 am

Ya know, maybe if Atl had a league leading “big man” i.e. shaq, howard, james, the “inevitable” may not be so…maybe sell out those 2,000 + upper deck seats. MAYBE, just maybe, get more than three bucks for those tickets..

JSS

April 18th, 2010
1:12 am

Jeff Schultz, modern Atlantans are like the kid who is always given everything, they always about what they don’t have! Speaking of my Mother (yep, it has always been worth more than any wealth or good fortune that I’ve had or accomplished to get out that hospital last week), she would work 8 hour shift at the Air Force Base here, get off work, stop by school in the elite suburbs where I was being bussed, check with my teachers on my progress. Then for 2 years, she would drive 180 miles a day between Macon and Atlanta to go professional mortuary school. Moreover, she would two to three times a month drive all the way back to Macon and pick me up and take to an Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Chiefs or Flames game. Drive me back to Macon in time to go work on the midnight shift. My Father died when was I 4 and a half. Now, she had help, great aunts, uncles, friends, acquaintances, and my dear sainted Godmother who acted as my 2nd mother until the day she died in 1988. While she was hospitalized last week, we watched the Hawks on Sports South (she believes cable TV is an unnecessary luxury at home). She said: “Don’t call traveling in the NBA anymore?” Between me splitting time between here and L.A., we’ve rarely had the chance to watch sports since I graduated from college and stopped running track, cross country, and road races. She rarely missed any of my races, even when I was in college in Michigan. Even if it meant driving 14 hours on her only days off. So excuse me if I can not “feel” for the person who believes it is a inconvenience to spend 5 or 6 hours in the company of “family and friends!”

JSS

April 18th, 2010
1:20 am

Sorry for typos and omissions, I pretty tired staying up cooking the meal for her church tomorrow and making she rests comfortably through the night…

[...] here to see the original:  Hawks find a perfect playoff pairing: victory and humility | Jeff … Hemmings Find of the Day – 1972 Ford Ranchero at Hemmings Blog …Do You Find That [...]

JSS

April 18th, 2010
1:21 am

JASon

April 18th, 2010
1:26 am

I love how the media keeps acting so surprised when a team blows a big lead. Hello, THIS HAPPENS ALL THE TIME IN BASKETBALL. They won the effing game, can we not be content in that?

Greg Paulin

April 18th, 2010
1:26 am

How many times are we going to hear these idiots tell us how they “relaxed”, “got complacent”, etc.? Really??? How dumb do you have to be to continue to do that when you consider how many times they’ve allowed teams back into games this season and lost quite a few of them due to poor 2nd half performances?

I admit that I was fooled today. That first half made me believe the Hawks might actually want to be a contender instead of a pretender this year. It only took about 5 minutes of the 2nd half to prove otherwise. And what was our lamebrain coach doing as the Bucks were erasing most of our lead in a matter of minutes? The usual – standing there with his mouth open looking like he’s just been lobotomized.

This series will be a huge struggle even though the Hawks proved in the first half that they are more skilled and athletic at almost every position. We’re looking at a repeat of last year’s playoffs….maybe they’ll squeak this one out in 6 or 7 and then they’ll either get swept…or maybe win one…against the Magic. Is that something to get excited about? Is that improvement?

Eric C.

April 18th, 2010
4:00 am

Jamaaliver…hey, the Bucks/Hawks rivalry was pretty strong back in the mid/late 80s in the old Central Division…Moncrief, Pierce, Nique, Rivers…exciting stuff. The Bucks/Hawks played each other in two consecutive great first round playoff series in 88 and 89. I guess that is 20+ years ago…I’m getting old.

Eric C.

April 18th, 2010
4:05 am

Greg…I have to strongly agree with you about Woodson. The lobotomy description is outstanding, ha. The Hawks have shown all season long that no lead is safe. And whether it is a matter of keeping sufficient focus or making adjustments…it ultimately boils down to your leaders.

Nite Owl

April 18th, 2010
7:48 am

I love how Cleveland wins by 13 and the national media calls it a “statement.” We win by 10 and “the Bucks have to be feeling good about themselves.”

The real Brandon Jennings showed up in the 4th quarter. Without him, this would’ve been a 30-point win. Once we locked him down, it was over. End of story.

To flip the “humility” theme, I’m glad Jennings went off early, because now he thinks he’s Kobe and will kill the Bucks in Game 2.

Happy playoffs, everybody.

Mark

April 18th, 2010
8:23 am

With this current team …NO WAY they win a second round, too inconsistent, no LEADER…Crawford is the best player, no contest

Kaz

April 18th, 2010
8:48 am

A win is a win. I agree. But once again, Mike Woodson coached in the second half very passively. He seems to not want to make the team mad, so he waits too long to get them back on track. The Josh Smith post up should have been used all game. Instead, the game became a stat filler game for everyone else. And stop going to iso joe when everything else is working well. Damn!

randy whittman

April 18th, 2010
9:09 am

Pi$$onaDAWG

April 18th, 2010
10:47 am

People will pay to see Howard or James, but there is nobody to watch in this game. Sad but True no SuperStars no Fans.

Come on Jeff

April 18th, 2010
10:55 am

Here we go again. “Atlanta fans suck. They can’t sell out playoff games.” I’m so sick of this Jeff and it’s sickening that you pull this out in the first round after an important victory. Quit feeding in to this crap. Move on bro. We don’t care. Its about the team, so stop trying to put on a negitive spin any chance you (the media) get.

shannon

April 18th, 2010
11:14 am

According to CNNSI.COM

• The Hawks need a killer instinct. They don’t have the one thing that Cleveland, Boston or Orlando possess. They’re too soft. The Hawks could have ended this game in the third quarter had they played like they did in the first half. Winning by 30 or 35 would have sapped the Bucks of any confidence they may have had. Instead, the Hawks got away from everything that made them so dominant and coasted through the second half, allowing Milwaukee to think it could actually win. Atlanta has a matchup advantage at almost every position except the point. They need to remember that and play accordingly.

j

April 18th, 2010
11:17 am

is it football season yet?

gdg73

April 18th, 2010
11:20 am

Teams make runs. So what? The Bulls came within seven of the Cavs in the fourth quarter. Guess who led the charge, Derrick Rose, the point guard. Sounds exactly like the Hawks game.

gdg73

April 18th, 2010
11:22 am

Responding to Shannon and the CNNSI.COM article:

Where was Cleveland’s “killer instinct” when the Bulls cut the lead to seven? and Boston, please!!!

Dawgs2010

April 18th, 2010
11:38 am

I wouldn’t have even went to the game if I had a front-row seat if it meant taking the train into the “Freaknik” crowd.

Gotta love the ATL!

shannon

April 18th, 2010
11:47 am

to gdg73, Obviously in the Nba you have runs but still the hawks when they have a big lead usually let their guard down and let the other team back in it.. I just hope when we get to the second round we will play a little harder against the magic..

wesleywhatwhat

April 18th, 2010
11:54 am

it’s the NBA, everyone makes a run.

that said, i’m not very confident in coach woodson’s ability to call a timeout, rally the team, make the necessary substitutions and stop the other team’s inevitable second half run.

heartofdarkness

April 18th, 2010
11:55 am

Hawks seemed to have a plan to start the game; move the ball to where there is a mis-match with the defender. With Milwaukee, the Hawk player was longer than his defender and could score from the low post. The strategy produced a lot of high percentage shots and a big lead. Predictably, Skiles made adjustments at half time that produced better shots for the Bucks, including turning up the defensive pressure to stop the easy feed of the low post. Playoff basketball normally anticipates 2nd half adjustments on the fly, Since the Hawks had not seen how the Bucks would respond to the Hawks opening strategy, they simply reverted to their hierarchy offense: JJ shoots until he can’t get a shot, then Crawford shoots until he is stopped and the ball is moved to an open shooter on the 3 pt line or to Horford in the paint. This is the style the Hawks played in the latter part of the season and was good enough so the Hawks only lost the 2nd half by 12 points.

As the teams reveal themselves and the adjustments they will make, the coaches will attempt to exploit less obvious weaknesses and the players will demonstrate their capacity to expand and contract their roles according to plan. I don’t think we learned anything significant from this game other than that Skiles has the ability to force the Hawks to adapt, but his team should become more dangerous as their confidence in the direction at the top grows. And this is Woodson’s challenge.

RomeDawg

April 18th, 2010
12:08 pm

JSS,

You’re mom sounds like an amazing lady.

Seems to me the Hawks are missing “it”. I don’t know what “it” is but they don’t have “it”. They’ll probably beat the Bucks in 6 and get whooped by Orlando in 6. I would hate to be Sund because I am not sure what is missing, but something is amiss. I am sure the talk of FreakNik killed any chance of a good crowd coming to Phillips. Who would want to deal with all the extra traffic and crime that have traditionally accompanied that event?

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2010
12:16 pm

Come on Jeff — It’s not like wrote an expose on it. Fact is, a reader brought it to my attention so that illustrates the interest in it. I mean, seriously: You don’t think an NBA playoff ticket being sold for 89 cents is newsworthy?

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2010
12:19 pm

Dawgs2010 — I understand. I have a family. But I also know that if there’s a product people truly want to see and spend money on, they’ll do it. I remember all of the I-don’t-want-to-go-downtown arguments before 1991 when the Braves got good. They went 7,000 to sellouts. The thing is, the Hawks have a good product and they’re still not drawing like they should, at least not in my opinion and that of many. But it is what it is.

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2010
12:21 pm

Jamaaliver — A few of us were talking about that before the game yesterday — that the Hawks in the first round are suddenly, as you put it, “an afterthought.” How quickly NBA playoffs became old hat, huh?

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2010
12:26 pm

JSS — Your mother truly sounds like a special person. Stories like the one you just told make us realize how many people they touch in their lives. To me, that is how we all should be judged — by deeds, not by dollars; by actions, not by our stock portfolio. Sorry for getting kind of deep. But it really struck home with me a few weeks ago. Was talking with my sister after my mom’s passing and how many people attended the funeral and how they all had stories. Had one cousin who flew in from Paris at the last minute and when I told him that would be terribly expensive and it wasn’t necessary, he said, “I would crawl over barbed wire for your mother.” These are the people who make a true difference in the world. I count your mother in that group.

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2010
12:29 pm

Greg Paulin — Game 2 will be interesting. 1) Can the Hawks come out of the blocks like they did in Game 1? 2) Can they handle that situation any better? I think we’re going to learn a lot about this team next game.

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2010
12:30 pm

By the way, let add that the Bucks deserve some credit. Those guys play hard for 60 mins. They didn’t get down early when they were getting blown out.

rusty

April 18th, 2010
12:37 pm

jj scoring a lot of points will not make this team go. when he starts to play a lot of iso ball our offense shuts down. we dont need teaue in the game with bibby,joe or jamal. he cant be productive within this frame work. woody has some of the dumbest cobinations on the floor. i also like to see the bench play ,but he should know by now you cant sit horford & josh at the same time. this man will never get it right.

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2010
12:47 pm

Rusty — I agree, Joe doesn’t have to lead the team in scoring every game. The point of the piece I did on him the other day was that he does need to make the key stop, the key play, the key shot when necessary. Great players are defined by postseasons, as even he said. But, yeah, that doesn’t mean he needs to pour in 37 points.

Tom

April 18th, 2010
12:57 pm

Dawgs2010, Don’t know what you are talking about. Traffic wasn’t bad at all saturday. The freeways were completely clear even with all the events going on this weekend. Parking was easy to find down around phillips as well.

I liked how Joe stepped up and took on the challenge of guarding Jennings in that 3rd quarter. He made two key stops I believe and had made some timely shots down the stretch.

j

April 18th, 2010
3:31 pm

Dawgs2010, if all fans thought “its only the first round” then the Hawks wouldn’t have much home court advantage, now would they? tickets are cheap for a reason, to sell out and make these guys know that the fans are behind them. without the fans energy in the first round, there will be no second round, retard.

j

April 18th, 2010
3:37 pm

niteowl, i’m with you on that … the Cavs/Bulls first game was very similar to the Hawks/Bucks … Bulls made a HUGE comeback, just like the Bucks BUT people once again try to bash the Hawks on the Bucks comeback. who cares about a superstar when you have almost 3 all-stars on the team … i’ll take three all-stars over one superstar …

give the bucks credit, jennings was HOT … for a time, it felt like evey shot he was taking was going down. i was talking to my buddy at the game, and asking him why the heck we kept trading baskets. jennings was pissing me off, we couldn’t stop him!

j

April 18th, 2010
3:49 pm

one more comment … to those of us that were there for game 1, the crowd was electric … even if there were empty seats, you wouldn’t have known from the noise. shame on us for not packing this out fully, especially with the huge discounts out there. yes, i was deterred somewhat b/c of freaknik but i read the news before i even went downtown and the news reported that police were out in full force. it does not get better than a playoff game and for the city that has seen a drought of NBA playoffs for so long, here it is, stop making excuses. every basket brought a roar from the crowd, a white towel spun in the air and a high five to your neighbor. who cares if its the Bucks, it was almost as electric as the Celtics playoff series but with less fans.

if you’re on this blog complaining about why you’re not coming to the games, you probably weren’t going to attend in the first place so move aside for the people who are coming and who are supporting their atlanta hawks.