Hawks show their best side in desperate times again

Jamal Crawford and the Hawks finally celebrated a first-round win and now can look ahead to Orlando. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Jamal Crawford and Hawks finally celebrated first-round series win Sunday. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Their slogan this season, plastered all over billboards and cheer towels, has been, “Now You Know.”

Not too sure about that. If the Hawks’ first-round playoff series against Milwaukee proved anything, it’s that we really don’t know. They just were taken seven games by a dented team missing its best player.

Do we know what they can be? Yes. Play defense and share the ball like they did in the last two games of their playoff series, and the Hawks will be a tough out in the next round. If Milwaukee did it to them, they can do it to Orlando. But is it possible to have a high degree of confidence after watching this team visit both ends of the spectrum so frequently over the past two weeks?

“I definitely have a sense of what kind of team we have,” Josh Smith said on Sunday after the Hawks finally cured themselves of the Milwaukee Bucks. “We just can’t test ourselves all of the time. We were down and that’s when guys stepped up and started doing things right. We’ve got to have that from Game 1.”

Al Horford was the Hawks' best player in Game 7 and throughout the series. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Al Horford was the Hawks' best player in Game 7 and throughout the series against the Bucks. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The Hawks have only one shot to beat Orlando: Play desperate. We didn’t see that often enough in the first round. We certainly saw it after the Bucks won three straight to go up 3-2. There’s something wrong with that.

Desperation keyed the defense in the last two games. Through the first five of this series, Milwaukee was averaging 97.4 points and shooting 46.3 percent from the field. In the next two, they averaged 71.5 and 32.7. Shooting becomes significantly more difficult when defenders are fighting to get past screens and actually trying to get in somebody’s face, as opposed to just assuming a teammate will pick them up in ill-fated switches.

The Hawks won 95-74 on Sunday at Philips Arena. This came after they won 83-69 on Friday in Milwaukee. That followed the Bucks scoring 107, 111 and 91 points in the three previous games.

Josh Smith got into early foul trouble but played a strong second half. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Josh Smith played a strong second half to clinch win. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Now you know the Hawks. Their ceiling and their floor.

“Sometimes it looks like we need to have a challenge,” Smith said.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence what happened the last two games – we had no choice,” Marvin Williams said.

“We were in a desperate situation,” Mike Bibby said. “I think we took them a little too lightly after the first two games. Being up [2-0] and playing our game and them not having any answers, we looked at it like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna get through this pretty easy.’ And then when they came back and beat us in Game 3, we knew we were in a series. When they had our backs against the wall, we weren’t ready to go home yet.”

You find out about players in Game 7s. We found out again about Al Horford. He easily was the Hawks’ best player Sunday (16 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, three blocks), and for that matter in this series. Smith had a strong second half after getting in foul trouble in the first. Williams was solid. Zaza Pachulia was solid. Jamal Crawford led them in scoring again (22).

Joe Johnson? Not so much. When he asks for a max contract after this season, Johnson would be well advised to not include Sunday’s game tape. He was good defensively, but max contract players don’t get paid just for that. They also don’t get paid for scoring eight points (4-for-14) and being largely invisible for four quarters.

Two of Johnson’s points actually put this game away, but it was Smith who made the play. Smith blocked a Brandon Jennings shot that could have cut the Hawks’ lead to 12 and started a fast break that Johnson finished, putting them up by 16 with nine minutes left. That was it.

After the Hawks finally rid themselves of  the Bucks, Jennings looked ahead to the next round against Orlando and cracked, “I hope we didn’t tire them out.”

The Magic swept their series against Charlotte. They have been sitting for a week. If nothing else, the Hawks have given them something to think about. Game 1 would be a good time to play desperate again.

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

Earlier Hawks posts

LIVE from Hawks game (and Bogut ‘active,’ Jennings ‘frisky’)

Hawks show some resolve in win over Bucks

We’re LIVE from Hawks-Bucks (and is this the end?)

Hawks down 3-2 but Skiles hardly looks satisfied

Poll time: Where would Hawks’ collapse rank in history?

Gearon is mum on Woodson but expects Hawks ‘to go far’

119 comments Add your comment

Eric

May 2nd, 2010
5:52 pm

Eric

May 2nd, 2010
5:53 pm

I’m just getting back in from the hawks game…love the atmosphere in the arena! Awesome game!

jcwfalcon

May 2nd, 2010
6:08 pm

FEAR THE DEER!!!

JFun

May 2nd, 2010
6:11 pm

Way to go Hawks! Brandon Jennings – you are all class, man, and you can come play for my Hawks anytime! Nice job Hawks fans! Couldn’t be there today but ya’ll made us proud!

RT

May 2nd, 2010
6:17 pm

Herschel Talker

May 2nd, 2010
6:20 pm

Schultzie:

Kudos on a great comeback. But here’s the thing: the Bucks were missing their best player and are a group of clowns. This kind of sleepwalking and picking it up at the last moment when it matters won’t cut the mustard against good teams. Again, this is indicative of Woody being a terrible leader and a clown. If the Spirit give this buffoon a contract just because his team managed to screw their heads on straight at the last minute, then mediocrity will continue to reign with this franchise.

HT

G-Money

May 2nd, 2010
6:20 pm

Great win. Now moving on to the next series, it has to be all about defense and effort. If the Hawks show up with energy and effort, they really will have a chance to advance.

@DanWeiner

May 2nd, 2010
6:20 pm

You hit the nail on the head with one word:

Desperation.

That sums it up for these Hawks. If they play that way starting Tuesday night, Orlando is in for a dog fight. If their minds wander they’ll lose by 25.

Tim Pilgram

May 2nd, 2010
6:21 pm

Well it took the Hawks seven games to do it (beat the Bucks) and if they play like that against the Magic, their season is all but OVER… they got to step it up ten-fold!! Atlanta’s Achilles heal is going to be Dwight Howard and his size. Who is going to stop him… Nobody! Here is proof with a preview of the series: http://www.lionsdenu.com/nba-playoffs-eastern-conference-semi-finals-preview-and-predictions/
Dwight Howard will truly show why they call him Superman… Magic in 5 or 6 .. who you got?

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observor

May 2nd, 2010
6:22 pm

The Hawks will be lucky to win two games in the next series as they can’t match up against Orlando and have been owned by them the last two seasons.

Enjoy it while it lasts, because the season will be over in less then two weeks….

O'Brien

May 2nd, 2010
6:26 pm

Jeff,

JJ has struggled mightily the last 3 games. In game 5, he was 6-16 (38%), and he fouled out. In game 6, he shot 8-24 (33%), and today, he was 4-14 (29%)

If the Hawks had lost today, his stock would have taken a hit, because that would mean that he had 3 bad games in a row, and his team did not advance to the next round.

However, fortunately for JJ (and for Woody), we get to play against Orlando. If the Hawks play well, then I think our first round struggles will be forgotten.

And although we were able to beat Milwaukee with JJ struggling, we will need his A game if we want to beat Orlando.

JuneBaby

May 2nd, 2010
6:36 pm

a bunch of overly critical bandwaggoners. it’s always fire woody, or the hawks stink, or something else. even after big wins, the focus is on the negative. why even waste your time? no one wants to hear that. after a big win, people want to celebrate the positive, namely advancement to the second rd of the playoffs! congratulations hawks, the same thing can be done to orlando. “Just Do It”.

DCHawksFan

May 2nd, 2010
6:38 pm

Stop with all the negativity. This team will be okay if they play hard and focus. Two of the losses to Orlando were on the second half of road back to backs after playing tough teams like Boston on the road. I hope you bandwagon fans have something better to do with your time than to complain about the Hawks and then show up at Phillips with your Lebron/Kobe reversible jersey twice a year. I’m loooking at your “observor”

DCHawksFan

May 2nd, 2010
6:39 pm

+1 to JuneBaby…I posted before I saw that comment.

BugKiller

May 2nd, 2010
6:49 pm

If this team wants to give Johnson a max contract without first contacting Miami about trading Johnson and Williams for Dwayne Wade and a warm body, then they deserve the yearly second-round exit.

This franchise has no chance of winning anything substantial with a heartless, dispassionate player like Joe Johnson being the number 1 option.

But a team with Wade, Horford, and Smith will take the division away from Orlando and has a chance to steal the East from the LeBrons on a yearly basis.

Joe Johnson = No intensity, no passion, no heart.

Dwayne Wade = HOFer, refusal to lose, plays hurt, all heart, intense, and passionate.

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Dawgs2010

May 2nd, 2010
7:00 pm

Who knows? Anything can happen if we steal a game in Orlando. Having a week of rest is over-rated. The Hawks are play-off conditioned and are now ready for a dog-fight.

After game 5 we all wrote them off for dead. They have nothing to lose at this point. They are playing with house money.

MitchC

May 2nd, 2010
7:10 pm

I was very proud of the way the Hawks played in Games Six and Seven. They showed a lot of character and heart when they were down.

Jeff mentioned playing desperate in an attempt to win the Orlando series. I would have to agree. Honestly, I will be shocked if the Hawks beat Orlando. Dwight Howard and company are clearly the superior team. The Hawks will need to contain Howard, and play 110% all series. They cant afford to have the lapses they did in Games 3-5 against the Buckies.

My prediction for this series : Magic in five. I think Orlando will win the first two in Orlando, and that the Hawks may steal a game in Atlanta, but that it will end in Orlando after five games.

I dont want to be negative. I’m just trying to be realistic.

If not Joe, who?

May 2nd, 2010
7:15 pm

You can make the case that Joe doesn’t deserve max, but if you let Joe go, who do you replace him with?

Cousin Vicker

May 2nd, 2010
7:35 pm

My personal opinion/prediction:

The Hawks take one of the first two in Orlando to get us believing they can take this series

They promptly lose Game 3 and homecourt advantage.

Win game 4 to make it a series.

Lose games 5 and 6 (6 will be excruciatingly close).

So Orlando in 6

Jeff Schultz

May 2nd, 2010
7:42 pm

Herschel Talker — Wouldn’t quite call the rest of the Bucks clowns (I’d take Jennings in a heartbeat) but you’re right about their best player (Bogut) being out. On Woodson: I’m guessing ownership/Rick Sund haven’t made the decision yet.

Jeff Schultz

May 2nd, 2010
7:42 pm

Jeff Schultz

May 2nd, 2010
7:44 pm

O’Brien — Joe actually was 2 for 12 today until making his last 2 shots (one of them being that layup on a fastbreak). But you’re also right about him having a chance to redeem himself now.

Jeff Schultz

May 2nd, 2010
7:46 pm

Mitch C — Nothing wrong with being realistic. I don’t think that makes you negative at all. It would be at least nice to see the Hawks be competitive, however, even in the games they lose. To me, that’s the test.

Jeff Schultz

May 2nd, 2010
7:47 pm

If not Joe, who? — That’s a loaded question. There’s a blur of sign-and-trade possibilities, in addition to free agents. Obviously if you subtract Joe, you add somebody else. But there’s no reason to get into that right now.

Ole...OleOleOle

May 2nd, 2010
7:55 pm

Count me amongst the naysayers who did not believe the Hawks were going to pull it out after the Game 5 loss. I truly believed they did not have the mental toughness to win Game 6….and still had my doubts if they could win at home in Game 7.

Congratulations to Woodson & Co.

P.S.
I still don’t believe they get past the Magic.

For cryin out loud JEFFY

May 2nd, 2010
7:55 pm

So where does the Hawks flop in round 1 rank Jeffy? Please enlighten us with your knowledge and wisdom…

shane

May 2nd, 2010
7:59 pm

So where does the Hawks flop in round 1 rank Jeffy? Please enlighten us with your knowledge and wisdom…

They won dummy.

For cryin out loud JEFFY

May 2nd, 2010
8:01 pm

Exactly my point Capt. Obvious, can’t get anything passed you…

Carlos

May 2nd, 2010
8:03 pm

Jeff, I truly believe if Woodson would start Bibby, Johnson, Smith ,Horfod at 4 and Pachulia at 5 it would create mismatches that would benefit the Hawks. Teague, Evans, Crawford, Williams and Joe Smith could come off the bench. Your thoughts? If you agree would you mention this to Woodson? The current starting 5 does not match well against the Magic..Just thinking outside the box and trying to help our team :o )

shane

May 2nd, 2010
8:03 pm

Exactly my point Capt. Obvious, can’t get anything passed you…

Thanks man

Greg

May 2nd, 2010
8:12 pm

The Bucks are the 2nd worst shooting team in the NBA. They miss a lot against everybody when you make the proper effort to try to guard them. To their credit, the Hawks did that over the past two games.

Orlando is another story entirely. They aren’t going to miss easy looks like the Bucks did. They’ve got one of the best, if not the best, big man in the league and they’ve got at least four guys who could very easily burn the Hawks switching defense repeatedly from 3.

My guess is that the Hawks need to win at least two vs the Magic and be competitive in the majority of the losses for Woody to have any shot at being retained. Makes sense that this series will be much like the regular season matchup between these two teams – one close win for the Hawks and the rest being not so close victories for the Magic.

The Magic will be out to send a message in game one. It will be a 20-30 point win for them unless Johnson and Crawford both go off to keep it close.

That’s my realistic view of things. In fantasy land, I’d like to think the Hawks will “turn the corner” and win in 7.

cdog

May 2nd, 2010
8:13 pm

WOODSON IS HERE TO STAY! ALL HATERS LEAVE ATL

Tim

May 2nd, 2010
8:18 pm

Maybe the three straight losses will end up being a good thing for this team. If they had swept, they may have gone to Orlando thinking a little too highly of themselves and be down 3-0 in Round 2. Hopefully, this team will take those three losses as a good wakeup call and keep up the good defense.

Grumpy

May 2nd, 2010
8:19 pm

Boston went the distance with Atlanta, and then won the title. The outcome of one series means nothing in the big picture. Atlanta needs to study what went right the 4th time they played Orlando, and eliminate what went wrong the first 3 times they got drilled.

A close, competitive loss in 6 games would still signal improvement over last year. A 4 or 5 game drubbing would not.

I love what Charles Barkley said on 790 this week – you don’t pay max money to a guy who can’t get you to the next level. To me, the next level is the NBA Finals. I love Joe, but he’s not going to get us to the finals. So it’s not sensible to invest $100 million in him, especially when Al is going to (rightfully) command max money in about 2 years.

Greg

May 2nd, 2010
8:25 pm

Woodson has won 2 playoff series in 6 years in Atlanta. Both of those series win were in 7 games against lower seeded teams. He was incredibly fortunate this year in that the Hawks had no significant injuries yet quite a few of our regular season opponents and our first round playoff opponent had key injuries when the Hawks faced them.

The Hawks when on talent and athleticism alone. They outhustle and outexecute very, very few teams. When they get punched in the nose, they rarely punch back. Yeah, let’s keep Woodson forever.

Greg

May 2nd, 2010
8:25 pm

“win” on talent and athleticism alone…

Jonathan

May 2nd, 2010
8:33 pm

Nice to be one of only 5 teams – albeit the same 4 in the East – to make the Conference Semis for the second straight year. Sixth straight year we’ve increased our regular season wins. Great comeback for the Hawks after Game 5 disaster! Hawks fans should be very happy and give credit even to Woodson.

Now we have the problem of facing a team that is drastically different than the Bucks. Pounding the ball inside – which was the best strategy against Milwaukee – will only work if we get Howard in foul trouble. Bibby probably cannot handle Nelson and Joe will have to guard Carter. Nevertheless we are going to have to run alot; try to create the fast break- something Mo Evans could not do the other night and probably the reason Woody benched him since the 1st half Friday night. What we will need is Zaza and Marvin to step up. If Jamal can play like he did in the last two games, I think we have a chance.

jgsbrids

May 2nd, 2010
8:34 pm

great win! play hard and see what happens in orlando. if you get down 20–take a lesson from the bucks–keep battling and fighting-you can still win the game. go hawks refuse to lose!!!

SWAT Native

May 2nd, 2010
8:45 pm

I love that picture of Woody on the front page. It’s like he’s saying, I need YOU to sell out the Highlight Factory for tte second round. Won’t be any more $30 tickets, either.

LouFan

May 2nd, 2010
8:47 pm

I am just glad I get to see at least 4 more games of Atlanta basketball before the season ends. We will not know what tomorrow brings, but hopefully they will find courage and heart by game one. Orlando is a great team. This is David and Goliath here folks, lets see what the Hawks can do. Lets see if they can redeem their horrid first round performance.

Jeff Schultz

May 2nd, 2010
8:50 pm

JEFFY — huh? You talking about the blog last week? If so, everybody was talking about how bad losing three straight to Milwaukee was and how embarrassing it would be to lose this series. So I did a blog asking, if that happened, how bad would that rank in Atlanta sports history. It was a pretty popular blog from what I recall.

Jeff Schultz

May 2nd, 2010
8:52 pm

Carlos — I can’t say Woodson changing the starting lineup. But I would be stunned if, at the very least, Joe Smith doesn’t get more playing time off the bench against Orlando. They need someone to bang bodies with Dwight Howard.

Darrin "The Vent King"

May 2nd, 2010
8:55 pm

It’s not being negative or a bandwagoner, it’s called being realistic. Good win, but the Hawks HAVE TO play this way every minute of EVERY game against the Magic. Of course it can be done, but will it be done? You can not help but wonder that. Kudos to Jennings and those pesky Bucks who played collectively played like Scott Skiles did when he was in the league- like pit bulls. No need for them to hang there head at all. Now it’s time for the Hawks to show up and blow up this playoff picture by playing CONSISTENTLY on the defensive side of the ball- that is the only chance they have vs the Magic for if they go into those usual unusual lulls they will end up buzzard meat fast. Having said that I will wish the best for them….GO HAWKS!

heartofdarkness

May 2nd, 2010
8:57 pm

Hate to say this, Jeff, but the winning formula today was the same as it was coming out of training camp. Maybe a whole season is too long to play with intensity but certainly the playoffs aren’t, and maybe the ability to focus and follow the team’s plan is what separates the contenders from the champs.

Carlos

May 2nd, 2010
9:01 pm

Jeff, Horford at 4 and Josh at 3 would really give us an advantage over the Magic. I am conceding the match up at 5. We are pretty even at 1 and 2. Your thoughts?

JSS

May 2nd, 2010
9:09 pm

I said it was going to be tough, but I felt that in the end the Hawks would have more weapons… Vindication! They have HUGE huevos!

Is BugKiller still talking? Please!!!

O'Brien

May 2nd, 2010
9:11 pm

Jeff,

I also expect RandMo to get some PT.

JeJe

May 2nd, 2010
9:17 pm

I’M SO TIRED OF HEARING ABOUT HOW IF THE HAWKS PLAY UP TO THEIR ABILITIES THEY CAN BEAT ANYONE. THAT STATEMENT IS MEANINGLESS. ANY TEAM IN THE NBA CAN SAY THAT

FIRE WOODY