Let’s start with the obvious: The Orlando Magic are better. They have a center. They have a point guard. They have a roster of players with complete sets of working organs, and isn’t that a novelty?
But sometimes things happen in sports that make you declare, “Push the button and blow the whole damn thing up.” This was one of them.
In a home playoff game, in an obvious desperation game, in a game where the Hawks had an opportunity to show us what substance they were made of, they collectively screamed, “Goo.” They didn’t score. They didn’t defend. They didn’t rebound. They didn’t compete.
We saw better performances when bodies were being jettisoned and the roster was all about 10-day contracts and cap space.
Down 2-0 in their second-round playoff series against Orlando, the Hawks tossed on a little seasoning, propelled themselves onto a rotisserie and told the Magic, “Flip the switch.” They trailed by 10 points after one quarter, 19 after two and 24 after three. A small gathering of fans at Philips Arena stuck it out until the end of Saturday’s 105-75 loss, perhaps hoping it would earn them some sort of refund.
Sorry. Payback will have to come in the afterlife. If you need to know what that’s like, just ask the Hawks. They’ve flat-lined. They’re down 3-0. Their backs aren’t against the wall. They’re on the floor.
Wait. It gets worse.
Al Horford, the best hope this franchise has for a leader, openly questioned his teammates’ heart.
“Effort. Effort — that’s all it is,” he said. “Guys can say all they want about coverages and all this. But it came down to effort — [not] going for loose balls early in the game, missing rebounds when they missed shots.”
And then: “It’s frustrating. I’m not the kind of person who’s going to go out there and point people out. I’ll let them know. But you’re not going to see me cursing somebody out. They know what they have to do, and it’s frustrating when the effort is not there.”
Wait. It gets even worse.
Joe “Max Money” Johnson might have permanently torched bridges with both the Hawks and the city of Atlanta. On the court, he shot only 3-for-15 and scored eight points. In the past six games, he has shot 31.2 percent (30-of-96) and averaged 11.5 points. His scoring totals in the last half-dozen: 13, 22, 8, 8, 10, 8.
“These guys look to me for guidance, and when you’re playing like that, it’s almost impossible for us to win,” Johnson said.
He was half-right. Pretty sure his teammates stopped looking to him for guidance long ago.
Before these playoffs, Johnson was determined to prove he belonged among the NBA’s elite players. He certainly has removed all doubt, but not in the way he has hoped. Even Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said, “Yeah, we’re double-teaming him some in the post, but he’s getting shots he would normally make.”
How does Johnson follow this performance? He basically tells Hawks fans that he doesn’t care what they think.
The Hawks were booed often, including as they were leaving the court at halftime and after the game. When asked about this, the “team leader” unloaded this gem: “They don’t bother me. It’s about us in this locker room. We could care less if they showed up or not.”
Good news, Joe. The arena might be half-empty for Game 4 on Monday night.
It’s the Hawks’ worst home loss of the season.
It’s their worst home playoff loss in franchise history.
If nothing else, coach Hawks coach Mike Woodson gets points for best summation: “Tonight was just non-existence.”
He looked defeated afterward. He looked like he knew the end was coming — for both his team and himself.
If Johnson has made a loud statement in this postseason about what he is worth, what kind of statement has Woodson made? He was outcoached by Scott Skiles in the first round and so far by Stan Van Gundy in this round, if for no other reason than Van Gundy is getting maximum effort out of his players.
Do Hawks’ players look like they’re fighting to save their coach’s job?
It doesn’t matter that Orlando is better. It matters that Orlando is the only team that showed up. The other one has checked out.
Earlier Hawks posts