Oh, the clever puppet-master that is Larry Drew. The night before the Hawks meet the Miami Heat for the second time, he directed the Hawks to play three of their worst quarters of basketball of the season against the 9-29 Sacramento Kings, only to pull out a victory at the end.
Don’t you just know this was all part of a master plan to lull LeBron James and the Heat into a false sense of security?
“Yeah, we know Miami’s playing possum with all of those injuries,” Jamal Crawford said, laughing. “That’s why we’re kept Marvin [Williams] out and we went back and forth with Sac.”
OK, maybe not. The Hawks defeated Sacramento 100-98 Monday at Philips Arena. They took their first lead with 6:41 left on a Joe Johnson jumper. They won it on a pair of Johnson free throws with six-tenths of a second remaining. So maybe there was just a little bit of looking ahead to the Miami game Tuesday night.
It’s only a January game but the Hawks are forever looking to measure themselves against the league’s elite. That’s one reason Drew’s head exploded Monday. Despite the impressive 27-15 record, the Hawks haven’t earned the right to cruise against anybody. He watched his players follow a dreadful game against Houston with an even worse defensive effort against the Kings, which was finishing a six-game trip. They trailed by 10 in the second quarter. Parties broke out in Sacramento.
Drew peeled paint at halftime, blistering the team. It was until the fourth quarter that the message sank in.
Afterward, the coach called his players that dreaded four-letter word: soft.
“We came out soft,” he said. “We played soft across the board. If you play like that, you get a reputation around the league. ‘When you play the Hawks, you can bang them.’ We can’t have that.”
There was also this: “I told the guys that was embarrassing. Not playing with a sense of urgency, not giving that team respect.”
Motivation shouldn’t be an issue against Miami. The Hawks played Miami tough Dec. 4, despite missing Johnson. “You get up for these games, especially the way we lost down there,” Jamal Crawford said.
“I’d be lying if I said this was just another regular season game,” Johnson said.
The best thing the Hawks may have going for them right now is Johnson. He scored a season-high 36 points on 16-of-27 shooting and is close to all the way back from elbow surgery. (Johnson and his adjustment to Drew’s offense will be subject of a column Tuesday.)
The question is, which of Miami’s $100 million players will play? James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all missed practice Monday. Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said Wade (ankle) is probable the game, but James (ankle) is a game-time decision and Bosh (knee) is doubtful.
“I’m sure they’re all gonna play,” Al Horford said. “And if they don’t, too bad for them.”
Regardless, the Hawks need something they didn’t show Monday. An early pulse.
By Jeff Schultz