Cleveland – Just because they’re playing with house money doesn’t mean the Hawks have nothing to lose. And that’s what Mike Woodson tried to tell them after they were beaten by LeBron James’ team by 27 points in a sobering Game 1.
“We’ve played our way to this point,” Woodson said before practice Wednesday, “and you never know when you’re going to be in this situation again.”
And what had the coach done after Game 1? He’d yelled. Said Woodson: “I kind of lashed out a little bit last night after the game. [The players] don’t want to see me right now. I’ve got to go talk to them.”
It’s fine to set specific goals, even finer to meet them. But what happens when you do what you intended and still have games to play? Do you – picking up the house money image – double down and dare even more greatly, or do you smile benignly and slip your money in your pocket?
These Hawks said they wanted to improve their record, have the home court edge in Round 1 and advance to Round 2. They managed all of the above. To lose now to the top-seeded Cavaliers in a competitive series would be no disgrace. But they don’t want to be embarrassed four games running. That would cheapen them and their accomplishments. That would leave what has been a most palatable season with a sour aftertaste.
Said Joe Johnson after Game 1: “We need to play with a sense of pride. That second half, we kind of gave up … We need to act like we want to be here.”Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
The weird part was that Johnson might well have been talking to himself. He took only 10 shots in Game 1, half as many as LeBron. Afterward Johnson and Woodson spoke of the Cavs’ double-teaming defense, but after further video review …
“We made plays out of the double-teams,” Woodson said Wednesday. “I didn’t think that hurt us as much as I thought it did.”
Put simply, the Hawks’ best player had another tepid playoff game. And with Marvin Williams in obvious disarray and Al Horford no lock to start Game 2 – his ankle stiffened Tuesday and he didn’t practice Wednesday – the Hawks are already at a manpower disadvantage. Mo Evans and Zaza Pachulia and Flip Murray can’t offset LeBron James. Among Hawks, only Johnson can manage that.
Woodson yet again: “We need to move the ball side-to-side more, and that’s on me. I felt like I didn’t help the team the way I should have.”
This series, however, stands to be more about mindset than tactics. The Hawks must decide if they’re willing to pay the heavy price to trade blows with LeBron’s forceful team. They must decide if a series victory over Dwyane Wade was enough for one spring. If that’s how they feel, Round 2 will end in four deflating games.
But, should they choose to meet fire with fire, they could win a game or two and do themselves even prouder. Just because they’ve gone where the Hawks have rarely been doesn’t mean they should stop now. And who knows? They could get lucky. They could scare the Cavs as much as they frightened the Celtics a year ago. But they can’t do it if they don’t try.