Before the game, Mike Woodson spoke of the need for an increased level of commitment if his Hawks are to win the Southeast Division. Afterward, Josh Smith said this:
“It’s kind of frustrating when you don’t even give yourselves a chance. We didn’t really come to play today.”
The Hawks are a good team that comes to play most every game. This was an exception, an egregious one. They lost by 18 points to the sub-.500 Miami Heat on a night when Dwyane Wade scored eight points under his average. They lost scoring 27 points in the first quarter and 49 thereafter. They assured themselves of being in second place in their division at the All-Star break, which is not where they want or need to be.
Woodson pregame: “We’re right where we want to be. We’ve closed the gap on the top three teams, and now we’ve got to make a serious push and be committed. After the All-Star break, we have to really concentrate on trying to win our division … Somehow we’ve got to try to get the second spot [in the East].”
Woodson postgame: “We had a just awful fourth quarter [12 points] … We had a good meeting right here [after the game]. We talked about how we’ve got to be committed these last 31 games.”
No, Jamal Crawford didn’t play — he woke up with a sore shoulder — and neither did Zaza Pachulia. But the Hawks lost by 18 points on their floor to an indifferent opponent. There’s no excuse for that no matter how many subs you’re missing. There’s no excuse for letting Miami reserve Daequan Cook score as many points in 65 seconds as your entire bench did in the game.
Even good teams have lousy nights, but this was a particularly lousy time to unleash this. The Hawks had won a tough game over a good young opponent in Memphis on Tuesday, and they had a chance to head into the break on a four-game run. Instead they authored one of those bewildering efforts of pre-breakthrough days.
The Heat threw up a little zone defense and the Hawks could manage only 27 baskets in 48 minutes. Joe Johnson needed 21 shots to score 16 points. Marvin Williams needed 11 shots to score 11 points. The game was tied with 8 1/2 minutes left, whereupon the Hawks managed but five points — five! — the rest of the way.
Said Al Horford: “We just gave it away. But this could be good for us in the long run — it could get us refocused.”
The first 50 games of the 2009-2010 season were better than we could have dreamed. The 51st was worse than we could have imagined. It would be wrong to let one rotten effort overshadow the good work of the past four months, but there cannot be any more losses like this if the Hawks are to take the Southeast and claim the No. 2 seed in the East. The stakes are higher, and the margin for error thinner.
This team has a chance to play for the Eastern Conference title, but the next 31 games will shape the postseason. (Will they have the homecourt edge in two rounds, or just one? Will they get Cleveland in Round 2, or someone else?) Even as we salute these Hawks for having come so far, we cannot help but look on this one game and say: That was a performance culled from a past we hoped had been buried.