A chilling thought: What happens if the Hawks DON’T win?

Dan Gadzuric exults after scoring. Josh Smith says, "Gadzooks." (AP photo)

The legendary Dan Gadzuric exults after scoring. Josh Smith says, "Gadzooks." (AP photo)

Milwaukee — I don’t think they’re going to lose, but you probably shouldn’t listen to me. I didn’t think the Bucks would win more than one game, and I believed the Hawks would answer the Game 3 embarrassment with Game 4 atonement. And they did play much better. But they lost again, and in many ways that’s more troubling than anything that happened in Game 3.

The Hawks should be at peak capacity. They’re young but playoff-seasoned. They have two All-Stars plus Josh Smith plus Jamal Crawford, who will be named the NBA’s sixth man of the year this afternoon. They spent last summer retaining and augmenting a core that reached Round 2 in 2009, and they won 53 games this season. They should be poised to go even further this time. But what if they lose to the Bucks?

“It’s a three-game series now,” Mike Bibby said late Monday night. “You never want to go to a Game 7. We let them back in it.”

The Hawks stopped defending in Games 3 and 4. They yielded 107 points Saturday, 111 Monday. Billy Knight’s grand design — draft a bunch of tall guys who can defend any position — was put to rout by the smaller Bucks, who ran their guards off high screens and forced bigger Hawks to chase them.

The signature moment of Game 4 was Al Horford, an All-Star center, trying to defend Brandon Jennings, who’s the quickest guy in the league. The result: Another Jennings drive, another Jennings runner, another ego-deflating basket off penetration. The Bucks, whose center hasn’t played a minute, outscored the taller Hawks 44-26 in the lane.

Josh Smith finished second in the voting for defensive player of the year, but up here he forgot all about textbook rotation: He was slow closing on 3-point shooters in both games. And the killing trey Monday came from Carlos Delfino, left open in the corner because Joe Johnson, the Hawks’ best player, didn’t run to him after the Hawks tried to trap with their halfcourt run-and-jump.

The rule of thumb is that teams defend better in the playoffs because they’re desperate. The Hawks have shattered that concept. They’ve been wrong-footed at every turn, and now they have to win Game 5 on Wednesday just to keep from facing elimination at the Bradley Center on Friday. Five days ago this didn’t seem much of a competition. On Monday, even Mike Woodson was moved to note: “We’ve got ourselves a series now.”

Bibby: “They’re playing good right now. They’ve got a great coach. They’ve played us tough. They’re fighting.”

Of those four sentences, how many apply to the Hawks? Woodson has been through the playoffs and taken an NBA title as a Detroit assistant, but he hasn’t gotten a better team — and the Hawks are clearly more talented — to lock in the way Scott Skiles has. In Games 3 and 4 the Bucks kept finding open shots, while the Hawks approached every position as a degree-of-difficulty challenge.

Afterward one Hawk was heard to wonder why Mo Evans, not known as a scorer, wound up shooting (and missing) on three consecutive fourth-quarter possessions with the Bucks’ lead down to six points. There’s no answer except to say: That’s what the Hawks do. When in doubt, they don’t look for the open man; they look to shoot. And that’s always the harder way.

“I definitely think we’ll win [the series],” Johnson said. “We’ve been pretty good at home. But we can’t bank on that.”

The greater point: At this stage in their development, the Hawks shouldn’t have to be bailed out by their homecourt. They’re the No. 3 seed. They should be able to take a game on the road. But they gave a better account of themselves in Game 4 and still trailed the final 39 minutes.

And now we must ask: What if they lose the series that appeared a walkover? Their coach’s contract expires in June. Their best player is set to become a free agent. We all cheered when they re-upped Bibby and Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia last summer, but the cold truth is that Bibby is much diminished and Zaza is Zaza and Marvin is the Hawks’ sixth-best player.

Say they lose in Round 1. Do they break the bank to keep Johnson? Do they hand the team back to Woodson? If not, then to whom? Do they turn the leadership of this team over to Josh Smith and Al Horford? How much backsliding would that entail?

Me, I really don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think this is as good as it’s going to get for these Hawks. Because this isn’t good enough.

288 comments Add your comment

MN Possum

April 27th, 2010
7:14 am

tiger7_88

April 27th, 2010
7:16 am

We didnt’ ALL cheer when they resigned Marvin Williams, Mark.

Oh no… far from it.

(First?)

Not Don Waddell

April 27th, 2010
7:17 am

Josh Smith an absolute p*ssy. They are all a bunch of whimps, and Mike Woodson is an incompetent boob. Sickening. Who gives a damn if they lose anymore? They are not worth our caring. They will not learn. They simply will not learn. Enjoyed the run Joe, will hate to see you go, oh-oh-oh. Al, I thought you were a championship player? You are getting PUNKED by a worthless old fart named Kurt Thomas? How are you not totally embarrassed? You are 10 times better than Thomas was 10 years ago. WAKE UP, be a grown man. Sickening.

The Boss

April 27th, 2010
7:19 am

Defend and pass the friggen ball!

Cat Shabazz

April 27th, 2010
7:19 am

Don’t give up on this team yet. Defending the perimeter and rotating against a faster – smaller line up is this teams weakness. Give the Bucks credit. Hawks will win this series and be better for it. Should win the next seires too – then meet Cleveland – which will be a difficult matchup for ATL. One game at a time. This team has really improved – great season.

dawgma

April 27th, 2010
7:28 am

How can the team I loved to watch last Tuesday suck so bad 1 week later – COACHING!

Woodson is being shown the door by Skyles. It’s the coach baby – always has been since the “new” Hawks started their run 2 years ago. Scotty wiould have wrapped this baby as the Hawks coach last night.

JeJe

April 27th, 2010
7:37 am

El Bravo

April 27th, 2010
7:39 am

I can’t help but think that Woody won’t be coming back. This team will get blown out of the second round in four games (if they make it there…)

Roundfield on Roundball

April 27th, 2010
7:43 am

In the series no one is watching — If the Hawks cannot beat a mediocre Bucks team (even with Bogut, they’re not in the league’s top ten) – it’s a franchise crushing embarassment. For Hawks historians, it’s eerie. Remember, Lenny Wilkens’ 50 win team going down to Paul Mokeski’s Bucks? But, look at the bright side … if they do play a game 7 Sunday, ABC will actually have to carry the game. Somebody get Mike Breen a media guide, just in case.

bring out your dead

April 27th, 2010
7:44 am

I was so disgusted that I turned back to the Braves game.

BIG MISTAKE!!!

Walker, Texas Ranger

April 27th, 2010
8:04 am

This team is at the end of the road. Even if they win the series, they will lose the next to Orlando. This team will not improve anymore or overtake the guys if front of them. It is time to blow it up. The only clutch guy in the group is Crawford and he is a 6th man. I would keep Crawford and maybe one other and trade the rest. All draft picks, no players unless it is a one year salary dump. The Hawks don’t have a post season stud just regular season whimps. BLOW IT UP

Walker, Texas Ranger

April 27th, 2010
8:05 am

Pdub

April 27th, 2010
8:05 am

The only positive to come out of ATL losing this series would be Mike Woodson being let go. ATL has the talent to at least compete with Orlando or Cleveland, yet they own the Hawks and have for some time. Woodson’s offense is a joke (I don’t even know what his offense is outside of just letting players take guys one-v-one).

[...] to Mark Bradley down in Atlanta, Jamal Crawford is set to receive the NBA’s 6th man of the Year award.  Jamal, who broke his [...]

Biggdawg33

April 27th, 2010
8:06 am

Is it me, or is it the fact that Atlanta is a choke town? The Hawks have talent, but can not finish off a playoff series. Braves just can not win. We have to get excited that the Falcons finally finished back to back seasons of being over .500, but they did not go back to the playoffs this year.

I am a Georgia-born ol’ boy and have been supporting all of the teams, except for the North Avenue Trade School. It is getting old.

Shug

April 27th, 2010
8:09 am

I’ll worry about the Hawks if they lose the series. In the meantime, how bad are the Braves? Should Cox be allowed to finish the season, or is this gonna be one of those “the Braves owe it to him to let him leave on his own terms.” And Jason Heyward, at least Frenchy had a couple of real good seasons before he flamed out. Yikes.

john seamans

April 27th, 2010
8:11 am

alot of similarities between hawks and braves. niether team can play defense and neither team can hit.

Brian

April 27th, 2010
8:18 am

Where are the Hawks..this should be there starting lineup…Teague, Johnson, Smith, Hartford, Collins…with a rotating bench of Crawford, Zaza, Williams, Bibby and Joe Smith…man they pay these coaches millions for nothing..you have to be able to adjust..play playoff basketball and I just dont see that..Yes I agree, bad moves in the offseason retaining Bibby and Williams…couldve at least got Camby in a trade for them two that would have gave us an legit center. But the bottom line is the players have to play they have won 53 games this season with this team and are 3rd seed in the playoffs they should be able to win road games..I see a lack of focus like they have already won something. This is where coaching steps in..well shouldve stepped in in Games 4 and 5 but you know how that goes. Everyone needs to be held accountable on this one..Im just shaking my head hopefully I want have to bury if the Hawks wind up losing this series!!!

Marty

April 27th, 2010
8:22 am

Who cares. Orlando is sitting home resting. Whoever wins is going to get swept by them. The hawks are pathetic just like the braves. I root for them to lose. No point in continously being let down year after year.

braves choke again

April 27th, 2010
8:23 am

Woodson has served his purpose. He was patient and developed a young team, but its time for a change. The Hawks need to bring in an butt chewer for a coach. Either he will make men of Williams and Josh Smith or they can hit the highway. Joe Johnson will not be worth the money he will ask for….he’s not a leader. Jettison him and bring in a leader. He won’t have to be as talented as JJ to make it work.

Art Vandelay

April 27th, 2010
8:25 am

No matter how this series ends, I unfortunately have to now accept that Woodson is just not the right coach for this group. I’ve rationalized supporting him for countless reasons over the past couple of years, but when a team plays this poorly EVERY SINGLE TIME it’s on the road, that points to a serious problem with confidence and preparation — and that starts at the top. How is it possible that a road crowd could rattle this team so much? One of the Hawks said they were “caught off guard” at how loud the Bucks fans were in Game 3, which is one of the more disturbing statements I’ve heard…you didn’t expect the Milwaukee fans to be just as loud for their team as we’ve been for you? Ridiculous. This team looks completely lost on the road, and I see no signs that they’ll figure the problem out this season. If (and when) this series ends up going to a seventh game, that should be the final factor in Sund’s decision to look elsewhere for leadership next season. Absolutely no excuse for losing to a team that’s missing its starting center and was never that talented to begin with.

O'Brien

April 27th, 2010
8:25 am

Mark,

Marvin might be the team’s sixth man, but based on dollar value, I would put Mo Evans ahead of him.

If this team does not make it to round 2, then I think Woody’s contract should not get renewed. Because that would signal to me that he has taken them as far as they can go. He deserves credit for where we are, and its not his fault the players are playing so poorly, especially on defense.

But we’re healthy, and more talented, and we’re still losing (outplayed and outcoached) on the road. Woody can’t seem to figure out a way to get the players out of their road funk. Again, its not all his fault, but as the HC, he has to take some of the responsibility.

Isn’t that part of the reason they did not renew the Thrashers coach’s contract?

For a potential replacement, I would interview the assistant in Boston (Thibodeau – sp?).

Regardless of what happens though, Hawks need to resign JJ. I also think they should resign Chills, and try to find a taker for Marvin.

TONE

April 27th, 2010
8:30 am

they are done if they do squeak by the bucks orlando is rested and orlando knows how to win on the road , so they will be swept in the next series , I am afraid that JJ leaves and we keep Woody, I don’t think JJ gets enough credit (i know he is an all star but our fans don’t appreciate him as much as they should) but unless we can land James or Wade (not happening) we have to keep JJ and get a new Coach

Cat Shabazz

April 27th, 2010
8:32 am

BandWagon Chumps! This team has improved – and will win this series. Orlando and Cleveland represent the best in the league – and ATL has closed the distance.

Whatever the result is of the next series – which we could win – it would be wise to keep as much of this team together to further their development.

Did Fratello and D. Wilkens ever get past the second round?

Justin

April 27th, 2010
8:33 am

This series is already a big disappointment. The only redemption that could be found would be for the Hawks to win game 5 and close out in Milwaukee this weekend. I really doubt that happens. Bucks have the momentum and Hawks are back-pedaling. Game 5 is basically an elimination game for them now because if they lose a third straight they will just capitulate in game 6. And if the Hawks lose this series to the undermanned Bucks, there is no way that Woodson is back. For that matter, JJ probably shouldn’t be either.

ga boy in milwaukee

April 27th, 2010
8:34 am

Don’t feel too bad Hawk fans. The Hawks superior talent will win in seven games, but the difficulty of the series truly exposes the weakness ………coaching. Scott Skiles may be the best coach in the league but Woodson would just be an assistant on most teams.

dap01

April 27th, 2010
8:34 am

Not impressive at all.

bj rufino

April 27th, 2010
8:34 am

Come on guys, let’s win! We can beat these bucks. Just keep believing.

bigeasy830

April 27th, 2010
8:38 am

Marvin Williwms gives them nothing, he is a waste of a starters spot. he plays decent once every 10 to 15 games, then he reverts to his old self of being nothing. I don’t care about the argument of what his scoring average would be on a bad team, he is nothing on this team. J Chill gave us so much more than Marvin. J Chill would have signed for the money that Marvin makes and he is so much better. J Chill could actually defend. You all made an argument saying Marvin was such a good defender, well I have never seen it in him. J Chill could run the offense, Chills a great ball handler and ran the offense against the Celts in that play-off series when the Hawks made runs against the Celts. J Chills has heart, he plays with fire and desire, Marvin is soft. Marvin was a mistake when we drafted him, just like Sheldon was, well we let Sheldon go, its time to do the same for Marvin. That mistake was made we can’t undo it, but this kid must leave Atlanta, everytime I see him on the court giving us nothing, I keep thinking of what could have been, and Please resign J Chill.

Marty

April 27th, 2010
8:41 am

Just find other teams to root for and root against the atlanta teams. It makes it more enjoyable and you are right 75% of the time for the team you want to win!

Bob

April 27th, 2010
8:44 am

Lets face it Hawks fans we will never win a big game with Mike Woodson coaching our team. Why was Mo Evans in the game in the 4th quarter shooting every time he touch the ball and missing every shot? Why was Mike Bibby not in the game during that time? He was hot the entire game, makes big shots, and is a great shooter!! I don’t understand Mike Woodson coaching. We got beat by a 40 year old undersized center. We made Kurt Thomas look like an all-star. The only reason we win the series is because have home court, but we wont make it past the second round again. Get rid of Woodson, he is holding us back.

Kerry

April 27th, 2010
8:44 am

If Joe J was so good like some say, we would win a game on the road against an inferior team. He’s overrated. Where is the big clutch shot? Bricks off the backboard? Come on. He’s overrated and it’s better for him to go.

Atlanta teams

April 27th, 2010
8:45 am

I used to listen to sports radio constantly, watch every Braves, Falcons, & Hawks game, and read every Atlanta sports article on the internet. I haven’t seen a Braves game this year, had to look up who Falcons took with 1st pick, and watched maybe a quarter of Hawks last night. My life has remained the same so I don’t think that’s it. I suspect it’s the same ol’ same ol’ from these teams that simply gets old after awhile. At some point, it’s hard to stay fired up about organizations that make stupid moves and wonder why they don’t win. Here are some obvious poor decisions:

1- Braves should have retired Cox years ago while they were still competitive. A good manager wins at least 3 rings with the talent Cox had. Instead, John S told fans they should be happy with Division titles not World Series titles. Thanks John.
2- Hawks should have fired Billy Knight before he could blow more draft picks on S Williams, M Williams, and any other strong forward coming out of college. Spirit Group were too blind to see his idiocy but the fans did. Hmmmmmm
3. Falcons should have “promoted” Rich McKay out GM role from the beginning. He made countless bad decisions, J Mora, P Price, overpaid K Brooking, J Anderson, and ………. can anyone think of a good move this guy made?
4. Thrashers haven’t made one decent decision in club history. Their time left in ATL is dwindling.

How do these stupid moves and incompetent people happen when fans on blogs like these see the mistakes well before the teams do? It’s a bit disheartening and quite frankly has resulted in my becoming less invested in our teams. Apparently I’m not alone as tickets are still available for tomorrow night at the highlight factory.

PMC

April 27th, 2010
8:46 am

You do have to take your hat off to Scott Skiles for absolutely OWNING the Hawks the last 2 games without 2 of the best players on the team.

John loves Mike

April 27th, 2010
8:49 am

Enter your comments here

ccrider

April 27th, 2010
8:49 am

So, they lose this series or against Orlando, what’s really the difference. If there are any knowledgeable Hawks fans out there that actually thought they could win a championship this you year, well, you have become delusional. A good team, yes, a grgeat team, no.

EW

April 27th, 2010
8:56 am

Exit stage left Woody and Joe if we don’t win this series.

EW

April 27th, 2010
8:57 am

MB remember when I posted how great it felt the morning after the Hawks dominated in game one and the Braves won a thriller…well, the honeymoon’s over I guess…back to scratching and clawing to stay relevant.

Peter

April 27th, 2010
8:57 am

This team has been exposed and it has not really improved over being 2nd tier. New coach, Marvin gone, and a real point, and a real Big is what we need.

The ownership group will have to sell, and leave for this team to really be a contender.

Atlanta is a horrible sports town

April 27th, 2010
9:00 am

“What happens if the Hawks DON’T win?”

Um, they’ll be in line with the Braves and the Falcons. Teams that were good but found a way to blow a series.

Herschel Talker

April 27th, 2010
9:02 am

hahahahaha. The Hawks suck. hahahahaha

Dave

April 27th, 2010
9:04 am

Perhaps this is a silly question, but why are basketball road games so difficult? In baseball, ballpark dimension and layouts, and types of hitters’ backgrounds vary; in both baseball and football you have weather considerations, variations in turf quality, and outdoors vs. domes, and a team can often be assembled that fits its home environment. A savvy football crowd can time its noise to disrupt the snap count. Basketball is not like that- the dimensions are always the same, the game is always in an indoor environment. What’s the real difference between your home crowd screaming at the top of its lungs for you when you’re trying to score, and a road crowd chanting “DE-FENSE!”? Are basketball players so sensitive that they crumple because the crowd is “yelling at them”? I don’t get it.

RB

April 27th, 2010
9:06 am

until Woodson learns how to use young talent and his 7 footers to foul other bigs, this team will not go far. He is to set in his ways.

moorman

April 27th, 2010
9:11 am

the hawks are who they are. they are still not a good half court team because bibby plays too high ( 3 point shooter) and doesnt set up his team mates. joe johnson stops any movement with his isolations, josh smith for some reason, scheme, whatever, winds up with the ball out in 3 point land too often, looking for someone to pass it too, marvin williams is just goofy, crawford is nice, but has to get out of a rhythm by giving it back to joe, zaza is zaza, woodson needs to go or get better offensive assistants. on defense, the bucks just are out scheming them like you said mark. the thought was that the only team that was a clear mismatch would be orlando with howard inside, but these last two games are giving teams a clear blue print on how to beat the hawks.

Blue

April 27th, 2010
9:12 am

And the Academy Award goes to ……………. Kurt “Flopping” Thomas. What a joke. Terrible officiating last night. That being said, the Hawks are one of the most frustrating teams to root for. I was screaming at the T.V. last night! I stated on this very blog a month or so ago that the Hawks would be eliminated in the first round by either the Heat or the Bogut-lead Bucks. However, several bloggers made good points of how the Hawks are so good at Phillips and would eventually prevail in a seven-game series. Now, I’m not so sure. How are you down by almost 30 points (Game 2) to a team that is missing its two best players (Bogut and the forgotten Michael Redd)? And be honest, albeit more competitive, I was never convinced that the Hawks would pull out the victory last night after the first quarter. The flow of the game was just in the Buck’s favor.

Here’s hoping that they pull out the victory in Game 5. If not, we return to Milwaukee for a decisive Game 6, which means the road-impaired Hawks will be on vacation sooner than anyone expected.

gtm

April 27th, 2010
9:15 am

Our strength in this matchup is supposed to be inside. We got pounded in the paint. The movement on the switching defense is way too slow, and the Hawks look like the Matadors. They’re always expecting someone else to be behind them. There is a simple rule of defense: stay between the ball and the basket. The Hawks often guard the side of the ball, leaving a path to the basket, then wave the red cape and get out of the way. We got wiped out by switching F/Cs onto Gs the ENTIRE GAME and made no adjustments.

The Hawks show no passion, only whining. Joe is playing great (and in the playoffs!) but he can’t motivate anybody. Near the end of the game we just ran down the court and whoever had the ball made some ridiculous move, was still covered by one or two guys, and launched up the longest two-pointer possible.

If we even make it through this series, Dwight is going to be giggling and tickling Jameer on the sideline as Gortat pounds us inside and Jason Williams scores 30 points.

This team is at its ceiling. I’d put the chances at about 1% that we come out of the East. The handling of the Joe situation will determine the next course of this team. And Woodson absolutely has to go.

I'm Gumby, dammit!!

April 27th, 2010
9:15 am

Marvin Williams is the Hawks sixth best player? I’m not so sure about that. He was awful last night, not that that is unusual or anything. As for Bibby, Jennings made him look slow and old. Maybe it’s time to let Jeff Teague out there.

MICKEY MOUSE

April 27th, 2010
9:16 am

woodson REMIND’S ME OF MY FAVORITE DISNEY CHARACTER…..GOOFY!!!

roundball coach

April 27th, 2010
9:16 am

The Hawks can’t guard a dead man. When it gets to, not running back on defense, not stopping driving lanes and not taking charges, you have problems, and right now the Hawks have those problems.

Westurd

April 27th, 2010
9:17 am

Marvin kills me………….seriously, I just died!

Someone take Marvin out with this mornings trash