Orlando – The Hawks really believed they had a chance to steal Game 1, but the only crime committed here was fraud. The East’s No. 3 seed performed as if it were back in its glory days of Billy Knight burning lottery picks on guys named Williams.
The Hawks were tied after 14 minutes. Ten minutes later they trailed by 20 points. And it would — oh yes, it would — get doubly worse.
It’s no easy feat to trail a Round 2 playoff game by 41 points having played only 36 minutes, but the proud conquerors of Milwaukee managed it. They were down 85-44 after three quarters. And I say it again: This is why so few folks outside Atlanta, and many folks in Atlanta, don’t take seriously a team that won 53 games this season and has survived a Game 7 in each of the two springs.
The Hawks tried really hard those first 14 minutes. Then the home team got going, and the visitors decided trying to play sound basketball really wasn’t worth the effort. So they ceased and desisted.
Joe Johnson kept losing the ball. (He had four turnovers against five points the first half.) Jamal Crawford looked scared. (His first half: Two points, two points.) And Mike Woodson’s grand scheme to control Dwight Howard worked for a little while, but the sheer weirdness of it — deploying the forgotten Jason Collins before the NBA’s sixth man of the year and the ancient Joe Smith in the first quarter — undid the team it was supposed to bolster.
The Hawks were so consumed by trying to bump and bedevil Howard they stopped running any semblance of an offense. (Collins made a basket and seemed shocked.) They scored 23 points in the first quarter; they managed 21 in the next two. They tried to go Iso-Joe and that didn’t work, so everyone decided to hoist jumpers. And the lead grew — it would peak at 112-66 — and the humiliation deepened, and the East’s No. 3 seed became something a No. 3 seed should never be: pitiable.
Joe Johnson wasn’t the only Hawk lacking this night — the line forms on the left and stretches to Daytona Beach — but he’s supposed to be the go-to guy, and he wasn’t. Not for lack of trying, though. He looked off an open Al Horford on the baseline in the second quarter to take a fadeaway jumper, which missed. In the third, the game long gone, Johnson started to pass to Jeff Teague and then, for the heck of it, shot another. Missed again.
To reiterate: This is the No. 3 seed, not the No. 8. Even if the Magic are superior — certainly a prima facie case can be made to that effect — they shouldn’t be 43 points better. But the Hawks keep going on the road in postseason and laying these dinosaur eggs and then wondering why we don’t give them credit for being a big-time team.
“This was uncharacteristic of us,” Johnson said afterward, but it was perfectly in character. This is a team that has played 13 road games the past three postseasons and has lost 11 of them, 10 by at least 19 points. Even if this was the most egregious, it was simply the continuation of a regrettable pattern.
Just when you think the Hawks have a chance to do something really good, they offer up a loss that makes you wonder if they’re any good at all. Yeah, yeah – it’s only one game and it still could be a long series, but the more the Hawks keep doing this the harder it is to write off one bad loss. Because there have been so many.
“It was frustrating,” Horford said. “Guys were trying, but we got a little distracted. We should be past that. We’re a good team. They’re not 40 points better than us.”
No team should be, the but Magic were in Game 1. Numerically, it was the worst playoff loss the Hawks have absorbed since moving to Atlanta. The only surprise was that it wasn’t the worst loss in the history of basketball. Because that’s how it smelled.