The Hawks on the road: Will the blowouts ever cease?

Stop me if you've ever seen these faces before. (AP photo)

Stop me if you've seen these bright smiling Hawk faces before. (AP photo)

Orlando – The first reporters into the locker room after Game 1 were treated to a strange tableau: The Hawks were comforting themselves by reliving past blowouts. “We lost to Miami by 26 [in Game 6] last year,” Mo Evans could be heard telling teammates, and if any team can cite blowout precedent, it’s this.

Evans’ point was that the Hawks beat Miami in Game 7, and that if such a two-day turnaround was possible then, why not now? Why not answer a 43-point loss, the worst in Atlanta playoff history, with a who’d-have-believed-it victory in Game 2 here Thursday?

“This is still going to be a long series,” Mike Woodson said after practice Wednesday, and somehow it didn’t sound like utter wishful thinking.

The Hawks can get pounded; this we know. They’re 2-11 on the road over the past three postseasons, and in only one of the losses (Game 4 in Milwaukee) have they come within 19 points. But they’ve also won two best-of-seven series — won two Game 7’s, let’s recall — and last week they survived an elimination game at the Bradley Center. No matter how it sometimes appears, they are not a terrible team.

The question, then: Why do they so often play like a terrible team? Why haven’t they once made a significant playoff comeback away from Philips Arena?

“We get down and kind of bury our heads,” Woodson said. “At home we don’t do that. At home we come back and win. I still want to say we’re a team learning how to win, but surely it can’t be that lopsided.”

Shaquille O’Neal famously dubbed Stan Van Gundy, now the Magic’s coach, the Master of Panic. The Hawks, alas, are the true masters of panic. In a sport built on runs, they never answer an opponent’s surge. (At least not on the road.) They stop defending to specifications. They stop passing the pass. They go jump-shot crazy, and few substantial comebacks are ever fueled by jump shots.

Much of this has to do with Joe Johnson. When in doubt, the Hawks go Iso-Joe. Sometimes it works, but those times tend to come at home. When it doesn’t work — when Johnson dribbles to excess and then shoots and misses — it looks awful and the other Hawks get antsy. So they start shooting, too. And wind up getting obliterated.

“We have assembled a team here of talented players who can do a lot of things,” Woodson said, but too often it comes to one man dribbling and the others standing. That method has taken the Hawks from oblivion to Round 2 of the playoffs, so we can’t say it has failed. But it fails on the road in the playoffs, and the postseason is now the measure of this team.

Woodson: “If we can just be competitive for four quarters and then go home and handle our business, anything can happen. But it can’t be lopsided.”

Alas, it usually is. Nobody seriously believes the Magic are 43 points better than the Hawks — the best team in the NBA isn’t 43 points better than the worst — but Game 1 was a reversal of such immensity that it all but washed away the good feeling from the Milwaukee series.

Woodson plans to tweak things for Game 2. He’ll revert to his usual substitution pattern, as opposed to making 12th man Jason Collins his first sub, and will activate Randolph Morris to have another big man to use against Dwight Howard. He’ll have Joe Johnson guard Vince Carter and — good luck with this — let Mike Bibby try Jameer Nelson. But tweaks alone won’t override a 43-point spread; Woodson’s players simply must be tougher.

We can’t really say the Hawks have no heart. Were that the case, they’d have been eliminated by Milwaukee. What they lack, even in this third playoff go-round, is the mental toughness to keep playing smart basketball when the opponent is flying and its crowd is roaring. The best they can offer is to note that, what the heck, they’ve been blown out before. And that’s weak.

109 comments Add your comment

the dream

May 5th, 2010
2:40 pm

First from seattle!

mike

May 5th, 2010
2:40 pm

first! and get avery johnson in here and someone needs to smack josh smith. thanks!

Greg

May 5th, 2010
2:49 pm

Woodson sounds like he is repeating what management has told him the team has to do in order for him to keep his job….at the very least, “be competitive on the road and win at home”. Strike 1 last night and surely the last two strikes will follow before this series is finished.

A team is a reflection of their coach – if the Hawks don’t have the “mental toughness” to respond to adversity, it’s because they don’t have a coach who can give them the confidence and ability to overcome that adversity. It’s partially a chemistry issue, but it’s mostly a coaching issue.

Rheumatism

May 5th, 2010
2:50 pm

So true Mark. Why do we play so different on the road? It’s the NBA! If you want to be an elite team you have to be able to win on and off the road on a consistent basis…

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley, Brenda. Brenda said: :( RT @MarkBradleyAJC: The Atlanta Hawks on the road: Will the blowout losses ever cease? http://bit.ly/cMAPfr [...]

nola hawks fan

May 5th, 2010
2:54 pm

thanks for writinbg what i was thinking last night mark… just never seen a team get so down on itself so fast. to me it comes down to leadership… and it is well documented the hawks dont have a guy on their team who will get in his teammates face and demand they play harder, smarter, etc..

Do you think Al could grow into that role (I do…maybe)?

Rock Preston

May 5th, 2010
2:54 pm

I think we all know what needs to happen with this team in the offseason. We all are tired of this same song and dance mess. These cats never own up to being bad and unprofessional. All starts with the coach since the current GM didnt hire him. Bye Woody and Joke Johnson.
Guys…it is so obvious…Sund is letting Woodson hang himself with his boneheaded “strategy” moves….if u even want to call them that. I’ll give Woody this….he is a good defensive mind having learned from Larry Brown. But he clearly…I mean CLEARLY limited in making adjustments offensively and defensively to be able to lead this team past the 1st round. He was brought in to instill discipline for a young team and he has done that, but it is time to pull the plug on him…Im sure Sund will see what he has with Woody and decide to go in another direction. Its painful to watch other young guards dominate the lane for other teams and not see Teague get a chance to contribute. Think about it…If you have a point guard to penetrate the lane to draw D. Howard..then you have other avenues for Joe and Jamal to work….plus you could get Howard into foul trouble. Frustrating watching this mess nite after nite.

htwo0rider

May 5th, 2010
2:54 pm

the hawks rolled over.

KnightInATL

May 5th, 2010
3:01 pm

The Magic came within 1 point of actually DOUBLING the Hawks points…a feat that I don’t think I have ever seen in the second half of an NBA game.
It was 87-44 at one point.

bigeasy830

May 5th, 2010
3:04 pm

Don’t give up on them yet Mark, It does not matter if the lose by 3 or 43 it still counts as only one game. I was wishing that they imposed the mercy rule last night though, that was just too ugly to watch. I even changed channels and watch Brandy and Ray J, I know but…

Sweet Home Alabama

May 5th, 2010
3:07 pm

I predict next game much tighter.Hawks should only lose by 25 or so.

They are a train wreck looking for a crash….

yep

May 5th, 2010
3:09 pm

Hawks win tonight by 5. Blowouts will cease.

dap01

May 5th, 2010
3:15 pm

Good article MB. The problems are becoming painfully obvious. Can’t wait to see Bibby try to guard (anyone) Nelson.

balismith

May 5th, 2010
3:27 pm

after last night are you still stickingwith Hawks in 7 over the magic

DJ Baller

May 5th, 2010
3:32 pm

So, would you pay Joe Johnson MAX salary to get the Hawks to the playoffs? All Star Players show up for the playoffs. Joe is too passive to be a leader of this team when he is needed. Josh is no where near being a leader with his MAX contract. No coaching to quickly adjust their offense or defense. Opposing guards own the lane with the Hawks with a free ticket to score.The Hawks have no chance to stop Orlando with Dwight Howard dominating in the middle. He was tossing them them around like rag dolls.

DBH

May 5th, 2010
3:33 pm

On the road or at home – it’s still just basketball! This is what I don’t understand about the Hawks. Why is it that they can’t (won’t) match the emotional intensity of their opponents on the road?! Professionals (i.e. “good/elite” teams) do that – consistently – but not the Hawks. Pitiful.

Delbert D.

May 5th, 2010
3:33 pm

FromUpNorth

May 5th, 2010
3:35 pm

@dap01: Just as there is no “i” in team, there is no “D” in Bibby.

Mark Bradley

May 5th, 2010
3:35 pm

Kudos to the dream.

Doug

May 5th, 2010
3:36 pm

The Hawks are led by the most…contrary to some views…overrated player in the league in JJ. He is simply not good enough to try and play like he and apparently Woody think he can. This leads to dysfunction…horrid possessions…dead legged shots and ultimately predictable results. They are coached by someone seemingly incapable of adjusting. They can be woefully inferior teams (read Mil Bucks), but even against them they will look alternatingly horrible and promising. In the regular season they are capable of beating anyone because of their talent level and the realities of an 82 game grind. It pains me to say that they have absolutely no chance in the postseason against top competition…mainly because of a player they rely far too much on and a coach out of his element

MGM

May 5th, 2010
3:38 pm

The Hawks don’t have the talent to stack up against the Magic. Obviously center is a major hole. However, they aren’t as bad as last night. I saw a team quit. I also saw a team play very stupid ball. No leadership from Woody. No leadership from Joe. No leadership anywhere on this team. That is why they get killed on the road. No leadership and weak minds.

NC Braves Fan

May 5th, 2010
3:39 pm

Doug: but is the team the way it is because of Joe, or because of the offense they *ahem* run?

MGM

May 5th, 2010
3:41 pm

No leadership. Joe is not a leader. We’ve said it for 3 years. Woody is not a leader. We’ve said it for 5 years. The rest of the team is weak minded or too old to do anything about it.

THE SUNS ARE NOW MY SECOND FAVORITE TEAM 4 SHOWING LOVE AND RESPECT TO LATINOS!!!

May 5th, 2010
3:44 pm

I’m a fan of the hawks and i didn’t feel sorry for them last night.
they deserve it FOR GIVING UP.

I blame Joe Johnson for the embarrassing loss, When will people realize he isn’t an all-star?
People keep saying He’s the most underrated player in the NBA but be Realistic he’s freaking OVERRATED!!!

I hope this is the Last season I see Joe Johnson wearing the ATL jersey.
Time to hand DOWN the team to a player that plays with heart,
Its time to give the team to JOSH SMITH!

THE SUNS ARE NOW MY SECOND FAVORITE TEAM 4 SHOWING LOVE AND RESPECT TO LATINOS!!!

May 5th, 2010
3:46 pm

I’m a fan of the hawks and i didn’t feel sorry for them lastnight.
they deserve it FOR GIVING UP.

I blame Joe Johnson for this embarrassing loss, When will people realize he isn’t an all-star???
People keep saying He’s the most underrated player in the NBA but be Realistic he’s freaking OVERRATED!!!

I hope this is the Last season I see Joe Johnson wearing the ATL jersey.
Time to hand DOWN the team to a player that plays with heart,
Its time to give the team to JOSH SMITH!

Westurd

May 5th, 2010
3:51 pm

Can someone please point out that Joe always goes missing around playoff time?

One or two good games here and there, but this is the playoffs Joe………there is no tomorrow. Be a Star dang it!

Herschel Talker

May 5th, 2010
3:52 pm

MB:

No they won’t cease. The Hawks are garbage.

HT

Mel from SW Atlanta

May 5th, 2010
3:53 pm

You know what Ru, Ru?…ah aha ah…Hawks are sorry and so are the Falcons and Braves…Welcome to Loserville…matter of fact Perry get your lazy carpet bagger out of here. Leo? Braves sorry too.

THE SUNS ARE NOW MY SECOND FAVORITE TEAM 4 SHOWING LOVE AND RESPECT TO LATINOS!!!

May 5th, 2010
3:54 pm

I’m a fan of the hawks and i didn’t feel sorry for them lastnight.
they deserve it FOR GIVING UP.

I blame Joe Johnson for this embarrassing loss, When will people realize he isn’t an all-star?
People keep saying He’s the most underrated player in the NBA but be Realistic he’s freaking OVERRATED!!!

I hope this is the Last season I see Joe Johnson wearing the ATL jersey.
Time to hand DOWN the team to a player that plays with heart,
Its time to give the team to JOSH SMITH!

THE SUNS ARE NOW MY SECOND FAVORITE TEAM 4 SHOWING LOVE AND RESPECT TO LATINOS!!!

May 5th, 2010
3:54 pm

I’m a fan of the hawks and i didn’t feel sorry for them lastnight…….!
they deserve it FOR GIVING UP.

I blame Joe Johnson for this embarrassing loss, When will people realize he isn’t an all-star?
People keep saying He’s the most underrated player in the NBA but be Realistic he’s freaking OVERRATED!!!

I hope this is the Last season I see Joe Johnson wearing the ATL jersey.
Time to hand DOWN the team to a player that plays with heart,
Its time to give the team to JOSH SMITH!

Mel from SW Atlanta

May 5th, 2010
3:55 pm

Brad

May 5th, 2010
3:56 pm

Mark, kudos to you for all of the kudos you give out for firsts. You’re very consistent with that.

Beone

May 5th, 2010
3:58 pm

I can’t wait for the post post-season. After the Hawks are mangled, let’s see what Sund has got. If he is as inept as Woody, I’m no longer a fan.

jarvis

May 5th, 2010
4:04 pm

Bradley got shown up again.
Shultz is getting all of the hits.

DBH

May 5th, 2010
4:05 pm

Look at what the Celtics did in their game 2. Not only did they beat the Cavs, they BLEW THEM OUT in their own arena – and that’s a team a lot of people refer to as “old.” So, what’s the Hawks’ excuse?

Doug

May 5th, 2010
4:06 pm

NC Braves: Valid point in that the Hawks have the least imaginative offense in the league…especially down the stretch of games. I think the two are related..i.e.Joe “thinks” he is an upper echelon player and thus expects to dominate the ball like one. Woody thinks JJ is as well…and has no clue how to integrate JJ into an offensive scheme apart from the iso stupidity that inveitibly occurs…and worse yet he is not a good postseason player…all reasons along with his age for the Hawks to RUN from giving him a max contract…sign and trade is best option they have

Brad

May 5th, 2010
4:08 pm

Mark, kudos to you for all the kudos you give to firsts. You’re very consistent with that.

Also, kudos to you for all of the Hawks articles/blogs you’ve written recently. Very good coverage!

DrewCat

May 5th, 2010
4:11 pm

N.B.

May 5th, 2010
4:12 pm

“PLAYOFFS?!?!?! PLAYOFFS!?!?!? DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT PLAY–PLAYOFFS?!?!? THEY ARE EXACTLY WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE AND WE LET EM’ OFF THE HOOK!! PLAYOFFS?!?! PLAY–PLAYOFFS!?!?!

PLAYOFFS!?!?!”

PMC

May 5th, 2010
4:12 pm

The beatings will continue until morale improves

DrewCat

May 5th, 2010
4:15 pm

I’m so sick and tired of the media ignoring the elephant in the room, which happens to be Woody! You guys have the most insight as beat writers, yet you all act like writing about firing Woody is indecent or out of line. What’s the problem with speaking the truth. The journalistic perspective is not usually free from bias, so let’s exercise our TRUE opinion Mark. You and I both know Woody should be toast, now let’s hear it: FIRE WOODY, FIRE WOODY!

Who cares how the rest of the series shapes up? Yeah maybe our talent alone will win us a game or two in this series, but let’s face it: we have no shot at a long playoff run so long as Mike Woodson is our man.
FIRE WOODY!

PMC

May 5th, 2010
4:15 pm

The Hawks are good enough at times to be interesting, and bad enough at times that they aren’t worth even watching.

They are what they are and what they are is not a team that is remotely good enough to beat the best. They aren’t terrible, but they aren’t good either.

They don’t really seem to care much so why should we?

NC Braves Fan

May 5th, 2010
4:18 pm

Doug: personally I’m not sure what the answer is when it comes to Joe. It sure seems like the Hawks have the pieces to be a lot more competent offensively.

I can see your point about a sign and trade in Joe’s case — I go back and forth on whether they should keep him or not. Clearly Woody has taken the team as far as he can get it. Right or wrong, that much I’m convinced of.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Hawks handle the offseason.

NC Braves Fan

May 5th, 2010
4:23 pm

DrewCat @ 4:15pm … my take: I don’t think it’s really the time for the AJC to be talking about coaching changes. It would be bad form during a playoff series.

Plenty of time for dissecting what the team should do after the season is over.

yep

May 5th, 2010
4:26 pm

the hawks are gonna win by 5 tonight.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley. Mark Bradley said: The Hawks on the road: Will the blowouts ever cease? http://bit.ly/a4R2h4 [...]

ISO JOE

May 5th, 2010
4:41 pm

Here we go again. First it was Paul Hewitt at Tech now it is Woody. I mean if most of you guys on here stop being a fair weather fan and be a real fan all this complaining that is done would cease. You should come to the table with a solution to problems that we had in Game 1 not continued problems. The game only counted as one loss. If the Hawks win, which i think they will in game 2, the same people that bashed them will still come on here a say some left handed baseball bat stuff. Ok, we all can agree that if Joe leaves who we going to get to replace him. Not saying he is a superstar but there are not many options, Kobe, LeBron, D Wade, Melo, CP3, D Will is not walking through the home doors at the Highlight Factory no time soon. So, we are who we thought we were.

ATLANTA TEAMS SUCK

May 5th, 2010
4:48 pm

rock and others, you guys are correct. the nba is a true point guard and a headcoach. the hawks have neither. i love bibby to death, but he is a shooting guard. the hawks have THREE shooting guards on the floor at crucial times: crawford, johnson and bibby. this goes to woody not developing teague. there is no reason teague shouldnt be STARTING and letting bibby come off the bench. it CANT be worse and teague PLAYS DEFENSE.

mws17

May 5th, 2010
5:01 pm

The Hawks are a much better team than we saw yesterday, but realistically, they find themselves simply outgunned by the Magic. Personally, I’m just hoping they can keep the remainder of the series somewhat close and competitive.

PTI guys

May 5th, 2010
5:14 pm

Bob Weiss could coach these guys to win all their home games. Woody is an absolute joke of a motivator. The Hawks were in game 6 from the start. They have ZERO heart to come from behind. If they’re ever down by 10 or more, game over 99 times out of a hundred.