Let’s see. Who else have they got on that bench? Bob Bender? He’s been a Hawks’ assistant since 2004 — hey, that pitch worked for Larry Drew — and Bender played under Bobby Knight. Why not give him a shot? Or maybe Lester Conner. At least he played D in his playing days. Or maybe Wally Blase, who’s technically the trainer, but at this point who really cares?
It took the Hawks six years to stop listening to Mike Woodson. It has taken one month for them to tune out his successor. To say the effort the Hawks gave against the Boston Celtics on Monday night was amateurish is to discredit the concept of amateurism and to distort the meaning of “effort.”
Said Larry Drew, the head coach: “Very embarrassing. Very, very embarrassing. Very embarrassing. If I had to sum it up in one word: Embarrassing.”
Drew’s team trailed by 26 points after one quarter. The Celtics, who played Sunday in a different country and who started four men who’d been in the NBA for at least a dozen years, scored 39 points in 12 minutes and made 18 of 25 shots. If you’ve ever wondered how a basketball game would look if one team was prohibited from guarding the other, here it was.
“Embarrassing,” said Josh Smith, invoking the word of the night. Then: “It was like they hit us with one knockout punch and we had the glass jaw in the fight.”
The Hawks are 8-6 after starting 6-0. They’ve lost five home games. (Since you asked, their first home loss of last season came on Thanksgiving night.) Of those eight victories, none have come against a team that holds a winning record. Once the Hawks started playing somebody capable of beating them, they pretty much stopped playing. On Monday they stopped trying.
The team that won 53 games and took the No. 3 seed in the NBA East last season managed 10 first-half rebounds and zero steals. That’s one rebound every two minutes and 24 seconds and no steals over 24 minutes. As any coach will tell you, rebounds and steals reflect effort. Or, in this case, the absence thereof.
Written in blue letters on a whiteboard adjacent to the Hawks’ practice court were these words: “Hustle will dominate.” It did. The older team ran the younger one off the younger team’s court. In spring 2008 the Hawks took Boston to seven games in Round 1 of the playoffs, and in 2009-2010 they swept the Celtics 4-0 in the regular season. On this night the older team scored its 77th point with 5:04 left in the third quarter; if Boston hadn’t scored again, it still would have won.
Oh, yes. Almost forgot. The Celtics were missing two starters, including the Hawk-killer Rajon Rondo.
Said Drew: “What I see with our team right now, I don’t feel good about.”
Then: “I’ve got to find out what’s going on with our players.”
Here’s what: The Hawks succeeded in getting the nice-guy assistant promoted to head coach, but there’s a reason players always lobby for the nice-guy assistant. Because they figure they won’t have to work as hard. And they aren’t. This marked the third time in a season not four full weeks old that the Hawks have lost at home to an opponent coming in off a game the previous day.
Woodson might have been a bit of a curmudgeon, but he tended to get guys’ attention. Drew was considered — at least by some in ownership — the kinder, gentler alternative with a better grasp of tactics, but it doesn’t matter what X’s and O’s you sketch if nobody pays attention.
Said Al Horford: “I feel like all the pieces are there. We’ve got good game plans. We’ve just got to play harder.”
And that’s frightening. The most professional player among Hawks already sees a team not trying hard enough. After 14 games under a new coach. Even if you believe the promotion of Drew was a wrong-headed move (and it was), he deserves better than this.
When Monday’s game began, a seat at center court was occupied by an increasingly infrequent patron. Ted Turner left at halftime. The team he used to own didn’t bother showing up.