ESPN’s Hollinger: Larry Drew blew Game 2 for the Hawks

The Hawks have rattled the Magic. But they missed a chance to lead 2-0. (AP photo)

The Hawks have rattled the Magic. But they missed a chance in Game 2. (AP photo)

The Hawks had a chance to come home leading 2-0. They failed. According to John Hollinger, the ESPN Insider, they failed because Larry Drew failed.

To recap: Al Horford was called for two fouls in the game’s first 131 seconds. This prompted Drew to sit him for the rest of the first half. This is not a new Drew policy, nor is it peculiar to him. Other coaches have the same two-and-you’re-out rule. But there are times for rules to be bent, and a night when you’re seeking to take a 2-0 lead would seem to be such a time.

But no. With Horford playing not at all in the second quarter, the Hawks went from 10 points ahead to six behind. They would never again lead. An opportunity had gone a-wasting.

Writes Hollinger (link requires registration):

I’ve ripped coaches for extreme conservatism with foul trouble before, but what Larry Drew did Tuesday night in Orlando takes the cake. It may very well cost the Hawks the series …

There is no way to sugarcoat it: This is the most indefensible coaching decision I’ve seen this season. Horford played the entire second half and finished the game with — you guessed it — two fouls. This didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who watched the Hawks this season. Horford has one of the lowest foul rates in the league at his position — just 2.85 fouls per 40 minutes — so even if he had stayed in the game with the two fouls he was at virtually no risk of fouling out.

Overall, when a real center was on the court the Hawks won Game 2 by 10 points. Unfortunately, Drew’s personnel choices sabotaged them so badly in the second quarter that they missed a golden opportunity to grab this series by the throat.

This coaching choice must be categorized as utterly Hawk-like. Drew has found the method for beating Orlando, something predecessor Mike Woodson could not. (It hasn’t hurt that the Magic diluted its own strength via two December trades.) Drew’s way — make Dwight Howard score 40 points — worked in Game 1 and might have worked in Game 2, but his benching of Horford for those two fouls undid it.

To remove Horford after two-plus minutes was prudent. You can’t have him getting a third foul in the first quarter. But when the Magic began reducing the deficit in the second quarter, Horford needed to return. If he incurs No. 3  before halftime … well, you still get six. And it isn’t as if he has to bang against Howard: The Hawks are willing to put Hilton Armstrong on the court for that chore.

That said: The Hawks are still in position to win this series, which comes as a surprise to most but not necessarily to this correspondent. The Hawks are better than the Magic. But here’s the tricky part: They’ll need to win two games at home this weekend, and they lost 17 times at Philips Arena this season. Among teams that finished above .500, only the 42-40 Knicks lost more at home.

So I guess what I’m saying is: Even when they’re sitting pretty, these remain the Hawks. Even as we hope for the best, we have reason to expect something less.

By Mark Bradley

134 comments Add your comment

J.J.M.

April 21st, 2011
12:14 pm

you aint ordinanry

J.J.M.

April 21st, 2011
12:17 pm

LD should have put Horford back in but I still remember Horford getting a foul call that was a little suspect. LD needs to realize that this is the playoffs and not the regular season you have to go all out. The 2 foul rule he used in the regular season needs to be tossed out the door.

51WTGW50

April 21st, 2011
12:18 pm

I don’t buy that it was the coaches fault. He didn’t have on sneakers and missed shots.

Mitchell

April 21st, 2011
12:19 pm

First! Couldn’t agree more

honest_abe

April 21st, 2011
12:20 pm

ld is awful. can’t forget to mention him inserting, “6th man of the year” nominee josh powell off the bench first

Brandon from Warner Robins

April 21st, 2011
12:20 pm

Had Larry Drew played Horford and he ended up picking up foul 3 or 4 in the first half and had to sit the beginning of the 2nd half, Hollinger would’ve complained.

Coaches can’t catch a break from the media (not a knock on you Mr. Bradley). I am confident in saying Mr. Drew knows a lot more about the game strategically than Hollinger.

51WTGW50

April 21st, 2011
12:20 pm

Referees have too much power over the outcome of MLB, NBA, and NFL games. Balls and Strikes can’t be reviewed bit other plays can be. Fouls in the NBA are way too subjective to the flow of the game.

J.J.M.

April 21st, 2011
12:22 pm

“kudos” for J.J.M.

Mark Bradley

April 21st, 2011
12:22 pm

Brandon, there’s no way Horford could have gotten four fouls in the first half. No coach would have let him play after the third.

And if he does get called for No. 3 late in the second quarter … well, so what?

Mark Bradley

April 21st, 2011
12:23 pm

Yes. Kudos for J.J.M.

michael m.

April 21st, 2011
12:25 pm

thank god hollinger is bluntly calling out drew. i know u ajc guys have to play it more delicately, but really, drew NEEDS TO BE SHAMED into admitting the error of his ways. if he stubbornly keeps doing it, then dont even wait until the end of the season. fire him before the series can even end. kidding. sorta. but in truth, drew’s failure to have a flexible mind is utterly dumb and indeed might cost the hawks this series.

Please Come Home, NED YOST.

April 21st, 2011
12:27 pm

If you think Larry Drew fumbled a great opportunity….

FIRE FREDI GONZALEZ !!!!

Brandon from Warner Robins

April 21st, 2011
12:27 pm

Al is less aggressive after he picks up foul 3. Coming into the 2nd half down 6 they need Al in attack mode. Nobody off the bench has proven that they can come in and be a consistent scorer (outside of Crawford). We’ve got big men assigned to stopping DHoward.

I see your point Mr. Bradley, but I understand and support Drew’s decision.

The Greatest Game Ever Played

April 21st, 2011
12:27 pm

45-42, November 2008, ’twas magical!

Mark Bradley

April 21st, 2011
12:28 pm

The sad part is that Drew had put the Hawks in such a good place. Up 1-0, leading in Game 2 … win that game and the Magic might crumble.

D in ATL

April 21st, 2011
12:28 pm

It is ‘indefensible.’ Given the situation in the game and the series you have to play Al in the 2nd quarter. When you are the lower seed and you have the other team reeling, play to win. The Hawks may not have won game 2 if Al had come back in the 1st half, but they surely cannot win this series without Al. When you are the lower seed and have the history of folding that this team has exhibited, then play as if every game is a game 7.

Mark Bradley

April 21st, 2011
12:29 pm

Might not have been down six at halftime had Al played in the second period.

Brandon from Warner Robins

April 21st, 2011
12:30 pm

That’s also a good point.

Brad

April 21st, 2011
12:31 pm

Mark, any idea on what ticket sales are looking like for Games 3 and 4?

Brandon from Warner Robins

April 21st, 2011
12:31 pm

A passionate debate about a relevant hawks playoff team sure beats managerial accounting.

Brad

April 21st, 2011
12:31 pm

Enter your comments here

Mark Bradley

April 21st, 2011
12:33 pm

And I know it’s a second guess. And Drew has since said that he would have put Horford back had the Hawks started to fall apart in the second quarter. (The Magic only pulled ahead at the end.) But any edge in a road playoff game is monumental. The Magic were struggling. Had the Hawks been up six at the half after winning Game 1 … well, who can say?

Truth

April 21st, 2011
12:33 pm

With Drew, you get what you pay for.
ASG needs to sell the Thrashers to the highest bidder so they could have, theoretically, more to spend on the Hawks.
Half of Thrasher’s attendance is transplants going to see (and pull for) their old team.

J.J.M.

April 21st, 2011
12:34 pm

is game 3 a must win for the hawk?

Truth

April 21st, 2011
12:35 pm

Course some nights that could be said about the Hawks as well.

Mark Bradley

April 21st, 2011
12:35 pm

I just went on Ticketmaster. There are tickets available for Game 3, though it doesn’t appear there are many left.

Mark Bradley

April 21st, 2011
12:36 pm

Game 3 is big for both teams, but bigger for the home side.

Truth

April 21st, 2011
12:37 pm

Hawks have to at least get a split in the next two.
If they want to avoid a game seven on the road, they need to win both.

TC

April 21st, 2011
12:38 pm

Does anyone want to give their opinion on if we see Bob Rathburn come out of the broadcast booth with a flying elbow if the refs make another bad call??

Benjamin

April 21st, 2011
12:40 pm

When you skimp on coaches, you “blow things up” by firing a guy and hiring his top assistant at an affordable cost [or Terry Stotts, Lon Kruger, et al, etc.] rather than going out and getting a real coach.

Larry Drew is probably a good man, but he’s shown me very little when it comes to coaching this team. Just like with the man before him, we’re winning games in spite of the man in a suit on the bench, not because of him.

honest_abe

April 21st, 2011
12:41 pm

the ownership settles to promote an assistant to 1st year head coach… for pennies.

doesn’t want to “overpay” to get shaq. instead the big offseason move was to get josh powell. he’s the guy that’s played and the only stat he’s piled up are fouls.

they sell kobe bryants jerseys inside the hawks store.

and yet……. they still might sell out phillips arena. now thats sad.

asg = almost as bad as the smith family

D in ATL

April 21st, 2011
12:44 pm

Hey Brandon:
Your earlier point concerning agression is well taken. However, I would ask which is better; an aggressive Josh Powell/Hilton Armstrong, or a passive Al Horford? I think we know the answer to that comparison.

51WTGW50

April 21st, 2011
12:44 pm

AL could have played in the 2nd and received another foul and had to sit most of the 3rd or 4th and the Hawks would have still lost. The Refs have the power to change a games TEMPO too much. Either a FOUL is a FOUL or it is not. I think that is what the NCAA’s Head of Officials said during the NCAA Basketball Tournament when there were some questionable calls at the end of games.

JROLL1

April 21st, 2011
12:45 pm

TOTALLY AGREE! YA GET WHAT YA PAY FOR…..WE GOT LD…NUFF SAID! ANY QUESTIONS?

sportsblogatlanta

April 21st, 2011
12:48 pm

How is the benching of Horford the reason the Hawks lost? The Hawks did not have a huge lead in the first quarter when Horford was benched. He was out virtually all of the first half. The Hawks built a lead and lost it without him.

Mark (another one)

April 21st, 2011
12:49 pm

The second guessing after a loss is only natural, and I hope Drew is doing it as well. He is a rookie NBA coach, and he needs to keep learning from his mistakes. Horford also has to take responsibility to not pick up two quick fouls to start the game. Bad call or not, no excuses. Hindsight is great, but the real question is would Drew really do the same thing again?

sportsblogatlanta

April 21st, 2011
12:50 pm

Larry Drew is a rookie coach. Guess what. Rookie coaches will make mistakes. Some of them will cost a team a game. I think it is presumptuous to decide the series is over because of this mistake. I did not feel the momentum swing away because of that decision.

Truth

April 21st, 2011
12:51 pm

How Larry Drew could deserve a raise or at least prove he was not the worst hire available: use some original coaching tactics to win.
Putting Horford back in would have been a good start.
Still has a chance to prove he deserved to get the job.

D in ATL

April 21st, 2011
12:52 pm

Good point Mark (another one).

Gwinnett Fred

April 21st, 2011
12:52 pm

Instead of the dramatic move of benching for 22 minutes, Drew should have at least made a switch on the defensive end to try to get as many minutes as he could from Horford the rest of the half.

That may be Drew’s biggest problem – adapting on the fly. He had a great game plan entering game 1 and the team executed it and they won. However, when in game adjustments are needed – forget it. Thrashers have the same problem – maybe it’s just the inhabitants of Philips Arena. Wonder how Ringling Brothers adapts to the unexpected when they are in town? We might could use their ringleader!

Paul Hewitt

April 21st, 2011
12:55 pm

Bravo LD you did a superb job coaching the Hawks in game two! But unlike sportswriters; only I, as a fellow superb coach, can see that.

Watch out now — once these ajc sportswriters start writing things about you that aren’t positive, then it’s all over.

newkid

April 21st, 2011
12:55 pm

The rest of the story:
LD’s decision is fair game for critism, but so is Al’s recklessness. How could Al, knowing full well LD’s 2-foul policy (he’s used it throughout the season), have allowed himself to pick up two early cheap fouls in what might have been a pivotal playoff game, and when LD had spared him the impossibly difficult and demanding task of being matched up against D12? It was careless on Al’s part, and demonstrated lack of concentration. Do you like apples?

Hanky

April 21st, 2011
12:56 pm

Truth as my blog name was a bit arrogant.
I going to use one of the two handles I got from sports.
The other was Rabbit.
(I’m small)

mountain_jim

April 21st, 2011
1:03 pm

mark – Thanks for highlighting Hollinger’s opinion here which I agree with. Also him keeping out Twin so much during 2nd when momentum and game were lost.

We replaced one stubborn fool coach with a different stubborn fool. For LD to still say he agreed with his own decision just shows how hopelessly overmatched a playoff coach he is unless he wakes up and gets a clue about getting maximun minutes out of his talent and best matchups.

blue

April 21st, 2011
1:04 pm

hmmm…so sit a guy for a quarter because…you’re afraid he’ll foul out and he might miss a quarter? BRILLIANT…

BobWeiss

April 21st, 2011
1:05 pm

Larry Drew absolutely blew it the way he handled Horford. After winning game one, he was basically playing with house money for game two. He should have sat Horford for the remaining of the 1st quarter and played him major minutes in the 2nd quarter. Heck, I would have even played him some in the 2nd quarter after the 3rd foul. Star players should be able to handle the pressure of foul trouble. When he fouls out, so be it. At least you played your best player as many minutes as possible. Even though the Hawks made it interesting in the 4th quarter, they simply didn’t get enough minutes out of Horford to make a difference in the game.

Quite frankly, if the Hawks are going to win the series, they need to get far more physical with Howard. Yes, they are fouling the heck out of him, but they aren’t punishing him. Howard has no problem throwing his elbows around and banging into players. I would hope the Hawks would start being more physical than just grabbing arms and jerseys. Unfortunately, Collins is the only player capable of such play. The rest of the centers play a pretty soft game.

O'Brien

April 21st, 2011
1:19 pm

Mark,

It is not a second guess. This season, we saw Collins playing Howard, so Horford didnt have to guard him as much. In 4 regular season games against Orlando, these were Horford’s fouls;

Gmae 1: 4 fouls in 28 mins
Game 2: 2 fouls in 42 minutes
Game 3: 1 foul in 38 minutes
Game 4: 1 foul in 45 minutes

So in 4 games against Orlando, Horford had 8 fouls total, in 153 minutes of play, and only once did he have 4.

So history and the numbers suggest that Horford does not typically get in foul trouble against Orlando. Let him play through it since he was mostly guarding Bass, who struggled.

Brandon from Warner Robins

April 21st, 2011
1:20 pm

D in ATL,

Good Point.

Believer

April 21st, 2011
1:21 pm

Guys we can’t start questioning the coach now. We have to keep believing so the hawks can be out team Disney.

Section 212

April 21st, 2011
1:25 pm

In my opinion, LD lost the game when the Hawks cut the lead to 4 with 8:30 left in the game. He should have taken Crawford out….put back in the starting line up. Then put Crawford back in the game at the 4:00 mark. Crawford was starting to run out of gas, which was showing on the defensive end. Additionally, with all the moving picks and other bad calls, LD should have purposely forced the refs to call a tech, instead, he allowed Josh to get the tech, which resulted in LD having to put JJ back in the game without rest. We needed JJ and Crawford fresh at the end of that game.
LD needs to starting talking about the blown calls by the refs, like when Smoove was blatently pushed by Anderson when he made a layup.