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