Confounding Hawks are a game from making Magic disappear

Joe Johnson: A big game at a big time. (AP photo)

Joe Johnson: A big game at a big time. (AP photo)

Say what you will about these Hawks, and by now we’ve said it all, usually with a few choice words interspersed. That they’re sloppy with a lead. That they often act as if basketball was a sport scored on degree of difficulty. That they lead the world in keeping both teams in the game.

But here’s something we haven’t been able to say about any Hawks team since 1970: That it leads a best-of-seven series 3-1.

Also this: That it’s one game from winning a playoff series in which it didn’t hold the homecourt edge for the first time since 1996.

Also this: That in taking Game 4 on Sunday it made you want to tear out your hair.

The Hawks are so much better than the Magic that the wonder isn’t that Orlando is facing elimination; the wonder is that the Magic still have a game to play. The Hawks have led by double figures four times running, and in Game 4 they jumped ahead by 16 points on a night when Jason Richardson, Orlando’s second-leading scorer, didn’t play and when Dwight Howard, the only Magic man worth his wizard hat, was in foul trouble inside the first six minutes.

Orlando never led, but inside the final six minutes it was tied. And you noted that the Hawks had limited the Magic to two 3-point baskets — Orlando would finish 2-for-23 — on treys, and you thought, “How in the name of Jumpin’ Joe Caldwell is this even close?”

Had the Hawks blown this one, we’d have cussed and fussed and damned them with the enduring kiss-off: Same Old Hawks. But they didn’t lose. They steeled themselves and let Joe Johnson earn some of his $120 million and saw Al Horford again turn Hedo Turkoglu to jelly with the game on the line.

Said Larry Drew, the coach: “This team has shown it can respond to adversity.”

Never mind that much of the adversity is self-inflicted. Never mind that the Hawks haven’t yet found a jump shot not worth taking. Never mind that Josh Smith had one of the least impressive near-double-doubles in playoff annals. Never mind any of that.

Playoff basketball is a bottom-line entity, and the scoreboard tells us that the Hawks lead 3-1 over a team that finished six games ahead of them, the same team — well, the same but different — that once embarrassed them. Should we quibble over style points when these Hawks were beaten by 101 real points over four games by Orlando only last spring?

Said Horford, who poked the ball from Turkoglu on the Magic’s final possession and rendered the subsequent 3-point try another forlorn hope: “The only thing was disturbing about this was that we weren’t able to hold the lead. During the year, we’d probably have lost. That shows poise and growth.”

It does. It also shows that the Hawks, who couldn’t figure a way to match up with the Magic a year ago, now enjoy mismatches all over the place. Horford on Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson? Johnson on Jason/Quentin Richardson? Jamal Crawford on anybody?

Crawford had 25 points and six assists in Game 4. He has scored at least 20 points in each of the four games. He has become almost as tough a take for Orlando as Howard is for the Hawks. Even as the lead was diminishing and the Hawks were doing their usual goofy stuff, there was one ray of hope: Surely Crawford would think of something.

“Jamal gave it to us for three quarters,” Smith said, “and Joe said, ‘I’ll take it from here.’ ”

Johnson scored the Hawks’ final 10 points, giving lie, at least for this night, to the notion that he’s a small-game player. And now the team almost nobody liked 10 days ago is within 48 minutes of the Eastern Conference semis. It’s a team that has profited against the one worthy opponent it proved it could handle this regular season, but that’s part of the charm of the postseason. Sometimes you get a break.

Credit the Hawks for taking their break and wringing three victories from it. A fourth should be forthcoming, but here we emphasize “should.” Because these are the Hawks, and they’re a strange crew. They’re so strange the 50-win Magic haven’t yet found a way to handle them.

By Mark Bradley

116 comments Add your comment

Kansas Yellow Yacket Fan

April 24th, 2011
10:51 pm

Billdozer

April 24th, 2011
10:52 pm

DERRICK

April 24th, 2011
10:54 pm

You heard it here first. Hawks beat the Bulls.

Aaron

April 24th, 2011
10:55 pm

I can’t watch this team. Too stressful.

Cliff Levingston

April 24th, 2011
10:56 pm

Bring on the tired-ass janky Bulls and their 20 turnovers a game.

Jamal Crawford is making himself some serious $$$ in this series. Whether it’s with Atlanta next season or somewhere else. And for good reason.

tyler

April 24th, 2011
10:57 pm

Man, stressful is right…..This is as surprising as it is fun to watch, Gotta finish these guys off Tuesday.

Josh Smith

April 24th, 2011
10:57 pm

My basketball IQ is 0

DERRICK

April 24th, 2011
10:58 pm

That’s what I’m talking about. We are too long, too athletic, and as of late to physical on D for the Bulls to deal with. Plus D-Rose seen in a walking boot. Hello Eastern Finals.

Aaron

April 24th, 2011
11:00 pm

As nice as a 3-1 lead is, it’s too early to be talking round 2. Just ask Jameer Nelson.

UGASlobberknocker

April 24th, 2011
11:02 pm

I gotta hand it to Mark..he said the hawks could.should wincalled this series win before Game 1.

I thought he was nuts.That still may be true but he does know is hoops

The Falcon Jedi

April 24th, 2011
11:02 pm

Is Jamal Crawford a Star?

[...] A strange Hawks team is one game from making Magic disappear … [...]

BPJ

April 24th, 2011
11:04 pm

Anything can happen; that’s why they have to play the games to see who wins, no matter what the experts say.

Go Hawks!

DERRICK

April 24th, 2011
11:04 pm

@Aaron. Sorry dude but I’ve been waiting since about 1986. Gotta talk some smack today,

Shawdaddy

April 24th, 2011
11:05 pm

The Falcon Jedi

April 24th, 2011
11:06 pm

This series is far from over. The question is can the Hawks put this away, or will they take the next game off.

Teedub

April 24th, 2011
11:07 pm

Great to JJ getting to the line and finishing strong. Go Hawks!!

Mark Bradley

April 24th, 2011
11:07 pm

Thanks, Slobberknocker. But this one isn’t over.

RA

April 24th, 2011
11:09 pm

Wow Bradley, you have a way of trivializing the momentous and overstating the obvious, as per usual. Anyway, this is a game that the Hawks would have lost in the regular season, but here’s the thing, the Hawks may be waking up and realizing that they’re strong. The most frustrating thing for Hawks fans has been the fact that this team has all the talent in the world, but heretofore has not had the heart to make it work. Look at it like this, some players come into the league great, but for others it’s just a matter of one day having the light bulb come on and it’s off to the races from there. Well, that can go for teams to. Now, I don’t know if the lightbulb is all the way on, but it’s definitely flickering.

playmeortrademe

April 24th, 2011
11:10 pm

It will go seven. Hawks may win, but it will go seven. If you don’t know why you obviously have not watched Atlanta pro sports for very long.

SD Dawg

April 24th, 2011
11:10 pm

Been here before with the Hawks. I am impressed, but need to see them close out someone of relevance out before I get too excited.

J Clay

April 24th, 2011
11:12 pm

MB – If Hawks can win one more…wouldn’t you have to say season a success regardless of what happens in round 2? I mean no one nationally thought they had a chance and really the series should already be over…Not sure what they might have for the Bulls, if anything, but a round 2 loss this year would feel different than what happened last….

The Falcon Jedi

April 24th, 2011
11:12 pm

From past history, the Hawks will not win this next game Tuesday. They will blow it. Then they will try to win the next game, and lose a close one. Series tied 3-3. Then Game 7… and that will be the game to watch.

The Falcon Jedi

April 24th, 2011
11:13 pm

It doesnt matter, the Hawks wont get past Round 2

Kelvin Frazier

April 24th, 2011
11:15 pm

Mark, you summed it up pretty well. The series should be over, but would it surprise anyone if the Hawks lost the next two? They are better than Orlando in every position except one, but sometimes the Hawks don’t play with a high basketball IQ. The game tonight should have been a blowout, but I guess we should be thankful that they didn’t blow it at the end.

J Clay

April 24th, 2011
11:15 pm

Separately, Celtics look real good and playoffs schedule benefits them greatly with all the off days…I’d think they are the team to beat in the East….

Dawgfan

April 24th, 2011
11:18 pm

Love the win, but just can’t help think how they’re going to screw this up. Heartbreaking last second loss in game 5? Blown leads in game 5 and 6 which give way to a Magic game 7 blow out in Orlando?

Ah the possibilities. Just win!

SickandTired

April 24th, 2011
11:20 pm

Does the beast that calls himself Dwight Howard think he has ever made a foul in his entire life. He cannot take contact from anyone without throwing an elbow long after the echo of the whistle has left the arena. He probably commits 30 fouls a game but is only called from less than the maximun for expulsion. He pounds our guys when they come in the lane, but never a call. He gets the ball and they need a backup box of whistles as the score table for the broken ones.

Mark Bradley

April 24th, 2011
11:25 pm

I just told some of the Hawks’ PR people: “Nothing about your team surprises me — but I’d be surprised if you don’t win the series.”

Dr. Warren

April 24th, 2011
11:25 pm

Crawford was a disappointment this year but has returned to last year’s form in these playoffs. Has Drew shifted the offense to suit him? Is the impending free-agent market giving him that extra boost of motivation?

Mark Bradley

April 24th, 2011
11:26 pm

I don’t think we can say this season would be a success with a Round 2 loss. A Round 2 loss got Mike Woodson canned.

hawkfan

April 24th, 2011
11:26 pm

Game 6 (if necessary) now becomes a must-win for the Hawks. Although this was a great individual performance by Crawford, the offense would seem to benefit more if the the team played a little bit more inside-out. The size/strength advantages (aside from Howard) are there, but the commitment to exploit them is lacking at times.

That being said, the Hawks are in complete control. They can’t lose 3 in a row now … can they?

Mark Bradley

April 24th, 2011
11:29 pm

Losing three in a row has been done, I should note. Though not by the Hawks. The Sixers have blown 3-1 series leads a couple of times in their history.

[...] scores 25, Hawks beat Magic for 3-1 leadStarNewsOnline.comWTKR Your NewsChannel 3 -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) -UPI.comall 1,033 news [...]

Mark Bradley is a hater

April 24th, 2011
11:29 pm

just so u knw not everybody was on your bandwagon and hated the hawks. Lets go hawks u will always be a hater right

hawkfan

April 24th, 2011
11:31 pm

hey Mark … how long have you been writing on the AJC now? I remember reading your hard-copy columns since I was a little boy … ‘91? ‘92?

Teedub

April 24th, 2011
11:31 pm

@J Clay – I hope you’re right but the Celtics beat a really inured Knicks team. Game 1 and 2 probably should have gone to NY. After that, Chauncey and Stoud were done. I’m afraid the whining Heat will win that series without too much trouble. Hope I’m wrong.

Greg

April 24th, 2011
11:36 pm

I’d like to give the Hawks more credit, but they don’t deserve much. Outside of Howard, the Magic have been incredibly inept in this series. They way they are playing right now, they couldn’t beat the Clippers in a best of 7 series. The Magic shoot 2 for 23 from 3 point range and the Hawks still manage to let them hang around and almost win on the Hawks home court. The last couple of minutes were ridiculous…well, ridiculous for a real TEAM, but normal for the Hawks. 7 point lead so let’s take the ball down the court on every possession after that and dribble the ball for 20 seconds before jacking up a 3 point prayer. This is where it hurts having Drew as the coach. This ISO crap is boring and just poor basketball yet Woodson and now Drew have not done anything to make this group of knuckleheads play team ball. That kind of selfish play won’t get you far in the playoffs. Amazingly, it might get them a series win over the Magic, but that will be as far as it goes. Make no mistake, the Hawks find themselves in this position due to the very poor play of their opponent more than any outstanding play on the Hawks part(other than Crawford.. I’ll give him his due).

One more thing – Josh Smith Is the dumbest player in the NBA. He has no peer when it comes to making bone-headed plays. Shouldn’t he be making better decisions after 6 or 7 years in the league.

NorCalHawk

April 24th, 2011
11:38 pm

Since I’ve been all over their case the 2nd half of the season, I must admit now I’m impressed with the intensity of the Hawks’ play. There were so many games they looked disinterested; maybe they’ve been saving all their energy for the postseason. Would be a true shame if they let this series get away.

Dr. Warren

April 24th, 2011
11:42 pm

Only the Sixers lost from being up 3-1, but the Hawks did lose 4 straight by 100 points a year ago to the Magic. So as much as I’d hate to see it, 3 straight losses is not unfathomable by any means for this Hawks team.

gt84

April 24th, 2011
11:44 pm

dunkfucious

April 24th, 2011
11:47 pm

I ain’t been this excited since tree rollins bit danny ainge’s mangie arse….

Reggie

April 24th, 2011
11:49 pm

Mark Bradley

April 24th, 2011
11:26 pm

I don’t think we can say this season would be a success with a Round 2 loss. A Round 2 loss got Mike Woodson canned. Umm wrong Mike Woodson got Mike Woodson canned,this is the same team as last year thats on the verge of knocking out the same team that set a record of points margin on them last year. By the way before you say this Orlando team is worse than last years please remember that last years 53-29 Hawks were probably better than this ones. Woodson being stubborn when it came to his rotation really did him in, last year he play Collin’s in game 2 in the first half and the Hawks actually lead that game at halftime…ofcourse Collins didn’t see the floor in the second half and the rest is history.

Tony

April 24th, 2011
11:53 pm

I watched this team do everything possible to give this game away the Magic are just not a good team.
The Hawks remind me of a woman when she gets dressed up she looks good. However you know sooner or later she is going to break your heart it just a matter of time….she has done it before. You do everything you can to stay away but she keeps doing something to get you interested in her again..YOU know she is going to break your heart that is what she does…

rally

April 24th, 2011
11:54 pm

Your right 2 for 22 from three point land and you don’t think refs are playing the spread in vegas. These refs were the refs I have ever ever ever seen call an NBA game. They are one of the biggest reasons I quit watching basketball. David Stern ought to be firing every ref out there the calls tonight were just laughable. What’s worse is the fans take it and think its part of the game. Shame on the fans for not speaking out to the integrity of the NBA. I certainly don’t want my kid thinking its okay to throw elbows in basketball and not be called for a foul.

Mark Bradley

April 24th, 2011
11:56 pm

Been working here since March 5, 1984.

chem

April 24th, 2011
11:59 pm

blog form of Brad is much better than the old days print form

JASon

April 25th, 2011
12:03 am

Mark, I think many people will be tempted to pit the loss on poor play by the magic, but you have stuck by the correct assertion that the hawks are just a better team, with a gutsy defensive attack. Many will downplay Joe’s late game contributions; you highlighted them. No one should gloss over the four straight foul shots when we needed every last one of them; that was pure clutch execution. Horford and Hinrich’s contributions should not be overlooked in game 4. Well done by coach drew to utilize so many guys- we could not have gotten here without resilient play by each and every one of them. And well done by you in your level-headed perspective on tonight’s game.

JeJe

April 25th, 2011
12:03 am

The Magic blew a 3-1 lead to Detroit in 2003. That was the year McGrady brilliantly said it felt great getting to round 2

WE GOTTA GET THE BALL INSIDE. TOO MANY AWKWARD JUMPSHOTS. JOE’S FLOATER WORKS. GET THE BALL INSIDE

JOSH ATTACK THE BASKET. STOP TAKING THE DAMN JUMPSHOTS

rally

April 25th, 2011
12:06 am

David Stern needs to rethink his position as commissioner of basketball if he really think his refs are “the best at what they do”. the fouls tonight were the worst officiated basketball game I have ever seen and if I didnt know any better I say the refs were trying to make a point spread. Sorry but I call it like I see it. Stern needs to do some serious checks into the refs and clean it up. That wasn’t basketball tonight that was street ball.