A stirring Hawks’ playoff run dissolves in a familiar collapse

Another year, another head-in-a-towel ending. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Another year, another head-in-a-towel ending in Round 2. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

If they’d done nothing else this past month, the Hawks made us recall how it was in 2008, when they took the champs-to-be to a Game 7 in Boston. They’ve reminded us what fun having a good NBA team in this town can be. They’ve allowed us to say the words “playoff basketball” without cringing.

Three years after that improbable Celtics series, the Hawks had again smacked into the East’s No. 1 seed and refused to retreat. They stole Game 1 in Chicago on a flurry of shooting, outfought the Bulls over the final minutes of Game 4 to draw even in the series. And the Hawks’ loss in Game 5 shouldn’t have perturbed them — down 15 early, they seized a fourth-quarter lead before succumbing.

Thursday brought the series back here. Many of these Hawks had done bravura duty in a Game 6 victory against Boston in 2008. The Celtics took a 15-point lead, and that seemed that. But the Hawks converted 17 consecutive possessions spanning the third and fourth quarter and won at the end, and that was the first night of the 21st century that Philips Arena felt like a real basketball building.

This Game 6, sorry to report, started in similar fashion, but this one never got better. The Hawks trailed by 10 after one quarter, by 17 midway through the second. This was the time during the regular season when these Hawks would roll over and lose by 30 or 40, but you shouldn’t roll over in the playoffs. (Although sometimes it happens. Remember last year’s Orlando travesty.)

Over the past month it seemed the Hawks had become a team again, not just a gaggle of wide-eyed jump-shooters. They’d fought harder, defended better, even gotten a bit smarter. But now they were down double figures on a night when the Bulls were guarding better and finding more scorers than at any time in Games 1-5.

For all that had come before, this was the test of the New Hawks: Could they hold themselves together at a time when little was going right? Could they give the home folks — Philips wasn’t packed, by the way — a finish?

Nope. It got so bad the below-capacity throng began leaving with eight minutes left. Just when you thought these Hawks weren’t the old Hawks, they uncorked a stinker. (And they wonder why we don’t take them as seriously as they think we should.)

Trailing 70-53 after three quarters, it soon was 76-55, the Bulls having reduced the Hawks to … er, a gaggle of wide-eyed jump-shooters. Sure enough, the Hawks’ first four shots of the period were standstill jumpers.

And then came the moment when you knew this playoff flurry was finally done. Luol Deng jumped Joe Johnson at the head of the key, and the $120 million man ducked his head and went into one-on-one mode. Deng stole the ball and threw long for Derrick Rose, who dunked to make it a 21-point lead.

Yep. Here was Iso-Joe, the thing Larry Drew had been promoted to help curtail, going kerplunk in a win-or-else game. Once again, a wrenching season-ending loss has called into question what we just saw: Were the Hawks as good as they looked against Orlando, or were the Magic just the right opponent? Were the first five games of this series a function of the Bulls’ relative playoff newness or a indication the Hawks had began to figure things out?

Said Al Horford, who missed eight of 10 shots and took only four rebounds: “You’ve just got to give them credit. You have to really execute on offense well against them, and we didn’t do that.”

Then: “They were the better team. They were more solid, more consistent.”

When you lose Game 6 on your floor by 20 points on a night when you never led, you leave your audience to wonder. For a few bright shining moments, these Hawks made us (almost) forget their tepid regular season, but then, just as we began to hope and maybe even believe, they got blown out.

Speaking before Game 6, Drew had said of his Hawks: “I think people saw us as a team that would make the playoffs and wouldn’t do well … [What his men have done] is truly a testament to their commitment.”

And it was, until finally it wasn’t. For all this team’s talent — and it has a boatload — there’s still something missing. Maybe a full season of Jeff Teague at the point will be the ticket. But it’s clear the separation between the NBA’s elite clubs and these Atlanta Hawks still exists.

The Hawks beat Orlando, and that was nice. They took the Bulls to six games, which was heartening. In the end it was another Round 2 exit, the third in a row, but give them this: At least they weren’t swept.

By Mark Bradley

245 comments Add your comment

Doug

May 12th, 2011
10:38 pm

What moves do you expect the Hawks to make this offseason? Assuming there is a labor agreement

Aaron

May 12th, 2011
10:46 pm

Herschel Talker

May 12th, 2011
10:47 pm

MB:

Of course. Besides the obvious that this team’s true colors would show up, you had to know that your posting about them knowing they can win the series would jinx them. Along those lines, UGA will go 5-7 this year after today’s early posting of yours.

HT

Big Wally

May 12th, 2011
10:47 pm

I hoped Horford at least got kissed by Noah, cause he sure took it from him in the rear all series.

Cousin Vicker

May 12th, 2011
10:48 pm

This team is a lot like the Atlanta teams of the mid to late 90’s… good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to seriously contend for a title. The difference is this time the inevitable blow-up will not have to be as big. Keep Teague, Horford, Smith, Zaza. I see no real reason why anyone else should be kept. Yes, it will be hard to move JJ, but it’s not impossible. There may be a team out there that needs a good number 2 to make a championship run, and would be willing to give up some draft picks/young talent for him. Thanks for a good blog run Mark.

ATLtodolavida

May 12th, 2011
10:49 pm

GT Trumpet

May 12th, 2011
10:49 pm

I’d like to be around for an Atlanta championship someday. I was 5 for the Braves so I’d love one I can remember. These Hawks might bring it one day but until they can actually give it their all every game they won’t. I’ll hold out for a Braves win again than wait for the Hawks.

ChiTown

May 12th, 2011
10:49 pm

DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA Bulls

squawk squawk!!!!

May 12th, 2011
10:50 pm

THANK GOD!!!!

Can the AJC, and all local sports talk radio stations agree that there should be NO MORE Hawks coverage until the 2011-12 season begins next week……..

NOTHING is more annoying than the NBA Playoffs. Thank God Atlanta is out, so we can HOPEFULLY stop hearing about it.

PMC

May 12th, 2011
10:51 pm

Do they really have that much talent?

or is there just THAT much difference between good players and GREAT players in the NBA.

El Bravo

May 12th, 2011
10:51 pm

I figured it wouldn’t take you long to post this story. The game was over an hour ago…

El Bravo

May 12th, 2011
10:52 pm

The Hawks did what they do best; they quit and got blown out…

Big Wally

May 12th, 2011
10:52 pm

Larry Drew is playing checkers, while Thibodeua is playing Chess.

vuduchld

May 12th, 2011
10:52 pm

Why are you surprised. This is the Hawks, their DNA, their soul. Anyone thinking that there would be a 7th game was smoking crack. Yeah, the Grizz got blown out the other night, but they came off a 3OT game! The Hawks are just one lame, sorry team.

RR

May 12th, 2011
10:52 pm

Time to get rid of Josh Smith and Marvin Williams

PMC

May 12th, 2011
10:52 pm

This is almost getting to be like talking Georgia football. At some point, you have to admit that the baby… is ugly. (or the offensive line, just isn’t very good or talented)

El Bravo

May 12th, 2011
10:52 pm

LD is who we thought he was. As long as he is here we are going to be an also ran…

Collect a Hawks!

May 12th, 2011
10:53 pm

weak so called stars

Dose of Reality

May 12th, 2011
10:53 pm

It seemed over in the first quarter, I guess the Hawks listen too much (and believed) what tnt, espn, and all the other phony commentators were saying…. Forget next year ( sick of waiting), I’m done with the hawks and I’m done with the nba!!!!! It’s all about money and politics anyway…. thanks chicago, now you saved us the embarrassment of having to get destroyed by miami, now you will get to feel how it is to get an butt whoompin… heat in 6

Big Wally

May 12th, 2011
10:54 pm

We are still paying for that idiot Billy Knight’s lame draft picks. Marvin Williams shouldn’t even be in the NBA.

mountain_jim

May 12th, 2011
10:54 pm

Well it was a better playoff showing than the Falcons this year…..

In Reality...

May 12th, 2011
10:55 pm

It seemed over in the first quarter… I guess the Hawks listen too much (and believed) what tnt, espn, and all the other phony commentators were saying…. Forget next year ( sick of waiting), I’m done with the hawks and I’m done with the nba!!!!! It’s all about money and politics anyway…. thanks chicago, now you saved us the embarrassment of having to get destroyed by miami, now you will get to feel how it is to get an butt whoompin… heat in 6

Mega Man 2

May 12th, 2011
10:55 pm

And PMC shows his ongoing infatuation and obsession with all things UGA.

Phil

May 12th, 2011
10:55 pm

Somehow you just knew 4 yrs ago that Noah would end up better than Horford…why? We’re the Hawks….i’m ashamed as always…

El Bravo

May 12th, 2011
10:55 pm

This team needs to be shaken up. We need to get rid of one of our power forwards and for the life of me, I don’t know which. Had you asked me before the playoffs I would have obviously said that you get rid of Josh but now I’m not so sure. MB, what do you think? Al is the more mature player but Josh has the bigger upside and I feel that with the right coach he can be nurtured…

In Reality...

May 12th, 2011
10:55 pm

Time to rebuild this team from top to bottom… heat in 6

In Reality...

May 12th, 2011
10:56 pm

It seemed over in the first quarter, I guess the Hawks listen too much (and believed) what tnt, espn, and all the other phony commentators were saying…. Forget next year ( sick of waiting), I’m done with the hawks and I’m done with the nba!!!!! It’s all about money and politics anyway…. thanks chicago, now you saved us the embarrassment of having to get destroyed by miami, now you will get to feel how it is to get an butt whoompin… heat in 6

Big Wally

May 12th, 2011
10:56 pm

The Hawks are like the French Army = we surrender, waive the white flag.

Phil

May 12th, 2011
10:57 pm

Exactly, El Bravo, exactly…quitters….all year long….pathetic quitters…i still haven’t been to a single game at Phillips and won’t ever be going….

Worm

May 12th, 2011
10:58 pm

R.I.P-Jesse Outlar…Japan and Germany are still in it!

Phil

May 12th, 2011
10:58 pm

UGA can’t say anything about the Hawks….we stink in Athens…

Michael

May 12th, 2011
10:58 pm

Go out and sign Nene and get the center this team needs

J-Man

May 12th, 2011
10:58 pm

I wish you would start the Dwight Howard Campaingn like the L.A. Writers and National Media have done. I mean ATL is his home afterall. Come on Bradley start the charge and put the pressure on ownership and lets get this fanbase riled up!!!!!!!!!!!!!! J Smoove, M williams and 3 1st round pick for Howard. Lets make this happen!!!!!!!!!

Cajun Crap Talker

May 12th, 2011
10:58 pm

The Billy Knight legacy lives on!!! (Center? We don’ need no steenking center!)

Hood Rat

May 12th, 2011
10:59 pm

Nothing but losers. It’s simple… if we want to be above average, but never championship material, keep the team together. Otherwise blow it up and rebuild. You know… a high draft pick (a la Marvin Williams)… and a key free agent (a la Joe Johnson) and in about 5 short years we’ll be getting eliminated by the Bulls and maybe even the Cavs in the 2nd round. Can we move the Hawks to Winnipeg?

Steve

May 12th, 2011
10:59 pm

At least we have the Braves who care, and TRY!

PMC

May 12th, 2011
10:59 pm

analogy Mega Man. The “talented” “young” hawks has been this rumor for years and we haven’t seen it. Just like that offensive line. no offense meant.

rabiddawg

May 12th, 2011
11:00 pm

Attention Hawks…. Please don not complain about crowd support any longer. Fans showed up for all of the games, unfortunately you guys didn’t. How do you expect anyone to give you bones any respect when you get blown out at HOME twice within a week in the playoffs. Joe Johnson is horrid and Horford was a no show. Crawford, see ya mr playoff irrelevant. Now for the positives, we finally have an explosive point guard. Josh Smith proved that he can dominate when in the right frame of mind (and staying within 10 feet of the basket). Marvin Williams will be gone via trade or whatever. We will see you guys for next years second round exit.

mountain_jim

May 12th, 2011
11:00 pm

Even Al disapeared in this series. Marvin looked like a scrub. Easy to say bye to Jamal after this clunker also.

Dwight Howard

May 12th, 2011
11:01 pm

Don’t waste your money on a campaign to bring me home…. LA bound baby!!!

Phil

May 12th, 2011
11:01 pm

The ESPN love fest with Rose continues as we speak…david Stern gets his way yet again…

Atl teams = Playoff chokers

May 12th, 2011
11:02 pm

Despite everything this post season was a success. Remember, these Hawks werent supposed to beat Orlando in the 1st round let alone compete in the 2nd. I considering forcing a game 6 in the second round a success for these Hawks.

Cajun Crap Talker

May 12th, 2011
11:02 pm

Billy Knight’s legacy lives on! (Center? We don’ need no steenking center!)

RA

May 12th, 2011
11:02 pm

Just want to say thank you to the Atlanta Hawks. For whatever it’s worth, you exceeded my highest expectations this post season, and Jeff Teague, don’t forget all you learned these last six games over the summer. Take care guys, come back safe, and thank you.

Big Wally

May 12th, 2011
11:02 pm

The curse of Billy Knight is still with us. Marvin Williams shouldn’t even be on a NBA team.

Cajun Crap Talker

May 12th, 2011
11:02 pm

B illy K night’s legacy lives on!

ken

May 12th, 2011
11:03 pm

there was a child that went to court to get new legal guardians because his parents were beating him. the judge sent him to his grandparents who ended up beating the kid when he brought home a bad grade… the judge then sent the poor kid to his aunt who ended up beating the kid when he was late to school… the judge then sends the kid to his uncle who ends up beating the kid because he missed his curfew… the judge finally relents and gives up and says i didnt want to do this… but these are unforeseen circumstances… so im going to send you to the atlanta hawks… because they cant beat anyone.

Cajun Crap Talker

May 12th, 2011
11:03 pm

Ceenter? We don’ need no steenking ceenter!

Greg

May 12th, 2011
11:04 pm

Thank goodness for low expectations. I don’t know what was worse tonight, the offense or the defense. When did the Hawks finally break 50? With a few minutes left in the 3rd quarter? Defensively, how many spot up jumpers do you continue to give the likes of Boozer and Bogans? Can those guys score any other way? Yet no one on the Hawks gets up in their grill and challenges them.

Crawford stunk it up really bad in the last few games and I don’t know what to say about Marvin. At least the Hawks have finally realized how worthless he is and have cut his minutes way down.

Tonight was a reminder that this is a team with major flaws. No team chemistry, no leadership and no intestinal fortitude. When you talk about “the heart of a chamionship”, the Hawks will never come to mind with this group of players.

Cajun Crap Talker

May 12th, 2011
11:05 pm

Hawks should change their name to the Atlanta Tin Man. Got no heart . . .