The Hawks were rolling, but on this night they rolled over

Joe Johnson gets that hemmed-in feeling against the Grizz. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Joe Johnson gets that hemmed-in feeling against the Grizz. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

The Atlanta Hawks, as we know, are a strange crew. They lost Jamal Crawford, their fourth-best player, to free agency. They lost Al Horford, considered their one indispensable man, to a torn pectoral. Yet they entered Thursday’s game against Memphis tied with Chicago, Miami and Philadelphia for the fewest losses in the NBA East.

They were 7-4 with Horford; they’d gone 9-2 without him. You might be wondering just how. If you watched the Hawks lose to Memphis by 19 points after trailing by 30 Thursday night, you’re wondering still.

“We got out-toughed,” said coach Larry Drew. “That’s something I hadn’t seen in a while.”

Speaking before the game, Drew had said: “When you lose one of your big guys, one of two things will happen. Guys will start to feel sorry for themselves, or guys will elevate their play.”

For three weeks without Horford, the Hawks had elevated like Pogo Joe Caldwell, once a Hawk himself. Against the gifted Grizzlies, the home team never left the pad. Maybe it was simply the effects of returning from a 10-day road swing — as voice-of-the-Hawks Steve Holman noted, the first game back after a long trip is infamous for being ugly — but this was the sort of non-performance these Hawks had managed to avoid.

There was also this: Memphis is 12-10. The Hawks are 3-7 against teams that currently hold a winning record. They’re 13-0 against sub-.500 opposition. That would seem an indication of … something.

Until Thursday, the Hawks had been one of the NBA’s happiest surprises. With Crawford gone, a lot of folks wondered if the Hawks would be as good as they were last season, when they were a not-very-good 44-38. With Horford lost, those same folks had cause to wonder if the Hawks would even make the playoffs. And yet: Had the postseason begun at 7 p.m. on Groundhog Day, Atlanta would have been the East’s No. 3 seed.

Asked before the game if he felt his Hawks belonged in the company of the Bulls and the Heat, Drew said, “Absolutely,” and then he offered this reason why. “Going into the season, one thing we absolutely positively had to do was strengthen our bench. And the guys we did get brought in more of a defensive presence.”

In a jammed-together season where three games in a week is a light load, depth always figured to matter. With Horford gone for the duration of the regular season, depth has become a determinant. Drew: “If we hadn’t made the acquisitions to deepen our bench, I don’t know if we could have survived so far.”

Cheap imports Tracy McGrady, Willie Green, Vladimir Radmanovic and Jannero Pargo — plus the fierce rookie Ivan Johnson — have made the Hawks a true two-platoon team, and now, with Kirk Hinrich returning from injury, the case can be made that they have, one through 12, the deepest roster in the East if not the whole wide NBA. (And there’s a chance Kenyon Martin, the free-agent forward, could join the fun.)

A caveat: Depth stands to be less essential in the playoffs, where there aren’t many back-to-backs and coaches shorten their rotation anyway. And now you’re asking: “Come on, Bradley. Do you really think the Hawks could handle Chicago or Miami in a best-of-seven? Without Horford?”

Honest answer: No, I don’t. But I didn’t think the Hawks would rise to 16-6 without Horford, either. Heck, I didn’t think they’d be 16-6 with him.

But what happened, albeit not by design, is that the dynamics of the Hawks’ Core Four — Horford, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams, all together since 2007 — has changed. Williams can no longer be deferential. (To his credit, he was at last showing signs of assertiveness before Horford was lost.) Without Horfy as a backstop, Smith can’t  free-lance as much, and Johnson cannot delegate responsibility to the curious degree he did last season.

Minus Horford, the remaining core members have been forced to shoulder a bigger load, and they’ve worn it well. And Jeff Teague, the discovery of Round 2 against Chicago, has given the Hawks more defense and more direction than any point guard since Mookie Blaylock. (Said Drew, in an obvious reference to non-defenders Crawford and Mike Bibby: “Anytime a defense’s weakest point is at the top, you’re going to have problems.”)

The February schedule is, however, far more demanding, and at some point the absence of Horford has to be felt. We shouldn’t write off the Hawks because they lost big to Memphis. (The Hawks got blown out a lot last season and still beat Orlando in the playoffs.) But this sobering night can stand as a reason not to go planning any Peachtree parades just yet. As if anyone was.

By Mark Bradley

55 comments Add your comment

NC Dawg

February 2nd, 2012
10:29 pm

Najeh Davenpoop

February 2nd, 2012
10:29 pm

Still the best team in Atlanta until some other team figures out how to advance in the playoffs.

Najeh Davenpoop

February 2nd, 2012
10:35 pm

With that said, GET A DAMN BIG MAN SUND

if... if... if

February 2nd, 2012
10:41 pm

“Still the best team in Atlanta until some other team figures out how to advance in the playoffs.”

That ain’t saying much lol

tyler

February 2nd, 2012
10:45 pm

Looks like we’re in trouble when the competition stiffens….Can’t consistently beat above avg to good teams. I figure the Hawks will probably play around .500 ball the rest of the year- somewhere around 38 wins…nothing special but not bad either. A nice team- nothing more, nothing less

Denver Hawk

February 2nd, 2012
10:49 pm

Been waiting 44 years to get past the second round….

superiorblogman

February 2nd, 2012
11:00 pm

Josh Smith is the dumbest SOB I ever seen in my life. I hope Teague picks up something and bust his head to the white meat. They will finally come to blows and I am on Teague’s side. Josh is so stupid. He loves to get rebounds and bring the ball up the floor in search of stat stuffing assists. Then when it gets tough he wants someone to come get the ball and bail him out. Then blames it on them. Trade Josh, Kirk, Marvin, and possibly Zaza.

Build around Al, Jeff, Joe, and picks.

[...] The Hawks were rolling, but on this night they rolled overAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Yet they entered Thursday's game against Memphis tied with Chicago, Miami and Philadelphia for the fewest losses in the NBA East. They were 7-4 with Horford; they'd gone 9-2 without him. You might be wondering just how. If you watched the Hawks lose to … [...]

Mark Bradley is a hater

February 2nd, 2012
11:05 pm

Its amazing this man didnt write a damn column when we were winning and here he is now. Hater Mark Bradley tell me when will the falcons even when a playoff game???? Go Hawks I believe in u

Bigman needed

February 2nd, 2012
11:10 pm

BEFORE al went down we needed a center. So after he goes down we need one in the worst way. Package henrich to get someone before it is too late. Marc gasol dominated inside and allowed grizz defemdersmto takemrisks on the perimeter.

keepinitreal

February 2nd, 2012
11:11 pm

The Hawks aren’t as good as their record, and they’re not as bad as they looked tonight. I’ve been pleased with how they’ve played so far and will just write this one off as one of those nights. The record against winning teams is troubling, thougn.

Drawing the Bulls in the second round is going to be critical for the Hawks. I can see us hanging with Chicago in a 7-game series. I can’t see us hanging with the Heat.

Arnold Ziffel

February 2nd, 2012
11:16 pm

Once again our superstar JJ doesn’t make All-Star starters yet makes more money than most of the chosen starters. This dude doesn’t have the stats or cache for what he earns. The jury has spoken yet again.

Mark Bradley is a hater

February 2nd, 2012
11:29 pm

@ Arnold u clearly dont watch basketball STHU

Mark Bradley

February 2nd, 2012
11:39 pm

Spyro

February 2nd, 2012
11:46 pm

Really, Bradley? You wait until the Hawks get blown out to write about them? Yeah, that is a great way to promote the hometown team! Maybe you should just stick with how UGA’s newest recruiting class is going to win them 38 national championshhips.

Grandmaster JeJe

February 2nd, 2012
11:47 pm

Marvin was assertive before Al went down? Why would he not be assertive with him out?

Marvin has never been assertive in his career

Ryan

February 3rd, 2012
12:01 am

I must agree with others. Not once did the Hawks get front page credit when they led the division for a couple nights the past month. What’s with all the negativity getting the headlines constantly on this site?

superiorblogman

February 3rd, 2012
12:37 am

Josh Smith is a dumb fool. I hate him he has ruined this team for long enough.

Josh Smith to the Wiz for Blatche, Turiaf, and swap 1st rd picks.

WoefulHawkfan

February 3rd, 2012
1:17 am

How much longer is Josh going to get a pass? I know he always listens to the media when they critique him, but I am sick of what I am seeing. He is not a point guard therefore he shouldn’t bring the ball up the court. He is also not Dirk or a shooting guard, therefore he shouldn’t be shooting from outside. Jeff Teague is a good young point guard and he needs confidence. He isn’t going to get it when Josh constantly b*tches at him. Am I the only one who always notices Josh ALWAYS getting on Jeff’s butt about stuff, both on the court and during timeouts. He is going to bring the kid down. Joe and Stackhouse and T-Mac need to put Josh in his place.

superiorblogman

February 3rd, 2012
1:28 am

Yes, Josh Smith is garbage. Jeff Teague needs to man up and whoop his arse just like Isiah did Laimbeer. I hate Josh. I wish I could catch him in the streets and straighten his punk arse out.

Willie Jones

February 3rd, 2012
1:52 am

Hawks are not a elite team and people need to stop calling them a elite team. You beat teams with a below .500 average but when you do play teams that are elite or above average look what happens. This is Atlanta and they can just keep dreaming about winning a championship cause the Hawks just suck and always will

superiorblogman

February 3rd, 2012
1:53 am

I hate Josh Smith. He is a horrible form of entertainment. Trade that trash and see the people come back to the lowlight factory. He is not the highlight but the lowlight.

superiorblogman

February 3rd, 2012
1:56 am

As much as I hate Josh Smith and could do without ever seeing anyone on this team not named Teague and Horford in a Hawks jersey again they don’t suck. They need to rid themselves of the waste and the people making it a bad work environment. Marvin, Kirk, Joe, and Josh. Then just rebuild with Al and Jeff some better role players and a couple of lottery picks. They will be better off for it.

Bill

February 3rd, 2012
1:58 am

Stan Kasten skulking… Remember that one, Mark?

GTT

February 3rd, 2012
5:05 am

Why did Jeff Teague sit on the bench for two years? Anyone have a logical explanation for that?

Spyro

February 3rd, 2012
5:41 am

Superior, just stop with the Josh Smith hating. Did you really suggest trading him for one of the worst players in the league (Blatche) and one of the most overrated, injury-prone players? (Turiaf) Stop the trolling, dude.

dap01

February 3rd, 2012
6:11 am

We need a center, we need a center. We are the thinnest in the NBA at Center. The Hawks need a center.

Hey MB: Write a column about our need for a center.

GTT

February 3rd, 2012
6:32 am

The Highlight Factory was a Brick Factory last night.

Spyro

February 3rd, 2012
6:41 am

@GTT: There are a couple explanations for that. One is that the management essentially gave both coaches a “win now or lose your job” mentality, causing both of them to stick with the veteran point instead of giving the young guy a shot. Another is that they are awful at evaluating the talent that they have. I think it is more of the first one than the second.

Drew for twooooooo

February 3rd, 2012
7:20 am

Thanks for the Holman mention … long suffering Voice of the Hawks but one of the NBA’s best.

Bill

February 3rd, 2012
7:36 am

Miss the Omni. Miss the Omni International mall and the skating rink. MIss Rizzoli bookstore. Miss the game room with the huge pinball machine. Miss the pizza place. Miss Marshall Mann doing PA. Miss Skip Caray. Miss Hubie Brown and Hubie’s Hustlers. Miss Dan Roundfield. Miss Joe O’Toole. Even miss John Sterling.

Peter

February 3rd, 2012
7:42 am

Why do you miss the point Mark ……. they shot 9 free throws all night….. a jump shooting team without any real size in the middle, is not a real NBA team.

GTT

February 3rd, 2012
8:11 am

How about the World of Sid and Marty Kroft?

Didn’t think so.

GTT

February 3rd, 2012
8:22 am

Oh wait, the huge pinball machine … that was Sid and Marty’s.

KevinM

February 3rd, 2012
8:53 am

Bill, no way could you miss John Sterling……that guy would try to sell you the nitty, gritty Hawks all too often.

While everyone is getting on Josh, no one is pointing at the non-help he has been left with:
- we still are starting Marvin
- we still have no talent ‘AT CENTER’ because our center doesn’t want to play center.
- we kept throwing Bibby out there until the ambush by the Wizards….he jury is still out on Kirk.
- we have LD still trying to instill core values in our core
- we still wait for Joemto score 20, because if he doesn’t, we win few games.

This team can’t turn the corner because Sund says we aren’t going over the cap until we are ‘championship caliber’”……really? Well, championship caliber doesn’t happen until you commit to a championship caliber blueprint.

I don’t see the ASG doing everything possible to win a championship, so you have a team caught where they won’t improve through the draft, or through trades. We have to depend on role players making the minimmum. Not that there’s anything wrong with making 1M to play a role…..

DocDawg

February 3rd, 2012
8:58 am

Josh is uncoachable, whether it be by Woody, LD, or a cast of veteran players that should command his respect. That’s really the bottom line for this team.

HawkerI

February 3rd, 2012
9:03 am

no big deal–the hawks were just flat and overconfident, expecting an easy win. They’ll pick it up big in the next game.

Bill

February 3rd, 2012
9:05 am

There was a game room where Taco Bell is now that had the “world’s largest” pinball machine. Maybe it came from World of Sid and Marty. Wish I could have seen that place. This was Atlanta at its finest. And the Flames were still there to boot.

Sideline Dude

February 3rd, 2012
9:08 am

Maybe they can just roll right on out of town. The NBA is about like boxing, a bunch of thugs. Is there hope that next season will be cancelled?

Jay

February 3rd, 2012
9:22 am

Hawks aren’t one of the deepest teams in the nba, otherwise why do we see John Smith and JJ playing huge minutes every night. Our bench is Captain Kirk and a bunch of Vet minimum players…and they get paid the bare minimum for a reason.

Kelvin

February 3rd, 2012
9:24 am

The Hawks are still suffering from the results of poor draft picks in Marvin Williams and Sheldon Williams. Two top five draft picks that have flopped miserably when we could have had Chris Paul and Rudy Gay instead. That’s the difference between a team that will make the playoffs and be eliminated in the first or second round and a team that is a serious contender for a championship year in and year out. It’s also the reason why the national media doesn’t take this franchise seriously. Folks, we’ve seen this scenario just play out with the Falcons. Only one of the ten Falcons victories this past season came against a team with a winning record and four of the six losses were against winning teams. What happened in the playoffs? They got demolished. Same is true for the Hawks. They will make the playoffs and get soundly defeated in the first or second round.

cdog

February 3rd, 2012
9:48 am

great topic. i want admit i was wrong about kirk hinrich.he’s a player. i’m impressed with his hustle and the way he plays sound fundamentally unlike the rest of the team.they need more like him.but rick sund is another issue.a nut can see the hawks have a making of a championship team if he would add a tree rollins like big man in the middle who can rebound and block shots.does it take these amount of years to solve this problem like he has done? no, its just stupidity on his part.he uses his heart instead of his head. thats why the team is stuck in neutral and will be until he is gone.great job mark though!

bfred

February 3rd, 2012
10:06 am

superiorblogman, see a therapist. Yeesh.

joey1

February 3rd, 2012
10:43 am

come on guys… we lose one game.. nothing went right for us at all and we got our butt kicked…
even the best teams it happens too. we are a good team lacking one more piece to compete for championships(exspecially with horford out) we need to sign kenyon martin. he would give us another rim protector and more toughness. we dont need offense .. we need better defense

joey1

February 3rd, 2012
10:45 am

mark bradley, why do you only post a blog about the hawks when they lose??? when will you give them credit where credit is due? nobody expected the hawks to still be a decent team after the horford injury.. and they still are

Time

February 3rd, 2012
11:23 am

Hawks are fine. Just a bad game. Teams have them. Close the blog.

DougHeffernan

February 3rd, 2012
12:03 pm

Just perused NBA salaries. Your Atlanta Hawks have hands down the three worst contracts in the history of the NBA(yes… I remember Jon Contract). Joe, Josh and Marvin are the reasons for Phillips flying at half staff and the Hawks being virtually unwatchable. Come on Man!!

Life-long hawk

February 3rd, 2012
1:46 pm

Please Fire Woody, PLEASE……..jeeeeeez

jmark999

February 3rd, 2012
1:54 pm

Very noticeable that the Hawks don’t have a glue guy like Tony Allen. Somebody that’s concerned only with “D” and picks up loose balls, steals, and generally harass the opponent like a horsefly on an elephant. From what I observed, I don’t think the Hawks could beat anybody in the Southwest Division of the Western Conference except maybe the Hornets. West is Tougher than East Conference.

Questionable Coaching

February 3rd, 2012
2:14 pm

Is it just me, or did it seem like Drew threw the towel in too early? I didn’t see a dominant group on the court after the first 4 mins of the 3rd qtr. I believe they could have won or at least contended. Drew trying to sit the starters so they can rest before playing Philly? Maybe. Even that might not work though. I love the Hawks, but they’re a looooong way from where they want to be. ASG and Drew will NEVER get em there!