There they go again: In a step-up game, the Hawks fall flat

Just like that, a series got turned upside down. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Just like that, a series going the Hawks' way got turned upside down. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Game 2 wasn’t so much the Hawks against the Celtics as the Hawks versus prosperity. As voluminous history attests, this team is never so vulnerable as when riding high.

The lines from the Steely Dan song “Gaucho” might not have been written about the Hawks – “Just when I say, ‘Boy, we can’t miss. You are golden.’ Then you do this” – but they should have been. Even their coach offered a rueful acknowledgement of his team’s reputation.

Said Larry Drew, asked before the game about the Hawks’ penchant for losing when they shouldn’t: “We’ve seen that. You’ve been around here.”

Up 1-0 in the series, the Hawks would be working at home against a Boston team minus its best player. Unlike some of his once-stellar teammates, Rajon Rondo is neither too old nor too injured. He just got too mad. He bumped a ref at the end of Game 1 and was duly suspended by the NBA

This knowledge didn’t fill Drew’s cup of confidence to the brim. “Teams missing a key player are even more dangerous,” he said, and he should know. It was on Jan. 5 in this building that the Hawks lost in triple overtime to the Miami Heat, who were minus two players (L. James, D. Wade) better than R. Rondo.

Drew: “I’ll be that little birdie on their shoulder tonight just to remind these guys that we’re going to have to have a supreme effort from everybody.”

Their birdie’s  notwithstanding, the Hawks bogeyed the early going. They fell behind 9-4 – Paul Pierce had all nine for the Celtics – and were down 34-29 five minutes into the second quarter. Even worse, the best player of Game 1 was performing like Josh Smith on a night when he has, for variety’s sake, decided to be the worst player on the floor.

Smith hoisted three early jumpers, missing them all. He flubbed a look-at-me breakaway dunk. Then he clunked a 3-pointer off the side of the board, a miss so egregious that the (non-capacity) crowd expressed audible angst.

Then, just because he’s Josh Smith, he changed the game to his team’s benefit. He took a defensive rebound that triggered Jeff Teague’s tying trey, dunked off the break – no silliness this time – to put the Hawks ahead and nailed a tough jumper to extend the lead.

Another Smith flurry early in the third quarter – a reverse layup, an 18-footer (hey, he doesn’t miss ‘em all) and a hook over Kevin Garnett – gave the Hawks a working lead of nine points. It grew to 11. Then it disappeared.

Drew stuck too long with his bench – to be fair, the Hawks’ bench has been good this season – and saw the Celtics draw within two. Then they nosed ahead. The only offense the proud C’s could muster were alternating jumpers by Pierce and Garnett, but the Hawks had stopped scoring altogether.

The home side managed six points – two Teague free throws, Joe Johnson’s runner and Marvin Williams’ stickback of a Johnson air ball – in the first 9:07 of the fourth quarter. By then the Celtics had taken a 79-72 lead. (Adding literal injury to insult, Smith had been taken to the locker room. Diagnosis: Sprained left knee.)

And then it was done, the Hawks having done it again. They’d wasted an 11-point home lead on a night when the Celtics had been reduced to winning on memory. They’d managed 14 points in the fourth quarter, one more than Pierce scored by his 34-year-old lonesome. The Hawks’ precious homecourt edge is gone, and Rondo will be back for Game 3 and Smith – his old Oak Hill roommate – might not.

All of this should have seemed shocking. These being the Hawks, none of it was.

Drew didn’t seem disconsolate afterward, saying, “The margin for error is very small in the playoffs,” and suggesting that his fallen team would rise: “We will not hang our heads at this point. We’ll show the world what we’re all about, what we’ve been all about all season.”

A cynic would suggest the Hawks had just shown the world what they are, and after such a game it was difficult to offer a rebuttal. As Charles Barkley was heard to say on the big TVs in the Hawks’ locker room: “You have to win that game.”

But they didn’t. There have been more deflating nights in the history of these Atlanta Hawks – the Cliff Levingston running lefty hook in 1988, the Game 5 collapse against Milwaukee in 2010, the many homecourt blowouts – but there haven’t been many. Another golden chance, to borrow the Steely Dan word, became another handful of fool’s gold.

By Mark Bradley

267 comments Add your comment

Ralph J. Williams III

May 1st, 2012
10:55 pm

Joe Johnson is the most unclutch athlete i have ever seen!!!! oh i forgot about Matt Ryan…

Grandmaster JeJe (GM)

May 1st, 2012
10:57 pm

We all knew this was coming

A bunch of nice guys

Ralph J. Williams III

May 1st, 2012
10:58 pm

Joe gets the nod at least he has won a playoff game

Chasjons

May 1st, 2012
10:59 pm

40 years as a Hawks fan. I can’t take it anymore! Never been past the second round.

ATL Sports Pessimist

May 1st, 2012
10:59 pm

We prove the national media right every single time. Is anyone surprised?

HawksFan87

May 1st, 2012
11:00 pm

No Josh no chance smh

No prob

May 1st, 2012
11:00 pm

Until spirit sell the team, go celtics.

62jacket

May 1st, 2012
11:01 pm

I think most of us fans are borrowing from The Who – “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

Mark Bradley

May 1st, 2012
11:01 pm

Honesty compels me to report that, halfway through the third quarter, I thought this was all but over. In a different way than it wound up being over.

George

May 1st, 2012
11:02 pm

For maybe the first time ever I had actually become interested in the Hawks, for this was perhaps the best opportunity they’ve ever had, and then this EPIC failure. Sell them and move them to another town. Disgusting.

CamiloAtlanta

May 1st, 2012
11:02 pm

It’s just destiny. I think all of us around here have already accepted our failures. The C’s are the better team, with or without their best player.

Mark Bradley

May 1st, 2012
11:03 pm

Honesty also compels me to say: This series isn’t over. The Hawks might still win. But they missed a real shot to make it hard on the C’s tonight

Aaron

May 1st, 2012
11:03 pm

Hawks always blow 4th quarter leads. Unfortunately, did not have a 19 point cushion tonight to make up for it. Celtics in 6.

Chasjons

May 1st, 2012
11:04 pm

My rule of thumb is don’t ever get your hopes up with the Hawks. Best to watch them as you would an Austalian rules football game…curiosity and confusion, but no emotion.

omar

May 1st, 2012
11:04 pm

You can count on Joe not to show it matters the most

Over NBA Forever

May 1st, 2012
11:05 pm

what else would you expect?

Ralph J. Williams III

May 1st, 2012
11:06 pm

Marvin is a waste of the material they use to make the Hawks uniforms…

Joe Johnson has the recessive clutch jean!

Jay

May 1st, 2012
11:07 pm

Marvin Williams had 2 points, really?

Mark Bradley

May 1st, 2012
11:08 pm

Marvin: 2 points on a follow off an air three.

Mark Bradley

May 1st, 2012
11:09 pm

Celtics bench matched the Hawks’ bench: 14 points each.

hawks4life

May 1st, 2012
11:10 pm

once again, iso joe fails us again, if joe and marvin are on the team next year, i will not be attending anymore hawks games

Patman

May 1st, 2012
11:10 pm

I’m not disappointed at all. In order to be disappointed, you have to have expected more in the first place and history has shown that you can’t expect anything from the Hawks come playoff time. Unfortunately it’s the same thing will all Atlanta teams.

Biff Pocoroba

May 1st, 2012
11:10 pm

I went to Kroger tonight and saw Joe Johnson on a milk carton. They knew that he would disappear this week.

hawks4life

May 1st, 2012
11:11 pm

mark, how do you continue to cover the hawks without going bald? they are the most frustrating team to watch!

Grandmaster JeJe (GM)

May 1st, 2012
11:12 pm

Northcyde where u at?

Plz come defend Marvina and Joe…waiting….

Boston Garden

May 1st, 2012
11:12 pm

Now, forget about Sunday nite, the hawks are not worth a damn.

CelticsCraig

May 1st, 2012
11:12 pm

Let’s be honest here..the Hawks out played the Celts in the 1st quarter of Game 1 and that is about it. In tight games the Celtics will make the plays and the Hawks will choke. I don’t see the Hawks having a chance to win the series and they would be lucky to win one more game.

Grandmaster JeJe (GM)

May 1st, 2012
11:13 pm

Celtics just won in out arena without Rondo.

Pretty sure they aint scared of this place

Karmack

May 1st, 2012
11:13 pm

You’re at home, in the playoffs and playing a team without one of their best players and all you can muster is 14 points in the deciding 4th quarter? Really? Might as well go ahead and make your tee times for next week ’cause you guys aren’t going anywhere, as usual.

Biff Pocoroba

May 1st, 2012
11:14 pm

Mark, do you know if any other NBA team has to sell half price playoff tickets to get people to come? Sweetjack.com had half off tickets with free popcorn and Coke this week. They also had Chick Fil A family packs as well. When everyone knows Atlanta never wins the big game in any sport, people aren’t going to want to buy tickets and drive downtown to watch the inevitable.

Vick Supporter

May 1st, 2012
11:17 pm

Hey there Mark Bradley long time no see!!

Please tell me when you’re going to write that scathing article about”Mr” Marvin Williams?!?!? This dude has goten a free pass in this town…this dude SUCKS. 2 points?!?? Looks like Marvin and “Ice”Ryan are the two point brothers lol.

Cmon man. As soon as Rondo was suspended, I had a feeling we would lose because we ALWAYS play down to our opponent (Heat in triple OT). This shi…was a digrace to basketball and some shi…needs to hit the fan this offseason. We’re sick of getting the 4th seed and getting embarrased like this. Write the article(s) to get this shi…started

jo

May 1st, 2012
11:19 pm

Celtics in 6 and they are not the better team ability wise, just in experience and heart when it counts most…

Popeye

May 1st, 2012
11:20 pm

Hawks are pretenders….Not to worry though….Celtics will have fun with this Not Ready For Prime Time team before kicking thier can out of the playoffs… Still waiting for JJ to earn his pay check….Not!!!

Whopper Dawg

May 1st, 2012
11:20 pm

Just as I posted in your previous comments, 50/50 the Hawks gag it up like a stone. Lo and beyond the rock.

In our heart of hearts, we knew it was coming. And in our heart of hearts, we know this baby is over.

Sage of Bluesland

May 1st, 2012
11:22 pm

Why even bother, sheep?! You should feel foolish, all those who continue to make excuses for nothing but an inept organization.

What a sad, pitiful joke. I’ll never subsidize such incompetence.

What other organization would employ Pete Babcock for over 10 years?! This organization is the epitome of wretched and doesn’t deserve the hard-earned dollar in your pocket.

Lifelong Atlantan here–and the only–ONLY–time this team was relevant was a brief, non-shining moment in the mid-80s. That was it. Period.

Wake up, folks and stop being such sheep. Want performance to change? The only way is to cut the funds to the inept ownership.

Vick Supporter

May 1st, 2012
11:22 pm

As much as I hate to say it, we will get blown out in Boston. The sad thing is, the Celts will beat us and then get blown out in the next round. They are OLD and we should beat these dudes, but NOOOOOO, we’re the HAWKS and we f’in choke for 40 years….the TNT commentators laugh us off and don’t even acknowledge us. Where’s the damn fire??!?!? They need to sit Marvin’s duck lookin arse down and but T-Mac in. What do we have to lose? And give Willie “MLK” Green more minutes instead of Marvin

Durrtydogg

May 1st, 2012
11:24 pm

Big time players make big time plays. The Hawks were out coached, out played, and they are about to be out period.

Eb

May 1st, 2012
11:24 pm

Hawks will be a joke as long as this clueless ownership group remains in charge. Their draft choices have been abysmal, personnel moves horrific, and free agent signings head shaking. Only this group would hire an incompetent guy like Billy Knight ( who’s still looking for work), retain a total bust in Marvin W for years, and sign JJ to max money right after he gave fans the middle finger. More of the same coming from this sad sack …………stay tuned.

thecurse

May 1st, 2012
11:26 pm

. When Pierce has to carry his team he does so. Anytime Marvin (no left hand) Wiilliams is in at crunch time disaster is near..Joe Johnson from the parking lot,Larry Drew lost and bewildered. We got them right where we want them

J.J.M.

May 1st, 2012
11:26 pm

hey mark remember when I said “not so fast my friend” its because of players like joe overpaid johnson

Atl teams = CHOKE

May 1st, 2012
11:32 pm

How can anyone be surprised? Whenever you expect an ATL team to win, they lose especially in the postseason.

Vick Supporter

May 1st, 2012
11:33 pm

Paul Pierce “Tebowed” on our ass lol

Atl teams = CHOKE

May 1st, 2012
11:34 pm

The Hawks lack killer instinct. Joe johnson is only clutch in the regular season vs teams like the Cavs.

Vick Supporter

May 1st, 2012
11:34 pm

Atl teams = CHOKE

May 1st, 2012
11:32 pm
How can anyone be surprised? Whenever you expect an ATL team to win, they lose especially in the postseason.

____________

Lol yep. I’m a hawks and braves fan only though

Atl teams = CHOKE

May 1st, 2012
11:35 pm

I really dis-like Paul Pierce, but he’s a true leader.

CDawg42

May 1st, 2012
11:35 pm

I think we Hawks fans take losses like these so hard is because while we have never even been to the big dance, we have often had teams with the physical capacity to do so. They regularly tease us with flashes of brilliance at times while what ultimately wins out is their inability to make the intangible things work in their favor. Things such as mental toughness, intestinal fortitude, offensive and defensive schemes (the lack thereof), and organizational ineptness! And then we see teams with even less physical talent that have all those intangible things working go out and do the very thing that we know our guys should be able to do as well. Very frustrating as a fan!!!

Atl teams = CHOKE

May 1st, 2012
11:36 pm

How can you not be a Falcons fan? when you are a Hawks and Braves fan. Might as well become a Philies and Sixer fan.

CDawg42

May 1st, 2012
11:37 pm

Atl teams = CHOKE

May 1st, 2012
11:35 pm

I really dis-like Paul Pierce, but he’s a true leader.
________________________________________

Could not agree more…on the dislike and the leadership!

Atl teams = CHOKE

May 1st, 2012
11:41 pm

@ CDawg. I agree. The losses are only hard because we know that our team can do it. Honestly Id rather have the 2005 Hawks back. Atleast we had no doubt that they sucked.

same old hawks

May 1st, 2012
11:41 pm

nothing about this team gives you confidence they’d be able to get out of the second round this year either, and now they might not even make it out of the first.

If Josh is out game 3 I guess that means joke … err .. joe … johnson will have to do something he rarely does, step up and earn that money instead of stealing it.