The Hawks had a great chance. Being the Hawks, they blew it

Yet again, the Hawks' reach exceeded their grasp. More's the pity. (AP photo)

Yet again, the Hawks' reach exceeded their collective grasp. More's the pity. (AP photo)

For all the lip service that will be paid to the Hawks’ perseverance through injury and their rousing efforts in Games 5 and 6, let’s call this what it was: a massive missed opportunity. These NBA playoffs weren’t 34 hours old when the team that has never reached the Eastern Conference finals had been graced with two strokes of fortune: Derrick Rose hurt his knee and Rajon Rondo misplaced his marbles.

With Rondo suspended for Game 2, the Atlanta Hawks were staring at the likelihood of a 2-0 lead with the reality of either a weakened No. 1 seed or, better still, an unimpressive No. 8 awaiting in Round 2. Being the Hawks, they tossed their gifts in the trash can. They lost Game 2 here after leading by 11 points with 15 minutes left. They were outscored 18-15 the rest of the way by the 34-year-old Paul Pierce.

This series was lost in Game 2. In NBA history, teams taking a 2-0 lead have won the series more than 94 percent of the time — odds even the schizo Hawks would have been hard-pressed to defy. And, even though we didn’t know it at the time, the Hawks were about to become an oddity in these debilitating playoffs: They would get key guys back. Josh Smith reappeared in Game 4 after missing Game 3, and Al Horford, out since Jan. 11, was alongside. (Had the Hawks advanced to Round 2, Zaza Pachulia might also have been available.)

Add it up: Home-court advantage in the series; Rondo suspended for Game 2; the All-Star Horford making an unbilled return. And what happened? They were eliminated in Round 1 for the first time since 2008, beaten for the first time this century in a series in which they held the home-court edge.

Given their injuries, the temptation is to give the Hawks a pass and say, “Better luck next time.” But every team lost players in this overstuffed regular season — Rose worked only 39 games; Dwight Howard was done by Easter; the Celtics spent the last couple of weeks resting their Big Four — and the Hawks hit the playoffs in a strong position that should have grown only stronger. As Smith said after Game 6: “The road was paved for us, probably as good as it’s ever going to get.”

But they lost in Round 1 because, for all the advances made these past five years, this team hasn’t become anything more than a talented tease. The Core Four — Smith, Horford, Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams — has been in place since 2007, and what we’ve seen the past two seasons suggests that the days of diminishing returns are at hand.

The Hawks’ winning percentage in their final two seasons under Mike Woodson was .610. Their winning percentage in two seasons under Larry Drew, the Woodson assistant promoted to tap untapped resources, is .568. Johnson hasn’t been the same player under Drew, and the Hawks haven’t found a workable mesh to replace the Iso-Joes.

On the key possession of Game 6, the Hawks found themselves with nobody but Smith inside the 3-point arc with seven seconds on the shot clock. The play had been designed for Johnson, but he wasn’t open and nobody else knew what to do. “We didn’t execute the play,” Drew said Friday. “Guys did not go to the right spots.”

Smith hoisted a 20-footer that had no chance. Watch the tape and you’ll see Horford raise his arms after the Celtics rebounded as if to say: “What was that?” It remains a question asked far too often of these Hawks.

“I was upset,” Horford said, speaking Friday morning. “I thought it was a really tough shot.”

He wasn’t blaming Smith — “We’ve seen Josh make tough shots” — so much as he was the breakdown. But that, alas, is what the Hawks have come to do: They draw within sight of a summit, and then they break down.

Too much scar tissue has formed among the Core Four. Drew isn’t a terrible coach, but he hasn’t been able to break this team of its bad habits: When in doubt, look to Joe; when Joe’s not open, hoist a jumper. (And Johnson isn’t even the Hawks’ best player anymore. Smith is.)

I wish I could tell you I see better days ahead, but I see a coach who hasn’t been able to do all he proposed to do. I see a Core Four already already past its collective prime. I see addled ownership and a caretaker general manager, and I see no reason to believe this management won’t be content to keep banking on a team that has already written a lengthy legacy of disappointment, this latest installment being the most galling.

“We thought it was a great opportunity for us,” Smith said Friday, and it was. The Hawks could have been preparing Friday for a Game 7 or, better still, a Game 1 against the eighth-seeded Sixers. Instead they stuffed some sneakers and basketballs in plastic bags and went home for the summer.

By Mark Bradley

231 comments Add your comment

NC Dawg

May 11th, 2012
11:55 am

First! Now, I can enjoy the weekend.

Mark Bradley

May 11th, 2012
11:57 am

Kudos, NC Dawg. Happy Mother’s Day.

wxwax

May 11th, 2012
12:07 pm

Amnesty for Joe Johnson? Start a rebuild by freeing his money?

mike

May 11th, 2012
12:10 pm

Mark,

“..beaten in a series in which they held the homecourt edge for the first time this century.”

We had homecourt advantage in all of our recent first round series except Boston in ‘08

mike

May 11th, 2012
12:11 pm

My mistake, we did not have homecourt adv vs ORL last year, but we did vs MIL and MIA in prior years

Rickster

May 11th, 2012
12:11 pm

Why should we have expected any thing different from an Atlanta sports team?

Why?

May 11th, 2012
12:12 pm

What about the stupid technical that Smith got with about three minutes left in the game? Why isn’t anyone talking about that?

dublin mike

May 11th, 2012
12:13 pm

Would be nice if we had a PG who knew how to pass the ball. If Teague would stop trying to score and set up his players better (see Rondo) who knows what this team could be. And last night he couldn’t even score. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t your point guard supposed to be the one that leads the team in dimes?

Joe needs to go to management and restructure his deal. His pathetic performance isn’t even worth half of what he’s getting paid.

Josh needs someone to get in his ear and get him under the basket. That drive that he finished off with a dunk showed just what he can be, the jumper at the end showed what he is.

Athenzdawg

May 11th, 2012
12:14 pm

Mark, this is what we always get. Wait till next year, we had injuries, we didn’t gel as a team, we had a new coach. It’s always something. Please blow this team up trade everyone you can. I’d take a lawn chair for Marvin Williams. Teague and Horford should be all that’s left that people want to see play. Joe will be here cause the GM is dumb and signed him to the contract no one will take. Trade Smith and everyone else, or release them all. Jason Collins and Eric Dampier are just jokes…We should be embarrassed again as a team. As a fan I know I am. Same ole same ole every year.

Why?

May 11th, 2012
12:15 pm

If Josh Smith is their best player, then the Hawk’s are in real trouble. Yes, I know he is very talented and athletic. But, how many points does he give up a game through lazy passes, technicals, pouting?

RonnieMackAtl

May 11th, 2012
12:16 pm

The Core Four versus The Big Four = the problem. Well, that and Josh Smiths inexplicable shot selection. Time to blow it up.

I honestly think if Joe played in Boston we’d Bradley would still call them the Big Four and Joe would just be that other guy that has to be on the court.

Tiltman

May 11th, 2012
12:16 pm

Well put, Bradley. I know at the end of the day there were more easier opportunities to swing this series in our direction through the course of six games, but I gotta say . . . Something seemed ill suddenly about the rulebook when the celtics essentially bear hug Horford to prevent the game-tying shot with three-seconds. I can live with the Hawks living up to my expectations (first round exits) but the slightest bit of sore-loser in me says, a flagrant foul with no punishment secured the win. Just sayin, a non-shot-contesting foul shouldn’t seal the game. Yeah, I know, Horford had a chance to tie still. But I’ll take the three-point play!

El Bravo

May 11th, 2012
12:17 pm

Unfortunately, we are stuck with Joe Johnson for the long run and he is the biggest problem with this team. On the 3 biggest games of the season (Game 2, 5 and 6 of this series) he shot 7 for 17, 6 for 17 and 7 for 17. The lines are so similar that it can not be an aberration, it is a pattern: Joe comes up small in the big moments… ISO Joe and his disappearance acts are the reason this team will never make it deep in the Playoffs…

Doctor Wych

May 11th, 2012
12:17 pm

It was not only the ridiculous collapse in Game 2 that hurt. Last night’s game was so winnable. Overall, Boston very played very poorly (for them): Allen shooting bricks, careless turnovers, Pierce nowhere near 100 percent.

At so many pivotal junctures of the game, it was obvious that the Hawks had no plan. NO PLAN. Why does Iso-Joe have the ball? Why does Josh Smith have the ball? Why doesn’t Jeff Teague have the ball?

All the good teams run their offenses through their point guard. And so do the Hawks. Until crunch time. And then who has the ball? Iso-Joe. That’s who. And, you can pretty much count on him to screw things up.

Dr. Warren

May 11th, 2012
12:18 pm

The truth is, when they say this could have been their opportunity, well, no it couldn’t have been, because they are the Hawks, and their fragile emotional make-up dictates that they will find a way to blow that opportunity now or later. It’s a given. And frankly, I like everyone else is sick of our collective chain being yanked.

PMC

May 11th, 2012
12:19 pm

Sell the team to Winnepeg.

Section 303

May 11th, 2012
12:20 pm

Wish I could argue with you, Mark. I can’t. This was a major blown opportunity. Should be time to make a move to break up this “core”. That won’t happen. ASG will use the injuries from this season as an excuse not to do anything. Next year will be the same story, different year.

ArthurSinclair

May 11th, 2012
12:21 pm

The Hawks should trade Josh Smith and Joe Johnson to the Miami Heat for LaBron James and Dwayne Wade. That should solve ALL of the Hawks past, current and future problems.

PMC

May 11th, 2012
12:21 pm

As much as I try to advocate for Josh because he does a lot well even if the jump shots are maddening. It’s time to trade Josh. His value is as high as it will get.

They have to amnesty Joe he’s earning at least 5 million to 7 million per year more than he’s worth.

If they can get ANYTHING for Marvin… do it.

Standing pat again will yield the same result injury or no injury.

George Stein

May 11th, 2012
12:22 pm

This series was lost in Game 2. In NBA history, teams taking a 2-0 lead have won the series more than 94 percent of the time — odds even the schizo Hawks would have been hard-pressed to defy.

I think you are underestimating the Hawks, Mark.

PMC

May 11th, 2012
12:23 pm

Joe should go play for Miami or Chicago or Boston or LA, take 7 good shots a game that are wide open and enjoy the rest of his career.

He could win a championship if he’s a bit player.

GT

May 11th, 2012
12:24 pm

I agree with everything except I think you are giving Smith a pass on that shot, he shouldn’t have taken. Rivers designed the defense to leave Smith open because he knew what he would do. I think you have Horford and Teague who have had some real coaching at their college level and instinctually do the right things, then you have Josh who is not a disciple player, and doesn’t have the resources to do what he thinks he should do. He should have driven the ball to the hole, drew the foul or get the easy lay in.

PMC

May 11th, 2012
12:25 pm

Honestly, I don’t see much value to keeping Teague either.

4 jacks

May 11th, 2012
12:26 pm

No mark, these playoffs and all the playoffs here with the Hawks were lost when the Atlanta Sprit Group, Mr. gearon and all became owners of this team. This ownership is by far the worst that I have seen in sports and that includes Marge whats her name with the Reds years ago. This ownership is responsible for us losing our hockey team and they will not put any money into these franchises winning, hence you have Larry Drew as the head coach. Until the idiots here quit buying tickets and force a sell of the team it will never be better. I wish Atlanta could run these shyster owners out of town. They have done nothing but ruin basketball and hockey in Atlanta, and the fans in Atlanta deserve alot more than these idiots have given us

James

May 11th, 2012
12:28 pm

Joe is no the problem….Smith is not the best on the team yea he rebounds and blocks shots but as far as points go my college coach once told us if your always open then its a reason why…Josh is always open he never gets double teamed he has all the reason in the world to score more then Joe…ask every hawk player they know who the best player is (Joe)…Joe gets doubled more then anyone in the NBA…and he does not get the calls everyone all star gets….Get rid of Josh….NOW

PMC

May 11th, 2012
12:29 pm

Steve Belkin really came out on top.

Tumbledown

May 11th, 2012
12:32 pm

At the end of the day, the Hawks are not a championship-caliber team. Even if they had beaten Boston and beaten the 76ers, the Hawks would have inevitably lost in the conference finals. We could stay with the core four next year, but there is zero chance of an NBA title. I am tired of Atlanta teams gracing the first round (or second round at best) of the playoffs and then losing.

The team has to be blown up with a plan implemented to rise up in about five or six years (post Joe Johnson years). Of course, that will take new ownership, new management, and new coaches. I see nothing but a downward path in the near future. Why do Atlanta teams do their best to remove hope?

Sage of Bluesland

May 11th, 2012
12:33 pm

This wretched organization is simply happy to make the playoffs; their goal is not to win titles, folks.

Still want to subsidize that? I won’t.

Whoever puts their hard-earned money into these undeserving owners’ pockets shouldn’t complain about anything. Lap it up like the sheep that you are.

Donaldo

May 11th, 2012
12:34 pm

Lack of team leaders, all primas with huge egos. They lack a fundamental skill: it is called “character”. You don’t teach this, it is part of who you are. Fans are being sold something which the team is not….we saw this yet again…..Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results is called………….yep!

[...] & Zo: Kevin Garnett Tells World That The Old Comments Are Fueling The Fire!CBS LocalAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog) -Gant Daily -Washington Post (blog)all 1,439 news articles » This entry [...]

Dean

May 11th, 2012
12:36 pm

They are my team but boy they are dissapointing! They either stink, or are a slight better than mediocre. When they have a chance they blow it. It’s been happening since I started watching them in 79. The only bonus is that I never get my hopes up. Expect the worse and am rarely surprised. Last year beating Orlando and winning game one against Chicago was about the best I’ve seen and probably is the pinnacle for this franchise.

Waffle House or Bust

May 11th, 2012
12:37 pm

For once I agree with you.

PMC

May 11th, 2012
12:38 pm

Sage, no. I don’t want to subsidize it. The Hawks I believe are more talented than Chicago (sans Rose) or Philadelphia but those teams play together and give consistent effort.

This is a sham organization, built by one of the worst General Managers ever in Billy Knight. Owned by the worst ownership group in the history of sports.

kappellmeister

May 11th, 2012
12:40 pm

Missed opp, yes, but also a HORRIBLY officiated game. One of the worst I’ve seen.

Dr. Warren

May 11th, 2012
12:41 pm

No one has brought this up but what was Gearon doing saying those things about Garnett? Even a 12 year old knows you don’t give opposing teams motivational material, much less a Hall of Famer who is really not THAT old. Garnett made a lot of sense in his rebuttal to Gearon–and he made a lot more sense on the court. With a dolt like that running the team, no wonder the organization lacks consistency. If the Hawks were a fast food place, they’d be Arby’s.

Patreal

May 11th, 2012
12:43 pm

“The Hawks could have been preparing Friday for Game 1 against the eighth-seeded Sixers.”

Oh, would winning game 6 have meant they could skip game 7 and just prepare for the next round? How’s that work?

Oh well. It already already was a trainwreck article, lost in paragraph six lost because…..

Nativebird

May 11th, 2012
12:43 pm

Like the Braves and the Falcons….managements stated goals of “championships” are all flat
Out b.s. Their stated goal is ticket sales and manageable salaries, all the while pointing to the past awefullness saying “look how much better we are than then”.

Ezekiel

May 11th, 2012
12:47 pm

Any guesses as to what Rick Sund’s excuses will be this off season for not making any major moves?

Dr. No

May 11th, 2012
12:50 pm

“Drew isn’t a terrible coach…”

I stopped reading right there.

Roach

May 11th, 2012
12:51 pm

With DRose and Chicago out, the league needs Boston’s star power and traditional fan base to maintain interest in the playoffs. The Hawks had a chance? Maybe. Or maybe the parade of weird calls and weird no-calls would have continued until the league got the “right” result.

JROLL1

May 11th, 2012
12:56 pm

Hawks have the WORST half court offense in the history of the NBA. Still running Woody’s I-So Joe. Josh has the worst basketball iq ever. When will he ever learn. get a rebound, get it to a guard and run the floor….STOP LEADING THE BREAK!!!! It’s a turnover waiting to happen! Joe disappears….Marvin is Marvin (although he played well the last two games. Time to break up the band!!!!

Rick Sund

May 11th, 2012
12:59 pm

The TRAILBLAZERS have so much UPSIDE!!!

Later, SUCKERS.

Class of '98

May 11th, 2012
1:02 pm

Who cares. Is it football season yet?

Dillan

May 11th, 2012
1:03 pm

Keep Horford and Teague, trade Smith, gotta stick with Joe, everyone else expendable.

TenaciousD

May 11th, 2012
1:05 pm

I quit caring about the Hawks when they drafted Marvin Williams and then Shelden Williams. The front office had a chance to make us a contender with those two drafts and blew it. Screw ‘em

Class of '98

May 11th, 2012
1:08 pm

I agree, Roach. The Hawks were never going to win this series. The NBA knows the TV audience for the Celtics is much bigger than the Hawks.

The NBA is not a game. It is a business. Anyone who doesn’t know the result of this series was as pre-determined as Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant is naive.

Justin

May 11th, 2012
1:15 pm

Ok Mark, the Hawks came within inches of winning in Boston in a game in which the Celtics were treating it as an elimination game. Garnett scored 28 and had 14 rebounds to cap a series in which Zaza Pachulia didn’t even play. Not to mention the very questionable officiating throughout the game and especially in the last minute. And all we get is “same old Hawks.” Did you see the Hawks ever play to this level on the road in the playoffs against a quality opponent? Have they ever fought like this in an elimination game? Al Horford’s ft was half-way down and popped out. It goes in, and maybe we’re talking about resilient this team is. I really don’t see how you can judge the whole season when it’s pretty obvious that Al Horford makes an enormous difference for the Hawks, and in this particular series Zaza would likely have made a big impact.

Fitz

May 11th, 2012
1:15 pm

With time running down and a chance to regain the lead, Josh Smith hoists a 20 foot jump shot. Why oh why did I actually expect anything different. Please blow this team up and start over. I am just tired of watching this team shoot itself in the foot every year. “And then the Hawks unraveled while reverting back with a flurry of turnovers and rushed shots.” If this group hasn’t figured out how not to “revert” after this many years, they never will.

Sad Sack

May 11th, 2012
1:15 pm

I wonder why people keep spending their money on buying tickets to see this team play. Wouldn’t they get more pleasure out of buying something else, like a nice dinner or a new video game? Maybe even giving it to charity where it might benefit someone else. I just don’t get it.

USAF92

May 11th, 2012
1:15 pm

Joe Johnson and his huge contract played in this series? Come playoff time Joe becomes the invisible man so I hardly noticed.

Hang onto Teague and Horford and rebuild around them. Everyone else should be released or traded.

A new coach would be nice as well. Some of Drew’s decisions defied logic. Inserting Eric Dampier at crucial points in games 5 and 6? Really?