Round 2 deserved to get an old skool Hawk Str8Talk recap, but then they decided to not play for the entire game, so we will again continue to hammer the point that needs to be continually communicated to the Hawks Nation until everyone demands better. (Spoiler Alert: Pissed Off Rant below of Bill Simmons-esque proportions)
Game Recap - Cavs 99, Hawks 72
Let's go ahead and get the assumptions out of the way first. So, here they go:
1. The Hawks are not at full strength. Horford & Williams are not 100%, so let's go ahead and get that out there, but since they are out there - we won't be absolving them of blame solely for that fact. If they are good enough to be on the court, they will be judged.
2. The Hawks are an inferior offensive and defensive team to the Cavaliers.
3. The Hawks are not expected by this fan to win any game even at full strength, but we want and hope they win the next 4.
Now, to our rant, it has little to do with the specific analysis of why we lost this game. It's easy to determine that if Mike Bibby and Josh Smith are the only players who attempt to put together efforts approaching playoff level play, then you probably are in for a blowout...but let's just attempt to communicate why we are continually ranting about this team and its entire philosophy.
1. Playing Hard - This will trump all complaints (and we have a few). It is COMPLETELY and TOTALLY unacceptable for the Atlanta Hawks to not play for 48 minutes. Repeat that 50 times! I can accept that you are not playing well, but playing hard in your attempt to defeat the best team in basketball (and really any team, but most especially during the playoffs) is hard for us to reconcile as lovers of basketball and this team. It is in fact having a corrosive effect on the love I have for my hometown team. The one thing that allowed for forgiveness in trading Dominique Wilkins away and the many mistakes of the Babcock and Knight regimes is that the intent was to make the team better (however misguided it was), but what is unforgivable is watching teams that do not play hard. So, for the first half - effort was not in question even while watching some lack of focus result in sloppy play.
But as we have often seen, once the team looked like it was unable to climb the mountain...nothing in our make up says FIGHT! And that's been the case for most of the year. Too many times, a punch to the face causes us to stay down. It's one thing to be Ricky Hatton'ed - it's quite another to take a knee, then decide to look at the referee while he counts you out, then get up and walk back to your corner and say 'we'll see you on Thursday'. The antipathy felt for those who quit is where we are with the Atlanta Hawks. Again, this isn't about winning and losing. This is about the makeup of a team that quits. The joy of watching the Bulls and Celtics series was in seeing those teams never give up. We watched the Celtics (down 25 to a good team) NEVER give up against the Magic. It doesn't always result in victory, but the psychology of that fight is significant. I, for one, am fed up watching and later reading about how we gave up. Joe's post game comment says as much - 'in the second half, I think we gave up.' What kind of team gives up in the playoffs when you know you are 3 more losses from ending your season? I hated it vs. a sorry Miami Heat team, I hated it against an even sorrier Los Angeles Clippers team, and I deplore having the Emperor's new clothes displayed to a national audience throughout the playoffs. There is no explanation that anyone can provide for being in 8 playoff losses in 2 years and losing every single one of them by double digit margins (and for that matter, none of them even being close in the 2nd half). Against 3 teams (teams you have demonstrated an ability to defeat), that's called a trend, not a coincidence. I apologize for the length of that point and all upcoming points, but I struggle to see how anyone cannot be completely and utterly disgusted by this at this point. How are bloggers, fans, beat writers, etc not speaking up on this EVERY SINGLE TIME it happens. Yes, it makes for redundant posts, but damn that - be creative about how you say we suck!
We will not try to determine if there is more blame on players vs. coaches or if players are ignoring the coach or if the coach is ineffective in conveying that point to the players, but dammit - we don't really care. All parties should be held accountable (while acknowledging that it's easier to get rid of the coach than the players).
2. Coaching - It is very frustrating to wonder why anyone (AJC writers, bloggers, etc) with a straight face can talk about the validation of Coach Woodson based on the fact that this team has improved to the point that it can defeat teams that are equal or less talented than it is. Or that it now can win home games. Listen, we knew this last year and we watched all year a team that has decided not to play any low post offense and has decided to not rachet up its main offensive weapon (transition offense - which in fact has been communicated to us as connected to our ability to play defense..though we watch D'Antoni and the Laker Showtime years run off of rebounds or made baskets - not sure why we can't do that either). We instead watch one on one basketball where our only chance to win is to be proficient from 3pt range and hit free throws. Forgive us for repeating the same refrains - you can't win offensively against good teams by trying to have everyone beat their man off the dribble and then shoot or pass. Not when you don't have a transcendent player who allows that to work (i.e. Howard, Bryant, Wade, James). It's simply a recipe for disaster against good teams and has never worked in the playoffs, period. Even Jordan played in a system that allowed him to display his talents. This doesn't work even more when your spacing is so bad that it's not set up for shots to be taken out of the first pass from the double team Joe is going to receive. No cuts to the basket, no pick and rolls, nothing to challenge the defense, no screens to free up your shooters...just dribble drives or passes to the 30ft mark on the court and resetting the offense. I mean who seriously does that in the NBA to great effect - name me a team. Who doesn't take the time to design things to offset things that you KNOW are coming - i.e the Joe Johnson double team. Does this need to be said in any more detail other than - it just STINKS!!!!
As for defense, why is it that we can't double James again? Did 34 pts in 3 quarters sound the alarm that maybe this playing James one on one is a bad decision/strategy? Particularly when said strategy wasn't shutting any other part of the offense down. I'm all for let only one part of the offense work. You have to give up something when playing LeBron, so it's either - let him eat someone alive for 50 and shut everyone else down OR try to limit him to 25 and risk a triple double. Or even - make him work on the defensive end. I'm fine with any of that, but not with a strategy that results in both. Our defensive strategy right now is going to allow for both. Even in the Miami series - it was set up to do both. The switching on all screens where you have Bibby or Horford or whomever in one-on-one matchups where no double team is coming just is amateurish at best. The Heat just suck and when they didn't suck - they won to devastating effect against this defensive 'strategy'. Some kind of way you'd think that the coaches and scouts would see this for what it is and do something else.
3. Player Development - All season, we've been very critical about preparing our team for a postseason run. Game 7 of the regular season was enough for me to realize - we're going to the playoffs again. John Hollinger of ESPN and even our good blog com padre Bret from Hoopinion swallowed their whistles early in saying he was wrong and that the Hawks were for real. At that point, you do everything possible to prepare for the postseason while getting position. Unfortunately, all we talked about was position. Coach Woodson only knows how to coach one way and that's by trying to win each individual battle with no regard to winning the war. The war is a championship level effort in the playoffs. The individual battles are the 82 games leading up to the final battle to see who wins the war. Chicago didn't need home court to almost win that series against Boston - truth be told, they were one shot from having Game 6 at home for the series win. Not only did they show heart, but they also made in-season moves (Mr. Sund, can you remind us again why we couldn't have been in the Salmons/Miller sweepstakes at the trade deadline again - were centers, shooters, and wing defenders not on the Hawks need list.) and worked to get into and ready for the playoffs. We said from day 1 - you will have to develop Law, Jones, West, and even Gardner if you plan to use them during the final battle. These are your 9th - 12th best players and with the number of injuries we've had, you'd think we'd have these guys in some kind of shape to provide a spark or boost, but sporadic preparation leaves them woefully unprepared to play on this stage. The point being - since the Hawks have had SEVERAL instances where the team did not play at a high energy level or simply were undermanned - we should have been playing these players to try to win games and build confidence (this is most especially directed at Acie Law IV - who we are sure is ruined for the life of his time with the Hawks as long as Woodson is coach and possibly for his career..see Salim Stoudamire for confirmation). From limited footage and accounts, we think Law can push the pace and stay in front of a guard without much help. That would have been useful yesterday. We know West can provide energy - in the second half, that would have been more desirable to watch than a team that had given up (as much as I don't believe him to be skilled - we do believe sparks can be necessary and enjoyable to watch). Bottom line, there was no change in tactic (zone defense, a full court press, running on offense) to try to win the game.
Sometimes, you have to lose the battle (i.e. pass the ball into the post to Al even though he's still learning to be effective offensively, rest Joe even if it means you may lose ground in a game, sit Josh when he shoots jumpers or brings the ball up the court even though he's your 2nd best player, playing Acie through his mistakes in order to play Flip as a shooting guard, etc) to win the war. That means that you have to develop a young team and prepare them for what will occur in the playoffs. As far as we've seen, no player has gotten better as a result of Woodson's tutelage to date. NONE! Only Marvin got better this year and that's b/c he added a 3pt shot this year and Bibby is better b/c he's healthy. Otherwise, what is any individual better at this season than last besides just the benefit of playing together one more year (and that's what we attribute the increase in wins to). And more importantly, name me ONE thing that Coach Woodson has done this year to positively affect the outcome of this season. Just one!
So, when we express our frustration regarding Coach Woodson - it's that we don't believe we can win the war with him, not that we can't win some battles with him (though even that is often debatable as well).
4. Preparation - The previous point lends to this point of players being tired - most specifically Joe Johnson. All season, we've watched Joe play about 5-10 minutes more than he needed to. At end of games that were in hand, at the end of quarters, to start quarters when we're up by lots of points. There's simply no reason we shouldn't use the same philosophy with Joe that we see utilized for all stars - LeBron, Wade, Kobe, etc all have set times when they come out of the game. The goal being that you want your star to not only be fresh during the game to play a great 38 minutes vs. an above average 45 mins, but also to save those legs for the WAR. We don't use any rhyme or reason to how we rest Joe. I know that at the start of the 2nd and 4th quarters that Kobe and Lebron will be on the bench. Their bench knows it too and know that they have to produce during those times. Something about that makes all the sense in the world. Watching Joe LOOK tired and say in the post game that he's tired just sickens those of us who think that our coaches should be able to manage this while still making the playoffs.
5. Honesty - As we said in our last post, don't lie to us. Let's be real - the Cavs didn't even play all that awesome and we lost by 27 pts. I've already read 3 articles that say we ought to just chalk it up as one loss (and yes, we acknowledge that the Hawks can get off the canvas and win a game), but we won't do that b/c that just masks the problem and gives you false hope. We want to continue to be honest and give you Str8 Talk, the 100% truth is that - if we don't have an offensive and defensive strategy that works in the postseason, players who play hard no matter what, players developed, a coach that is willing to use different strategies when the original ones aren't working, then we're back to watching a team whose ceiling is determined already. Isn't that the reason we blew up the Steve Smith/Mutumbo/Blaylock teams of yesteryear? Not b/c they couldn't get to the playoffs, but b/c as constituted - they weren't going to win a title. We acknowledge that there is room to grow our regular season wins, but am I the only one who is reaching the point that the philosophy and intangibles related to our team all point to - first or second round loser PERIENNALLY!
That's just not acceptable to this fan and we're going to keep speaking on it until we all get on board. It's times like this when I wish Mark Cuban was my owner. He watched his team play lax and told them all - you either play hard or find a new team. Since then, they've been one of the best teams in the league. While they aren't better than the Nuggets, it's not lack of effort that you're watching. Again, I'm ok with losing games, even losing to the Cavs, but not providing your best effort as a coach and as players is unacceptable. PERIOD. It's what causes me to spend 2 hours crafting a Bill Simmons-like blog about a game that didn't deserve 2 paragraphs after the 1st half.
That's how I feel about the Hawks right now. I understand that we probably won't win the series no matter what, but as the Bulls have shown - heart matters. We all can easily see the Bulls take that effort and project a leap forward to championship contender in 1-2 years. We can see Del Negro and those young boys growing next season after what they displayed. Is there ANYTHING you've seen this postseason that makes you think the Atlanta Hawks are going to get better as a team using the tools and philosophies that they are being taught? If so, e-mail me, leave a comment, or call me because this sucks...
All that said, Game 3 & 4 - I'll have my rag and my gear cheering my heart out, but if I see another display of 'give up' like this for the rest of the postseason - someone shoot me. Please!!!
Put It Back Together - Through a combination of poor play, poor coaching, and poor health, the 60-win Hawks broke in the Eastern Conference Finals. A dreadful Game 4 performance ...
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