The Atlanta Hawks had won 9 of 11 games following a disappointing loss to New Orleans on the day after Christmas, including wins on the road against Utah and Miami. Joe Johnson had gotten his shooting legs back under him, and Jamal Crawford had seemed to have put the distraction of his contract status behind him. The Hawks had edged ahead of Orlando, and appeared to be nearing the level of the Heat, Bulls and maybe even Celtics in the eastern conference pecking order.
It’s funny, or, actually, it really isn’t; today Mark Bradly wrote in the AJC about the ridiculous futility of which Atlanta sports teams are known. I myself wrote the first installment of a ten part series looking at the ten most heartbreaking moments in Atlanta sports history.
Fittingly, the Hawks gave us a performance that was too dreadful to even be heartbreaking, but it was a beautifully crafted microcosm of the Atlanta sports scene. Seriously, it absolutely could not be written any better, or more accurately.
As mentioned, the Hawks had beaten some quality teams. A team long accused of lacking effort on the defensive end had become one of the more stingy defensive teams in the league.
Guys were hustling, guys were communicating. On offense the ball was moving. You almost had to a double take, this looked like a legit basketball team. An NBA championship winning squad? Of course not, what do you think this is, the NFL, or Major League Baseball? You can count on one hand teams with legit title chances in the NBA.
However, this was indeed a team capable of perhaps spoiling a playoff run for one of those teams, and a team capable of doing itself, and its city proud, in the NBA playoffs.
Having already defeated Orlando twice, they of the historically bad playoff beat down delivered to the Hawks last spring, the Hawks appeared no longer to be that team. This Hawks squad might actually be a threat to win a game in the 2nd round this year (never mind the fact the Atlanta Hawks have never once won a 2nd round series, and only in two different season have ever played a potential clinching game in the 2nd round), and not embarrass themselves.
Uh, yeah, sorry about that.
Tonight was one of the worst performances by an NBA basketball team, ever. Yes, it was one of the worst by an Atlanta Hawks team ever, but also any other team that has called itself professional.
It was the sort of night that makes you wonder how they look in the mirror and can actually use the word professional to describe themselves.
Oh, we were missing Al Horford and Marvin Williams. Boo-hoo. We have been missing Marvin Williams for the last few weeks, we’ve seemed to be able to get over it.
We lost Al Horford in the 4th quarter, while in Miami, against that Heat squad (you may have heard of them), and still managed to find a way to win.
So you can save the excuses. This Hawks squad still trots out a perennial all-star in Joe Johnson, the league’s best sixth man in Jamal Crawford, and an all-star candidate and one of the best stat sheet fillers in the league in Josh Smith.
That’s enough to be competitive. Well, it should be.
Someone forgot to tell them that.
Down 49-34 at half-time, at home, to a New Orleans Hornets team that, while a good basketball team, and blessed with one of the game’s great players in Chris Paul, isn’t exactly the Miami Heat, is bad enough.
At this point, you have to think, well, we surely can’t put up 34 points in the 2nd half too. This is an NBA team, with NBA players, and some good ones, guys who can shoot, and score.
If you thought that, you were right.
They couldn’t put up 34 points. They could only come up with 25. Yes, that’s right, a professional basketball team, a playoff caliber basketball team, in the NBA, could only score 25 points in 24 minutes. And sometimes people wonder why the U.S. National team struggles. If, in the premier basketball league in the world, with supposedly among the greatest players in the world, you can have a team score a lousy 25 points, in their own building, in a full half of play, you have issues.
This is not about what New Orleans did tonight, it is strictly about what Atlanta didn’t do. No NBA team is good enough to go on the road, to a team with the talent of Atlanta, and beat them by 41 points without a lot of help from the hosts. Nobody is good enough defensively to limit a team to just 25 points in their own building, again, not without help from the hosts.
That the Hawks allowed this to happen speaks volumes about this team. They aren’t ready to take another next step. They might not even be able to replicate what they did last season.
Yes, this team with Horford and Williams is much better. But this isn’t about how much talent is on this team. Talent hasn’t been an issue for the Hawks in a couple of years now. Few teams can match the Hawks in terms of raw talent and athleticism.
However, you could argue that there are 29 with a substantial surplus of heart, desire, care, and effort.
It wasn’t until 4:43 was left in the game tonight that the Hawks even had enough points to outscore the Green Bay Packers last Saturday night.