Raise your hand if you are surprised at how Tuesday nights events in Orlando took place. If your hand is up, you must not follow the Hawks very closely.
While the majority of the Hawk faithful didn’t openly predict such a face plant, I feel pretty confident in saying that once it began to happen, very, very few Hawks fans were surprised.
The Hawks did what we’ve been almost waiting on them to do this entire series. They reverted back to their bi-polar regular season selves. They regressed back into the doldrums that had experts everywhere over looking this team, and had them labeled as one of the worst 5th seeds in recent memory.
Not guarding shooters, or putting a hand in their face? Check.
Giving listless effort? Check.
Not matching the opponents intensity? Check.
Taking bad shots? Check.
Playing individual basketball? Check.
Blow a golden opportunity? Check.
Everything the Hawks could do to look bad, and get blown out, they did. Instead of playing like the team who had won six of eight against the Magic, they looked much more like the Hawks team that lost seven of eight the previous year, including by that historically bad margin in the playoffs.
Suddenly the Hawks, not the Magic, face all the pressure. Atlanta has to look at game six in a similar fashion the Magic do. Win, or you’re done. Sure, the Hawks COULD lose the game and then go down to Florida on Saturday and still advance out of the first round.
However, to expect the Hawks to be able to pick themselves up off the deck after blowing a 3-1 series lead, and losing a series clinching game at home and win on the road in Orlando is just a bit far fetched. And by a bit, I mean as likely as Philadelphia recovering to beat Miami.
Orlando has to feel pretty good right now. If they come to Atlanta and get a victory, the momentum will be all theirs for the return home. Not to mention, the pressure will be all on the Hawks.
This is what happens when you go up 3-1 in a series, especially against a team you went 3-1 against in the regular season. The series is yours to lose. Orlando has been written off, they are supposed to already be gone fishing.
The Hawks however have been penciled into the second round against the Bulls. Of course, people know these Hawks, hence they were penciled in, not inked in that spot in the bracket.
If Atlanta goes on to blow this series, the collapse will rank as one of the biggest in the annals of Atlanta sports history. And while the collapse itself will be noteworthy and disheartening, it also won’t come with much surprise.
Perhaps that will make it hurt less should the Hawks proceed to play themselves out of the playoffs. Even up 3-1, expectations are tempered. People know this team.
Granted, following game four, we began to wonder if we really did know this team. Maybe they really could just flip a switch when the playoffs start. Maybe they’ve started to figure this playoff basketball thing out. Just maybe, the bi-polar team we saw look great one night, and absolutely dreadful the next, was strictly due to the fact that they were disinterested during the regular season, waiting for the playoffs to get here.
Well those thoughts were proven wrong, and that faith misplaced in game five. The Hawks went back to everything that made people doubt them.
The Hawks are a very stubborn team, and ultimately, a very soft team. Oh, sure, they’ve beat up on Dwight Howard in this series, but the Hawks are scared to attack the rim.
They are a team that relies on jump shots falling. When those jump shots don’t fall, they get in trouble. And instead of doing what a good team does, and adjusting to a poor shooting night, and attempting to find a way to get shots closer to the basket, and get the ball inside, they just keep jacking up more jumpers.
Instead of incorporating more ball movement and team play in an effort to get better shots off, it snowballs, the shots simply get worse and worse. The one-on-one isolation plays become more and more frequent. Possessions go by where one player holds the ball for 75% of the possession before chunking up an ill advised, contested shot that stands virtually no chance of going in.
The shocking part is that athletically speaking, and from a size stand point, the Hawks hold an advantage at every possession but center. So tell me why they can’t put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, going by their defenders in these one-on-one situations? Oh, they can, just don’t want to. Tell me why guys like Joe Johnson don’t post up defenders they have a large size advantage over? Or why Josh Smith doesn’t use his superior size, strength, and athleticism to run circles around Hedo Turkoglu in the post? Again, because they simply don’t want to.
And for the life of me, how is it that Joe Johnson, he of the $120 million contract, can only find a way to score 5 measly points? Absolutely pathetic, and the best news is how many more years of his disappearing act we get.
The Hawks struggled to make shots early Tuesday night, and once the game began to get away, it was quite clear very early on that they were already thinking to themselves, “it’s okay, we are up 3-1, we’ll just play them Thursday and try again”.
Well, if they fail Thursday, this collection of players may not get the chance to try it again. Failing Thursday puts them in the unenviable task of trying NOT to choke away a series, with the pressure heaped squarely on their shoulders. A first round exit, especially one of this nature, would almost certainly lead to a complete roster overhaul, where basically anyone not named Johnson or Horford could find themselves in a different uniform next year.