Admittingly I didn’t make a big deal out of the loss at Charlotte. The Bobcats are a solid playoff team in the Eastern Conference and the Hawks had just broken their heart at the buzzer in Atlanta. Larry Brown admitted before the game that the loss to the Hawks at the buzzer had caused him some sleepless nights so you had to know that the Bobcats were going to come out focused. Besides the Hawks were without their starting back court in Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson.
The Pistons however are not the Bobcats. They are a bad team who is just playing out the string. True they had just beaten Philadelphia on the road but the Sixers are hardly a playoff team. The Pistons came into the game surrounded by the controversies of a Coach’s explosion at practice, angry player tweets, and then two players missing a team plane. Add to that the Pistons were without Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, and Rodney Stuckey after he injured ribs and didn’t return. Yet the Hawks still found a way to lose the game. So how did it happen?
It happens because the Hawks were unwilling to focus for long periods of time in the game defensively. They quickly came out and established an eight point lead only to end up trailing the Pistons by five at the first quarter horn 25-20. There were small two to three minute stretches throughout the game where the Hawks would throw up a hand on defense, close off a lane on a drive, or have help defense rotate into position. On those times it was ultimately clear that the Pistons had no chance.
The problem lies in that the Hawks didn’t maintain their focus long enough to keep the Pistons at bay. You combine those defensive problems with the same offensive ineptness that has plagued the Hawks during fourth quarters for the second half of the season and it is easy to understand how they came away with a loss in Detroit. Ultimately it just boiled down that the Pistons just played harder. As inexcusable as that statement is, it is however in fact truth.
Michael Cunningham of the Hawks Blog at the AJC commented on the Hawks defense late in the game losing Ben Gordon:
Ben Gordon has done a little something in the league, at least, but then doesn’t that make it worse that the Hawks left him open at the 3-point line when they were up 84-78? Of course, losing shooters in crucial situations is nothing new for the Hawks, either.
That is exactly the kind of lack of focus I am talking about. Other things I noted when looking over the box score:
- Josh Smith 1-5 from the free throw line. Make him 6 for 20 over his last 5 games. This is a problem. Josh Smith continuing to take and miss outside jump shots is another problem. Josh you have been a solution much of the season don’t become a problem now.
- Jamal Crawford was 8 for 20 from the floor but 0-7 from three point range. Four of those misses came in the first quarter. Shot selection is always an issue with him and always will be. You take the good with the bad.
- Marvin Williams had 17 points and 9 rebounds. I don’t list that as bad but wonder why we can’t get the same confidence or assertiveness on a regular basis. Once every week isn’t enough for the Hawks.
- Jeff Teague played 6 minutes – no comment
- Hawks had 14 turnovers which led to 17 points for the Pistons, without them this game isn’t even close.
The loss ultimately puts the Hawks back in the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference. Which at this point is probably where they deserve to be. If the playoffs started today they would take on Milwaukee which is who I would rather play anyway. I am not sure if what we have seen the last two nights is actually a problem or the result of being injured and playing out the string of a long season. At any rate the Hawks would be foolish to think that they can just flip the switch and start playing playoff basketball over night.
It is a simple as this, if they don’t start defending their stay in the playoffs is going to be a short one. No matter who they match up with.