So much for the Hawks bringing their “A” game to the table or playing up to their competition. I wrote in my preview that the Hawks needed to get off to a good start and they did. They trailed by two 25-23 going into the second quarter. How good was that first quarter? Good enough to have me believing that the Hawks could in fact make this a series. Their was ample ball movement with everyone touching the ball. Josh Smith got off to a decent start offensively despite picking up two fouls. Plus Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby neither played very well offensively. You had to like the position the Hawks were in.
Defensively they were sending double teams at Dwight Howard after he put the ball on the floor and were rotating out to shooters enough to cause the Magic some problems. The Magic made enough shots to maintain the first quarter lead but the Hawks were able to cause some turnovers and turn them into fast break points. I will say again the Hawks trailed by ONLY two, 25-23 at the end of the first quarter because that is the last good thing that happened in this game.
Like a world renown surgeon, the Orlando Magic took their scalpel and proceeded to carve up the Hawks outscoring them 28-10 in the second quarter to take a twenty point lead into the half. When one thing went bad it all went for the Hawks. The Hawks began to make mistakes and turn the ball over and the snowball began. The Magic were able to establish Dwight Howard mostly off of penetration by guards who in turned dished to Howard after the help defender had rotated to them. The three pointers started to rain down and the Hawks abandoned ball movement and proceeded into “hero” basketball or where one player tries to shoot the team back into it. Possession after possession with either zero or one passes leading to a unsuccessful jump shot. Absolutely nothing going to the basket and no offensive rebounds to give themselves more opportunities.
Trailing by twenty points at the half had to be demoralizing given the way the Hawks played in the first quarter. The third quarter wasn’t any better as the Hawks were outscored 32-11 as the lead grew to as much as 41 points. The Hawks would go on to lose the game 114-71 or a 43 point margin of victory. Let me repeat that, a 43 point lead in a playoff game? A 43 point lead goes beyond X’s and O’s. It is the sign that a team quit and quit early and that is really unfortunate. As professionals the Hawks have a responsibility to compete and for whatever reason they quit.
Now the announcers kept reminding us that this is a seven game series. While that is true, I have to question whether or not the Hawks have the mental capacity to get over a loss like this. I wouldn’t think the Hawks would ever play this bad again. Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, and Mike Bibby combined for 17 points on 6-37 shooting. The Hawks aren’t beating anyone with those three getting those kinds of numbers. Throw in Al Horford’s 1-7 for 4 points night and it is easy to see how the Hawks managed to get destroyed the way they did. If there was a bright side Josh Smith had some success running the break and attacking Rashard Lewis off of the dribble but was saddled with foul trouble throughout. Still how much damage to their confidence has been done?
Strategy wise there isn’t a lot to discuss. There was a very small sample size when the Hawks were actually showing effort. The Hawks were switching early and I couldn’t tell that it really hurt them or helped them. Jason Collins played early and immediately picked up three fouls. One thing the Hawks need to do is not to foul Howard on the catch or before the catch. They need to make things tough for him and force him to take some contested shots. Save the fouls for when a dunk is coming.
Only the players really know what kind of effect this blow out will have on the series. If this team wants to avoid anything other than a sweep then they are going to have claw and fight through every quarter of every game without a lull. They can not hang their heads when that first barrage of three pointers go in for the Magic because that barrage is coming each and every game. The players have to trust that the game plan can get them back into the game and keep fighting. They can’t simply abandon ball movement and start playing one on one or one on two basketball. I am afraid what we are seeing here is an utter lack of belief in the game plan or a simple refusal to adhere to it. That is on Mike Woodson and it is foolish to think that the Hawks can pull out this series if the team in fact has tuned him out.
Game two is Thursday night in Orlando. I will have more on game one on Wednesday.