We’ve all done it. We’ve all made fun of Larry Drew’s excessive references to “energy” and the like when explaining away underwhelming performances by the Hawks this season. Even on nights where it seemed to be as simple as “the ball not going in the basket”, energy was always the excuse, and after Game 1 against Indiana, Drew unloaded (once again) in that area.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Drew was quoted with this:
That team physically manhandled us. This is playoff basketball. That cannot happen, absolutely cannot happen. We have to be a little bit more focused, particularly when playing a team like that. We already know who they are and what they bring. Yet, we did not play the game like we were playing a physical team.
First of all, he is absolutely correct. I wanted to get that out of the way now, as Atlanta was definitely not physical enough in the game, and while the Pacers are much better suited for a rough, physical battle, the gap should not have been as large as it was.
With that out of the way, however, I firmly believe that the loss was just as much a result of lack of execution (16 turnovers, 50% free-throw shooting) and coaching disadvantage as anything else. Yes, the Pacers smashed the Hawks on the glass (48 to 32) and at the free throw line (30 makes to just 7 for Atlanta), but let’s remember that Atlanta is always bad in those two areas, and even playing even in those categories would be a massive win.
In addition, any mention of the Hawks “lack of toughness” can be partially attributed to sitting the team’s leader (Al Horford) for extended minutes as the game got away, and while Ivan Johnson and Johan Petro performed admirably, it is a wild overreaction to go with them for “toughness” in the first game of a playoff series. With Josh Smith banged up for game two (ankle sprain), the focus will be even more on Al Horford, and if Drew elects to play him 36-40 minutes, I would be shocked if he didn’t perform in a huge way.
Lastly, it’s important to remember who this Hawks team is, and for Larry Drew, that is remembering that a) this team no-shows on a semi-regular basis, b) playing Horford and Smith at the 4/5 with Korver and two small guards lends itself to a team that doesn’t rebound well, and c) citing free throw numbers is never, ever a good thing in a game that involves a Lou Williams-less Hawks team. As game two approaches, Drew’s message of energy and physicality is actually a good one, but just because the spotlight is on that part of the game doesn’t mean that it was the only culprit for Sunday’s loss.