I have watched Atlanta Hawks Basketball for a long time and seen a lot of tough losses. In today’s AJC, Mark Bradley reminds us of 1989 game 5 where the Hawks lost to an undermanned Bucks team. The year before that you had two excruciating losses to the Boston Celtics in games six and seven. Through all of those losses, the bad trades, and 13 win seasons, I don’t know that I have ever seen a loss as tough as last night’s.
I don’t think it could be said any better than Drew says it over at Peachtree Hoops:
"The drastically disappointing thing about this whole series is that our team could win the next two games quite easily. But it certainly feels over. And that is the sad thing. This team, this rebuilding process seems over (not done but certainly a chapter complete).So for all you Hawks fans that bleed from this loss, who feel worse than angry, who actually feel sad. For all you who have railed Mike Woodson, who have lamented Joe Johnson‘s skills, who have called out Josh Smith‘s maturity or Al Horford‘s “go to” status, for those who have mocked Marvin’s draft status or wished Jamal Crawford tried on defense, I know this is no joyous moment of redemption. I know this is no “I told you so” moment about your least favorite player or coach. This is fan rock bottom. This is hours of loyalty and miles of hope that feel worse than wasted, they feel over."
I am with you because that is everything that went through my mind in a nut shell in those last 4 minutes and 10 seconds of last night’s game. That stretch of time which saw Joe Johnson foul out in the midst of a Milwaukee 14-0 run on their way to outscoring the Hawks 18-5 the rest of the way. We saw Josh Smith first get out hustled for a rebound off of a missed free throw and then fire up a three pointer with eleven seconds still on the shot clock. Now I am not going to place all of the blame on Josh for this loss although the whole game and series since game three can be summed up in that sequence. No there is still plenty of blame to go around.
Marvin Williams came out of hiding to score 22 points in what should have been the story of this game. However, the Hawks don’t know how or are incapable of utilizing him when he is playing well. Since game three everything has become hard for this team. Al Horford scored 25 points last night but none of them looked to be in the flow. Credit the Bucks because right now it looks like Scott Skiles team knows exactly what is coming and when from the Hawks. Late in last night’s game Marvin was being guarded by Luke Ridnour in the post and although the Hawks took advantage, it was painful watching them try to feed it inside to him. No spacing on offense, zero ball movement, and more than anything no discernible plan offensively. Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, and Jamal Crawford combined to shoot 11-39 from the field.
Defensively the Hawks didn’t adjust. True they made things harder for the Bucks in Game five but not enough to seal a victory. The switching philosophy is still there and there is no reason to expect it to go away. Hats off to Scott Skiles and his staff for figuring out how to exploit it. Of course they can do this knowing that the Hawks won’t make any adjustments.
The better question is should we as Hawks fans be surprised by last night’s result? If you say yes then you have been watching with your eyes shut all season. The Hawks won 53 games this season but on many nights crashed at the end of the game due to execution. Execution is about discipline, and it is about having a plan and believing in it. The Game 5 loss is just magnified because it was in the playoffs when the warning signs have been there all season. Last night though was different in the fact that I believe Coach Woodson completely lost control of the team. Without Joe on the floor they had no clue what to do and granted it wasn’t working great with Joe out there. In an instance it is perfectly summed up by that ill advised and unsuccessful Josh Smith three point attempt.
Again this game was a tough pill to swallow. Now the Hawks have to pick up the pieces and travel to Milwaukee for Game 6 at an already sold out Bradley Center now facing elimination. How will this team respond? If this series is any indication then not very well. More and more this looks like a fractured group with players openly bickering with each other and the head coach. I want to believe that we can steal game 6 and take game 7 at home but nothing I am seeing with my eyes suggests that.
Going back to Bradley’s story today and 1989 when the Hawks lost to the Bucks. That series loss was the beginning of the end of the Mike Fratello era in Atlanta. It remains to be seen what the fall out will be if the Hawks aren’t able to recover. Almost certainly in an off season that has so many questions already there will be changes. While we as fans knew that this team was rapidly approaching its ceiling, it is still difficult to watch them slam into it a full round before we expected it.This series isn’t over but in the shadow of game five, it sure does feel like it.