(UPDATED: 11:20 p.m.)
In Game 1, they led five and a half minutes into the game (13-12) — and then never again.
In Game 2, they led six and a half minutes into the game (15-13) — and then never again.
Unfortunately, at that rate of progress, it would take two months for the Hawks to win a playoff game, and they don’t have quite that long.
All that this team’s players, coach Larry Drew and general manager Danny Ferry talked about before their series against Indiana was wanting to play hard and be competitive, and they wanted to see where that would take them. But this hasn’t been close. After losing the series opener by 17 points, the Hawks looked even more outmatched by the Pacers on Wednesday night, though losing only 113-98 (albeit, only 15 this time).
Indiana leads the best-of-seven series 2-0. Neither team has done anything to lead you to believe this thing won’t end in Atlanta in a four-game sweep.
The Pacers looked that much better again Wednesday. The Hawks looked like a team lacking flow and confidence and at times even seemed to be coming apart at the seams.
Horford acknowledges the lack-of-flow part, but attributes that to officiating, while not necessarily blaming referees for the two losses (kinda, sorta). He said his team “really got caught up with the refs. They got in our heads.
“You can’t get into a flow of a game [with fouls]. In game one, it was me. I thought [Lance] Stephenson flopped on my second foul. In the second quarter I got a technical foul. And tonight Josh got three fouls in the first half. We haven’t dealt with it well.”
More on the Horford’s technical in a moment.
First, actual basketball: The Hawks haven’t even shot free throws well (18 for 34, 53 percent). When Indiana’s Paul George made a 3-pointer to open the second half and give the Pacers a 62-50 lead, the deficit never was less than 10 points again. It also ballooned to as high as 24 points.
So much for giving rest to the players down the stretch. So much for this undersized collection of spare parts and expiring contracts coming together in the playoffs as they did so often during the regular season.
So much for really not believing there was a big difference between Indiana and Brooklyn as potential first-round opponents — and on second thought, scratch that. Nothing that we’ve witnessed in these past two games suggests the Hawks would have given anybody in the postseason a test.
Will playing two home games really make a difference?
Drew didn’t change his starting lineup from the series opener, saying, “We’re not going to panic.” Now would seem like a good time. The games generally have been one-sided enough that the Hawks can’t even use officiating as an excuse, not that there haven’t been some strange calls.
Official Ken Mauer hit Al Horford with a technical foul in the second quarter. What made that decision strange was that Horford had just drawn a foul by Indiana’s Jeff Pendergraph and all he seemed to be doing was celebrating with, albeit, an emotional outburst and arms flailing (though he was trying to shake loose from Pendergraph).
Horford, who doesn’t often show anger on the court, was so upset that he went after Mauer and had to be held back by teammate Devin Harris.
“I was celebrating, trying to get my team fired up, and I got a technical for that,” Horford said.
When asked if he sought an explanation from officials, he said, “I didn’t even ask the guy. I’m done even trying to talk to any of the referees. It’s a game you try to play with emotion, but [they think] you can’t show emotion. All I’m trying to do is get my team fired up, we’re on the road and it backfires on us. I’ve never seen that call before.”
There also was an amusing non-call (well, not amusing to the Hawks), when George double-dribbled (as in, with both hands), just before driving for a layup to make it 77-65. The Hawks’ bench went nuts.
Josh Smith cracked of the double-dribble, “That was like when I watch my son play. And he’s four.”
A few calls won’t decide this series. But any hope Drew had of his players being focused on the game and not officiating pretty much imploded. (Ivan Johnson also drew a technical in the third quarter for yelling at an official as he was walking off the court.)
“It kills us,” Drew said earlier Wednesday when asked about his players’ reacting to perceived bad calls. “… We can’t let that totally take us out of our game.”
Those few times when the team made runs in Game 2, the Pacers responded. Consider the final minute and a half of the third quarter. Consecutive buckets by Horford, Harris and Mike Scott had cut a 16-point lead to 10, but immediately following Scott’s jumper, Gerald Green blew past John Jenkins, caught a long inbounds pass and finished with a layup just before the horn.
History is not on the Hawks’ side. They’re 0-17 when trailing a playoff series 2-0. They were 1-24 just when trailing a series 1-0.
Officiating aside, history isn’t with them. Neither, it would seem, is logic.