The new tough-minded, cool and resilient, ain’t-no-call-in-the-world-gonna-cause-us-to-trigger-another-nuclear-meltdown Hawks returned to action Wednesday night.
And they stuck around — for about a quarter and a half.
Not long enough.
What was it coach Larry Drew said earlier Wednesday when asked what had to change from when his players packed a suitcase, but clearly not their lithium, for games 1 and 2 of this playoff series?
“Very glaring,” he said. “In games 1 and 2 we were not a very aggressive team, and we complained about all of the calls. You have to play through that. You can’t let that be a reason why we don’t play well.”
The Hawks did it again. After a solid beginning, they watched Indiana start to break down their defense, then got into a little foul trouble, became unraveled and kind of went cuckoo.
Josh Smith got a technical foul. Jeff Teague got a technical (for shoving a player on the way to the bench). Ivan Johnson got a technical.
So. That went well.
Question: What happens to the Hawks when their coach doesn’t tell his players to keep their cool?
The Hawks lost by 23 points, 106-83. The Pacers now lead the series 3-2, with Game 6 in Atlanta on Friday. Drew has 48 hours to hose everybody off until then.
Said Al Horford, “I know at times it can get frustrating but we can’t do that, especially on the road. … We have a group of emotional guys who want to win. But you have to be smarter.”
The Hawks’ performance had to be different from the first two games in Indianapolis in at least two respects: greater effort, less whining. Not a problem, at least at the outset. (Don’t go anywhere.) They played solid defensively and, when fouls were called, they may have looked sideways at a referee but didn’t blow a gasket.
It was the usually steady Pacers who actually looked rattled early, committing eight turnovers to the Hawks’ two in the first quarter. When Smith destroyed Jeff Pendergraph in the paint on consecutive trips down the court, the Hawks took a 26-25 lead. At 31-28, it looked as if the Hawks were starting to take over.
Or … maybe not.
It was like a giant sinkhole suddenly opened under the team’s bench.
Five minutes into the second quarter, Smith drew his second foul and went to the bench for the first time in the game. The Hawks’ defense seemed to crumble, and the Pacers went on the attack. Indianapolis shot 63 percent (12-for-19) in the second quarter, went on a 15-4 run (10 points by David West) and grabbed a 43-35 lead.
At halftime, the deficit was still a manageable seven points (50-43). But an unraveling soon followed. Indy opened the second half with a 7-1 run and the Hawks came undone. Smith drew his fourth foul with 8:12 left in the quarter. Drew opted to keep him in the game, a decision that backfired — quickly. Just 47 seconds later, Smith fouled Paul George in the lane for his fifth foul, and then his head exploded. Choice words directed to an official earned him a technical foul.
Have you seen this movie before?
Smith later: “My fifth foul was a foul. The other two [third and fourth] were questionable to me.”
It got worse.
With six minutes left in the quarter, the Hawks trailed by 17 points. Teague missed a jumper, a common occurrence on this night at 3-for-16. Drew pulled him. Even that didn’t go smoothly. On Teague’s way to the bench, George appeared to give him a slight nudge (which officials didn’t see), and Teague responded with a hard shove (which everybody in the world saw).
There went another technical.
Teague: “I was pushed so I him pushed back. … They just saw the reaction. I’m sure [George] was probably laughing. He did what he had to do to get under my skin.”
By the end of the third quarter, the Hawks trailed by 14, 81-67, and they seemed to be going in the wrong direction. The only question was whether any other player would jump the rails, and of course one did.
Ivan Johnson was hit with his technical in the fourth quarter. Then again, that’s just kind of “hello” for him.
“We needed to maintain our composure and we did not do that,” Drew said. “We needed to be smart, and we didn’t do that, either, and that was the result.”
So now the series shifts to Atlanta, where cooler heads prevailed in the previous two games. The Hawks are 2-0 in the series at Philips Arena and Indiana has dropped 13 straight there overall.
There’s really no explaining these mood swings. The Hawks can only hope they will wake up as different creatures again before Game 6 and, if form holds, they will tie the series and force a seventh game on Sunday.
Then Drew can start thinking about ways to prevent the team’s next drive off an emotional cliff again.