Far too often and at the most illogical of times, the Hawks don’t really play like they need a center as much as they need a therapist. They don’t need a new blue print, they need a cattle prod. They don’t need to channel Red Auerbach, they need to channel Zig Ziglar.
For years, we’ve watched the Hawks win a big game, only to inadvertently tie their shoes together before the next one. Granted, it happens to most teams. Regular season schedules can be draining. Only the deepest and most talented ones can overcome when some players are suffering the blahs and the Hawks aren’t one of those teams.
But this is the playoffs, not a February game in Charlotte. There’s really no excuse for losing focus, which the Hawks did, or getting beaten to seemingly every loose ball, which they did, or forgetting to raise elbows to attack level while boxing out on rebounds (don’t ask).
What we witnessed in the Hawks’ 107-90 loss at Indiana on Sunday is why people say, “It’s the Hawks.” The same sudden and illogical blackouts they suffered under coach Mike Woodson have continued under Larry Drew. To what extent this is on the performers or the director is always the subject of debate and the question general manager Danny Ferry must answer.
Drew said Monday his team got “manhandled.” He then added, “Yeah, it’s my job to remind these guys who we have to be and the team we’re playing against.” But he gave a look as if to suggest, “Should that really be necessary?”
“It becomes a little bit mind-boggling,” Drew said. “Particularly once you get to the playoffs, you’re going to come up with schemes and all of that. But the last thing you think you need to come up with is any kind of motivation to get guys to play and compete at a high level.
“I was watching the Miami-Milwaukee game. Reggie Miller made some interesting comments at the end of the game [about] playing for 48 minutes, where you have to have high energy, high intensity. You have to be amped up for 48 minutes. I let my guys listened to that [Monday] morning. That has to be the mindset going into the playoffs.”
It’s a wonder that it’s not a given. The Hawks could be excused if they lose to Indiana for being undersized and undermanned. Losing guard Lou Williams near midseason robbed them of a scorer. Losing center Zaza Pachulia a few weeks ago robbed them of needed toughness.
But that doesn’t excuse everything. The Hawks offered the path of least resistance. They didn’t attack the rim offensively or defend particularly well. They let Indiana take things to them and remarkably, it still was a winnable game in the fourth quarter.
Drew will make adjustments before Game 2 at Indiana. He’ll switch defensive assignments in hopes of slowing the Pacers’ Paul George. He may tweak the starting lineup (Kyle Korver to the bench for DeShawn Stevenson or Ivan Johnson?), run more on offense and call for more plays in the post.
But this team’s real issues aren’t related to strategy as much as they are to dictating physical contact and giving a consistent effort. That’s what leads to rebounds and possessions.
Dahntay Jones, who watched from the bench Sunday, said, “It’s not X’s and O’s. It’s not shots. It’s about being physical, dominating the paint and who is going to be the more aggressive team. They felt they could bully us and outlast us and make us give up.”
Stevenson said, “I don’t know if guys were nervous or what, but we have to play at a level where everything is on the line. Certain guys in certain situations didn’t do that.”
It’s also a problem when a coach feels compelled to have his players listen to television commentary from a former player. Reggie Miller’s comments were dead on, of course. But it shouldn’t take that to motivate professional athletes for a playoff game — should it?
“I’ve been in the playoffs a long time and I’ve been in the finals [with Dallas], and what [Miller] said is right,” Stevenson said. “The regular season is totally different from the playoffs. I think some of our guys were kind of shocked what was going on.”
Drew wants his team to play more physically. He said he didn’t see a need to preach the obvious to his players before Sunday’s game.
“If you don’t know that by now, something’s wrong,” he said.
And he’s right — something’s wrong.