After the Atlanta Hawks defeated the Utah Jazz, snapping the visitor's long winning streak, Josh Smith told reporters, paraphrasing here, that the Hawks were a team to be reckoned with and that they had announced it to the world.
Not so fast there, young man.
It's no secret the Hawks can win against any team at home. We have constant reminders of (3) home games in particular from last year's playoffs that started that notion, and a season's worth of games this year to reinforce that opinion.
But let it said, and loud enough so Mr. Smith and the rest of the Hawks organization can hear, that you have not established yourselves as a true anything until you can win consistently on the road. Taking it a step further, you can't count yourself as a contender until you can win consistently on the road, no matter who it is.
This season, the Hawks have not played well consistently on the road and they showed Saturday that they weren't ready to tackle an elite team like Cleveland on their home court by getting beat 102-96. The score may seem close, but it only serves as a reminder that this team can be so good if it learned from any lesson it gets served while away from Philips Arena.
Once again the team roamed into enemy waters and immediately laid its egg. The Hawks offense in the first quarter looked as if they were handed a pop quiz on material they never studied. To win on the road, especially against a team like the Cavaliers, you must be poised, patient, and with total commitment.
To these things, the Hawks were Oh for Three.
Petulance and brooding defined the opening effort for the Hawks, and later in the game anger made its play, with Mike Woodson getting tossed and Josh Smith and Mike Bibby venting their frustration towards the officials, spending (4) points for whatever catharsis they received for their words.
The HHB, however, has evaluated the game and has determined that it is Al Horford who should be the most upset.
Horford has demonstrated remarkable aplomb inside offensively. He passes, shoots, drives, finishes, and makes things easier to score for the Hawks by providing a post presence with which to play the offense from the inside to the outside. With the way the team (mis)used Al on the offensive end Saturday afternoon, you have to wonder if Hawks place ANY value in Horford offensively.
Time and time again throughout the game the team played their usual perimeter hand off game, and the Cavs were waiting. We twittered before the game that Joe Johnson would have to get off to a better start to make an upset happen in CLE. Seems like both the Hawks and the Cavs were on the same page there, as Joe tried in vain to inject himself into the offense, often forcing himself into a hoard of swarming Cavs, who had obviously decided to dare the Hawks to do something different.
It took the Hawks over a quarter before they ran their first play into the post to start the offense, and even though going there was successful, they minimized it's use.
To be sure, the high-salaried team of HHB spotters tracked the efforts:
No post plays
11:00 remaining--Post play, Johnson, scored.
8:22 remaining--Post play, Murray, fouled; post play Murray, second chance basket
6:50 remaining--Post play, Horford, basket and foul
5:06 remaining--Post play, Horford, basket by Bibby (assist Horford)
2:52 remaining--Post play, Horford, Maurice Evans fouled after pass from Horford
10:30 remaining--Post play, Horford, Maurice Evans 3 point basket (assist Horford)
9:05 remaining--Post play, Josh Smith, 2nd chance basket (Horford)
6:00 remaining--Post play, Joe Johnson, Smith basket
5:26 remaining--Post play, Smith, layup
3:09 remaining--Post play, Smith, missed layup
11:38 remaining--Post play, Smith, fouled
That's a grand total of (11) offensive possessions where the ball went into the post. (10) of those plays ended successfully and the one miss was an errant layup.
If the Hawks are EVER going to be serious about progressing as a team, then it's not just the players who have to shape up, it's the coaching staff as well, because wasting a resource like Al Horford will not get you past even the first round---and banging your offensive heads against the wall by doing the same ineffective thing every time down the floor is only going to dig your team a deep, dark hole--much like the one the Hawks dug themselves in this game.
That Horford, who is their best option in the post, received (4) whole plays tells the HHB that he is not properly valued by the coaching staff in terms of how he can help the Hawks win games.
They seem to be telling him to go be the energy guy---treating him like a second round pick or a limited bench player. It's a waste of his talents and an indictment of Mike Woodson, Larry Drew, and the entire Hawks staff and team that Horford was used so little and took a mere (6) shots.
The Hawks came in with much bravado, well deserved for their performances at home, but they leave Cleveland exposed at every level---and certainly not ready for Prime Time.