It was as expected as the Atlanta Hawks returned home to play Game Three:
The crowd was loud, the team was pumped, and the Hawks took the lead late into the third quarter. They moved without the ball, explored the theory of offensive ball movement, and got after loose balls and rebounds. Heck, they even got the stingy Cavs to turn the ball over.
It played out exactly as we're sure the Hawks believed it would once they got back to their more comfortable surroundings, where they magically snap together to win the game and defy their doubters.
Nope, guess again.
After a bizarre farewell from the game from Zaza Pachulia, the Cleveland Cavaliers went on a game-finishing 31-17 run to take Game Three and likely the series.
With a minute and a half left in the third quarter, with the Hawks only trailing by a point, Pachulia attempted to take a charge in the lane, but was clearly in the restricted area, and a block was called. Pachulia, obviously feeling wronged, berated the officials from afar, but obviously said some magic words, as they quickly showed him where the bathrooms were.
Whereas in last year's Boston series Pachulia's fire brought the Hawks and the crowd to life, it backfired this time for the Hawks, who had just completed a 13-2 run to really energize the team and get control of their playoff lives. When it happened, the rest of the team looked baffled as to Zaza's tantrum and stunned by his sudden exit. After Pachulia's exit, Al Horford--who had asked to be limited due to his sore ankle in order to be somewhat effective for the team, was forced to check right back into the game.
With the crowd wondering how they should feel and becoming silent during the (4) free throws which followed, LeBron James took it upon himself to make sure the crowd's silence was permanent.
James scored (18) of his (47) points in his last (13) minutes after the ejection, scoring from long range, short range, free range---even tossing in an oh-give-me-a-break bank shot from (22) feet while looking like my uncle, who jumps in the air is if an amphibian.
A player like James is like a very bright light---they expose every one of the flaws on the face of your team. He takes advantage of not being able to keep him outside by driving to the hoop. Once he beats you off the dribble, he makes you pay by over-committing to him by making great passes. Don't want to over-commit? Then he finishes strong or gets to the line. Make him shoot the "3"? He made 5-10 on the Hawks in Game Three---how many of those would you like him to take?
In this series James has has exposed the Hawks lack of defensive rotation, their lack of strong perimeter D, and Mike Woodson's stubborn reluctance to force someone else to shoot the last shots of quarters for the Cavs.
He and his teammates came into the ATL and took everyone's best shot----and still won by (15).
Franks and Beans Make Great Leftovers
Not to put a stinky lining on the game, but the HHB hopes (and we know we are not alone) that this will FINALLY put to rest the Boston Celtics series from last year. Yes, it was nice to fight back and show we had improved last season. However---It was not a blueprint for future playoff victories nor should it be counted on for any future performance.
We don't believe that anyone in Atlanta can go back to that well now, unless you are going to also reference how crappy you can be at home and away in a series by looking at this particular stinkfest of a second round showing.
A tip of the ol' Jason Terry hat to Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, and Al. There is no doubt that all three of these guys were well below (100) percent, but they gave what they had. Horford has to be surprised to finish at (35) minutes, while Joe almost pitched the complete game, took on LeBron defensively at times---and led the team in scoring.
We have long noted that the goal the Hawks typically shoot on in the first half always seems especially tight. Even the Official Dad of the HHB noted it in watching games throughout the season--not that you would know it by the Cavs' shooting in the fourth quarter in Game Three. In the first quarter, the Hawks were attacking the rim and getting great shots with the ball movement---yet couldn't get the ball to fall, even on layups.
Josh Smith Giveth, and Josh Smith Taketh Away. Not a title---it's the roller coaster this talent puts everyone through. And as much as the people love him, he drove them to booing him when he selfishly launched shot after shot instead of going to the basket in the second half. His freelancing and sagging defensively overwhelms the times he makes a terrific play. If he is part of this core players that the team wants to improve with---the team needs to find a veteran or somebody to keep Josh in the right frame of mind at all times. We're looking forward to the offseason where we don't feel like we have to point out the same old, same old about Smith's game---it was so obvious tonight that he forced our fingers---not that it forced the coaching staff to do anything about it.
After the Break, Wacky Willie Wallace with the Weather
We're not saying we're preparing a post mortem on the 2008-2009 season yet (What's that? Go ahead?), but we were pretty sure that ESPN/ABC was going to put a poker-like percentage on the Hawks chances to win the series beside the final score. The Cavs have a royal flush and the Hawks have a six high right now. Not sure what card could save them unless LeBron decides he wants to play baseball full time starting tomorrow.
You just can't count on circumstances to win ball games for you, it takes talent, execution, and mental strength to make it happen. Sure you can get by with first one when you play lesser teams, but to win against the caliber of teams that are left, you gotta have all three and you need 'em better than the other guys' got them.
That's not this team at this time---so it's best that those past playoff "glories" are left back there and they can look to how they can get themselves in better position to beat these types of teams.
And by they, we mean everyone in the organ-i-zation---top to bottom.
The HHB was proud of the crowd booing LeBron, which probably incited snobbery among the national talking heads---Screw 'ems and other thoughts can be left tastefully in the Comments Area.