Atlanta Hawks' coach Mike Woodson should be upset with his players. Not because they got obliterated by the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of their first-round series, not because their season is over, and not even because they won't be able to play another game in front of their boisterous, rejuvenated fans. He should be furious because...
His team quit. Simple as that. As the Celtics' lead increased in front of their home crowd, the Hawks played with none of the attributes that created an unlikely Game 7. No hustle. No aggression. No on-court communication. No swagger. The Hawks played their part Sunday, helping the Celtics recreate the Memorial Day Massacre.
The Celtics have played in hundreds of playoff games, but they have never given up as few as 24 first-half points. That's what they did. The fact that I'm writing this before the start of the fourth quarter — and the Celtics lead by 36 points — speaks to how lopsided the game has been. From the opening tip, there was no doubt who wanted to win this game more. The Hawks' young players acted like they were lost. Josh Smith, 22, played as if he didn't sleep last night, fumbling the ball as often as a middle-school running back. Al Horford, the runner-up in "Rookie of the Year" voting, looked slow on both ends of the floor. Atlanta is the more athletic of the two teams, but Boston snagged every loose ball, grabbed every 50-50 rebound. Even Boston's aging guards, such as Ray Allen, beat out Smith and Horford for rebounds.
Woodson and company should be embarrassed. Sure, nobody expected them to get this far, but at least play hard, at least compete. It's sad when your strongest play of the game comes on a flagrant foul. That's what happened when Marvin Williams took down Rajon Rondo during Boston's huge third quarter, resulting in Williams getting thrown out of the game. The contest was so out of control by that point, the Celtics didn't even bother getting in Williams' face. He excited the court... and the massacre continued — with the back-on-his-feet Rondo leading the way.
Even if the Hawks had come out ready to play, they wouldn't have won. Boston was too good, too "on top of its game". Things could have been a little more interesting though. Maybe I could have held off on writing this until the game was actually over. (By the way, another Boston missed shot just slipped through an Atlanta player's hands into those of a Celtic.) It's amazing to me how bad the Hawks were on the road in this series. I know they're a young, inexperienced team, but a game is a game. The court remains 94 feet long, the ball is the same, the refs are pretty fair. The series exposed just how immature the Hawks are. They were great at feeding off the energy of their home crowd, using its exuberance to come back several times and win all three of their home games. But when no one was rooting for them, they forgot how to play basketball. And, sadly, on Sunday they forgot how to compete. This was exemplified several times when they didn't even attempt to chase down Boston fastbreaks.
What they really need is a leader: a Kevin Garnett-type player who will get in Smith's face when he plays in a coma, who will tell Horford to stop being lazy and go after every missed shot. Veteran point guard Mike Bibby would seem like the man for the job, but he didn't show an ounce of leadership Sunday. Neither did leading scorer Joe Johnson. That needs to be addressed before next season. A team can't go an entire 89 games with 12 road wins and expect to advance in the playoffs.
No one can question Atlanta's blend of natural talent and athleticism. It has the players to improve next year and make some noise in the playoffs. However, before any X's or O's are addressed, Woodson — if retained as coach — needs to sit down with his players and address a very simply matter: showing up ready to compete in every game. (And in case you're interested, Boston leads 91-55 with 5 minutes, 24 seconds remaining.)