On the flight back to Atlanta, Hawks coach Larry Drew watched tape of his team getting pushed around in Game 1 of the playoffs.
”I couldn’t believe my eyes, to be perfectly honest,” Drew said Monday.
So, the normally upbeat Drew delivered a scathing message to his players: If they don’t get more passionate and a lot more physical, this series against the Indiana Pacers won’t be lasting very long.
”It becomes a little bit mind-boggling, particularly when you get to the playoffs,” he said. ”You’re going to come up with schemes and ways to defend things . . . but the last thing you think you need to come up with is any kind of motivating to get the guys to compete and play at a high level.”
The Pacers were quite the bullies in the opener of the best-of-seven series – and the visiting team barely pushed back. Atlanta was outrebounded 48-32. Indiana got to the foul line a staggering 34 times, compared to just 14 for the Hawks. The result was not all that surprising: a 107-90 rout that led to the scathing critique from Drew.
With 72 hours before Game 2 in Indianapolis on Wednesday night, the Hawks headed home for a couple of days to lick their wounds.
”That team physically manhandled us,” Drew said. ”This is playoff basketball. That cannot happen, absolutely cannot happen. We have to be a little bit more focused, particularly when playing a team like that. We already know who they are and what they bring. Yet, we did not play the game like we were playing a physical team.”
The coach is pondering a possible lineup change – he was impressed with the rugged play of Ivan Johnson and Johan Petro off the bench – but also must consider the health of forward Josh Smith, who sprained his right ankle late in the game and did not practice Monday.
Drew said it’s too early to know if Smith will be able to play in Game 2, but he will surely benefit from the long layoff between the first two contests.
That said, Drew made it sound as though there were more serious things to worry about than Smith’s ankle. The coach even resorted to showing his team comments made by former Indiana star Reggie Miller, now a television analyst, about the key to playoff basketball.
”He was talking about playing 48 minutes, playing with intensity, high energy,” Drew said. ”You’ve got to be amped up for 48 minutes. I let my guys listen to that. I say it all the time, but I want them to hear from someone else.”
Another familiar problem surfaced for Atlanta: whining to the officials when a call didn’t go their way.
Drew has warned his players before Game 1 not to let the refereeing affect their play. Then, in a game that featured a huge discrepancy at the foul line, that’s exactly what happened.
”We didn’t handle the officiating very well,” Drew said. ”We responded way, way too much, which we cannot do. You’ve got to play through the officiating, play through what you may perceive to be a bad call. We didn’t do that. We allowed it to affect us.”
Center Al Horford played only 28 minutes in the opener and finished with 14 points and six rebounds. He was on the bench during some crucial stretches of the game as Drew stuck with his bench players longer than usual.
Horford sounded a lot less dire about the opener than his coach.
”At the end of the day, we can’t look into this game too much,” Horford said. ”We looked at it, we learned from it and now we’ve got to move on.”
He didn’t sound too impressed with Drew’s motivational methods, either, casting a look that made it clear he didn’t gain a whole lot from listening to a former NBA player turned analyst.
”We know what we have to do,” Horford said. ”We have to come out here, establish ourselves and play with a sense of urgency. That’s all that needs to be said.”
But teammate Dahntay Jones backed up Drew’s assessment.
”They hit first and they dictated the physical level of the game,” Jones said. ”Those guys were more physical than we were in the paint, from the bigs to the guards. That’s what we have to focus on to win the next game.”
Jones shrugged off any suggestion that the Hawks’ lack of intensity had something to do with the makeup of the team. Only three players are definitely under contract for next season. Drew is in the final year of his contract, as well. The Hawks lost 15 of their last 26 games during the regular season and started the playoffs looking very much like a team just playing out the season.
”Those are things that don’t go on in a basketball locker room,” Jones insisted. ”Guys are worried about winning as many games as possible. The future is something you can’t control. You have to worry about the present, worry about what’s going on now: How many games can you win? How far can you go in the playoffs? Can you win a championship? The guys are focused on that. All that other stuff doesn’t mean anything.”
What does matter is so-called effort plays, and the Hawks were on the short end of those far too often in Game 1.
That must change if Atlanta is to have any chance of rebounding.
”Getting better means bringing more physicality to the game,” Drew said. ”I’m not saying play dirty. But Indiana clearly made the first hit on everything they did, from going to the glass to getting loose balls, 50-50 balls, setting screens. We succumbed to that. I hate to admit it.”