Drew’s new-school approach steadies Hawks
Some coaches might have put their teams through a grueling
practice. Or a humiliating video session, calling out players mistake by
mistake. Or they might have done a little of both, along with screaming and
Not Larry Drew.
The Atlanta Hawks coach might be 54, but he is new school.
He’s also been around the NBA forever as a player and a longtime assistant and
now in his second season as a head coach.
So how did Drew get his players to respond after a 101-79 Game 4 loss to Boston
in which they trailed at one stretch by 37 points? Drew held a meeting and he
and the players talked it out.
The result? An 87-86 victory in an elimination game in Game 5 on Tuesday in
which the Hawks redeemed themselves to a degree. It’s a little more than a
moral victory, but complete validation will come with a series victory, which
will not be easy as the Hawks trail 3-2 entering Game 6 in Boston on Thursday.
Marvin Williams, who earned a start and made 3-of-6 3-pointers to finish with
15 points on Tuesday, credited Drew’s approach and said as much.
“We’re not going to fold,” Williams said after the game in a video
posted on the team’s website. “We folded in the past when we were a
younger team, but we are a veteran team now. We’ve been in these situations
before, so we just knew not to fold. We kept our composure.
“I think the biggest thing is coach. He keeps his composure and that
really helps us, keeps us calm. So that’s always good.”
It seems the low-key coach must have made some points in that Monday team
meeting with a certain degree of firmness but also with a level of poise and
the significant absence of hysteria.
Joe Johnson complained about his lack of touches in Game 4 that resulted in his
getting only eight shots. While not wanting to alienate his highest-paid player
and top scorer, Drew conceded that the Hawks could have gone to Johnson a
little more often and made an extra pass on some possessions. But he also said
that Johnson needed to be more aggressive, a sentiment echoed by two-time
All-Star center Al Horford, the team’s true leader.
Horford, in just his second game back after four months off
with a torn pectoral muscle, showed what he was made of on Tuesday with
19 points on 8-of-15 shooting and 11 rebounds.
Johnson got his touches, too — although he suffered through a poor shooting
night, making 6-of-17 field goals — and his 15 points were needed in a
After Monday’s session, Drew said he was anxious to see how the team responded.
He reiterated that in his pregame comments to reporters, saying the Hawks had
responded to challenges throughout the season and viewed Game 4 as a “bump
in the road.”
Game 5 didn’t start out pretty. Drew had to call a timeout just 3:51 in, as
Boston jumped out to an 11-3 lead. The Hawks fought back, but with 8:53 left in
the second quarter, the Celtics led 28-18.
Drew let the Hawks play through that sequence and they tied the game by
halftime and steadily pulled away in the second half before holding on at the
The coach’s positive message seems to have played a role.
“We just couldn’t make shots and that’s what I was reminding the guys
every time they came to the huddle, was don’t get discouraged because
defensively we’re doing a good job, our shots will fall,” Drew said.
“In the middle of the second quarter, they started to fall.”
Apparently, he understands the psychology of this team, which is no small feat.
Coaching in the NBA is a murky mix of ego managing and X’s and O’s. It’s hard
to say which is more important, but perhaps the former. Drew understood this on
This is just Drew’s third playoff series as a coach. He’s 1-1 so far, but last season
few expected the Hawks to beat Orlando in the first round and fewer expected
them to make such a competitive series in the second round against Chicago.
If the Hawks manage to come back and eliminate Boston — Atlanta is the higher
seed but the underdog in the eyes of many — then Drew and his squad will truly
have pulled off an impressive achievement.