Hawks Insider: Rising to top won't be easy
The Hawks better be careful in this abbreviated NBA season. If they're not clear about where they stand among the Eastern Conference's wannabe-contenders, the Indiana Pacers reminded them on this night.
The drop off from the elite to the wish-they-were elite crowd isn't necessarily as steep as it once was, but there is a distance between the two crowds, and the Hawks are in the latter along with the Pacers, who whipped the Hawks 96-84 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"It's a shortened season and we know the bunch that we're in the mix with right now," said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. "Everybody is sort of putting Miami and Chicago as the cream of the crop. From three to eight or nine or 10 it's sort of up for grabs. We feel we're at the top of that bunch and Atlanta certainly is playing well enough to be considered that way, as well."
Well, if the Hawks had any doubts, Vogel certainly seems to have cleared them up.
And the glaring difference between the Hawks and teams like the Pacers, 76ers, Knicks, Magic and others vying for that real estate underneath the Heat and Bulls is that the Hawks have already been there. While those other teams are trying to establish an identity, the Hawks have been busy living that life.
Now they have to find a way to stay in that space with the room getting a little crowded.
"I don't think that there is any question that we're a situation where the pack is chasing us and trying to leapfrog us in a lot of ways," forward Josh Smith said. "And in all honesty, that's what they should be doing. It's up to us to fend off that challenge and maintain our position. So all this shows us is that we have our work cut out for us."
Atlanta gets its chance to get back on track Thursday at Philips Arena when it hosts the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Hawks had their chances to get it right against the Pacers but simply couldn't hold it together long enough to make that happen.
After the Hawks took a brief 50-49 lead on Jeff Teague's driving lay-up in the final two minutes before halftime, the Pacers scored the final four points of the half to re-take the lead, and then came out of the locker room with an 18-4 run that blew the game open.
The Hawks shot just 2-for-15 during that run, a 22-4 surge for the Pacers that essentially ended any real chance the Hawks had of winning this game.
"No offense to him, but when a Jeff Foster three-pointer pushes the lead to 21 points (at the end of the third quarter), you know it's going to be a long night," guard Joe Johnson said.
Hawks point guard Jeff Teague proved that you can't always come home in the NBA. Playing before his hometown crowd in the arena he grew up going to when he wanted to see NBA games, Teague struggled in his first starting assignment before family and friends.
He shot just 2-for-10 from the floor and never got into the sort of rhythm he needed to for the Hawks to take advantage of his grind.
"You have those nights, when the shots aren't falling and things just don't go your way," said Teague, who finished with just five points and three assists. "This wasn't one of my better games, obviously. But you're more worried about getting the win than anything else."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong in the third quarter. We stayed in it in the second quarter, but we just came out in the third quarter and could not execute. We missed too many shots and made some mistakes and that compounded things. The Pacers came out (Wednesday) and established things." -- Hawks coach Larry Drew.