What has happened to the Atlanta Hawks in the last three games is embarrassing. Not so much the game three loss — Milwaukee had the energy of the home crowd, made some adjustments, shot well and got the win. The Bucks are a solid, well coached team. It happens. But three straight losses?
In game four, Atlanta made no countermoves, the Bucks just kept doing what they wanted, getting the matchups they wanted. Atlanta lost. In game five, few changes again. The Hawks can’t seem to recognize and exploit their mismatches, and even when they do they don’t stick with it. Wednesday night that was combined by the Hawks ability to choke away leads and become predictable — and defensible — at the end of games. And there you have another loss.
And it’s got to fall on coach Mike Woodson. The adjustments. The end of game problems that have been there all season. The team that doesn’t execute under pressure. Some of it — most of it? — falls on Mike Woodson.
After five year’s on the job in the ATL Woodson’s contract is up this summer. Tim Potvak at FanHouse suggested this might be the end of the line for him. It is time for the Hawks — if they really want to be contenders — to make changes, including on the bench. Some personnel changes are needed as well (getting a good perimeter defender, for one) but this team needs a shakeup in attitude.
Woodson has been good on the franchise on the whole over five years. This is not some Eddie Jordan unmitigated disaster, the Hawks have consistently won more games each year than the year before for all five of his seasons. He has tried to let the athletic Hawks players be themselves. He has helped build a foundation in Atlanta.
But what happened at the end of game five was a microcosm of what has been holding the Hawks back. In the final five minutes, they stop executing. Their offense becomes a stagnant series of isolation plays with no ball or player movement to speak of. The Hawks have great athletes, but in crunch time they become a bunch of individual athletes rather than a team of athletes. The isolations are easier to defend, the shots don’t fall.
The Hawks are a team whose defense should create turnovers, should have the Hawks out and running and finishing on the break. They don’t — they were 16th in the league in creating turnovers. This is an average defensive team that does not play to its strengths often enough.
On defense, they hide the lack of a good perimeter defender by switching all picks, and letting Josh Smith and Al Horford show how athletic they are on the wings. The Bucks have taken advantage of this, getting the switch then clearing out an isolation because Horford and Smith can’t hang with Brandon Jennings or John Salmons 20 feet from the hoop. They have been doing it since game three. And the Hawks have done…. nothing about it. They keep getting burned, the Bucks keep winning.
When the game got tight late in game five, both teams hustled, to use the cliche both teams played hard. But only one team understood how to execute under pressure. The Scott Skiles coached team.
Woodson is not a bad coach. He’s not. But it’s time for a change. The Hawks have dreams of being listed in the class of Cleveland and Orlando. If that’s going to happen there need to be some changes.
Among them is at coach.