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Atlanta Hawks Recap: Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 3

Orlando 105, HAWKS 75 - Magic lead series, 3-0

At least the Atlanta Hawks are dying a quick and painless death. They wouldn't want this torture chamber of a series to be drawn out any further than it needs to be.

It was a crime scene at Philips Arena on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta. There were endless offenses to choose from.

Was this mostly a mugging conducted by the visiting Orlando Magic?

Was this a case of poisoning which left the homestanding Hawks noticeably lethargic in a game they had to win?

Was this a case of professional athletes stealing some sizable paychecks?

Perhaps it was all of the above, but make no mistake, this was the scene of something grisly, ugly and stomach-churning. For the second time in this series, Orlando has whacked Atlanta by at least 30 points. For the second time in this series, the Magic have rendered a game non-competitive after two and a half quarters. For the second time in this series, the defending Eastern Conference champions have played garbage-time minutes in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter instead of having to generate productive possessions from start to finish.

In Game 1 of this best-of-seven (non-)battle, Atlanta fell behind by more than 40 points in the fourth quarter. In this Saturday stinker, the Hawks fell behind 90-59 in the fourth period before an utterly disappointed home crowd that never had a chance to get involved in the action.

It's hard to come up with the right words in the aftermath of another bloodbath. Coach Mike Woodson's team reached this same round of the playoffs last year and got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but in that confrontation, the Hawks actually pushed Cleveland and didn't fade away in the fourth quarter. One year later, with expectations higher in Georgia than they'd ever been before, Atlanta is steadily regressing before the nation's eyes. One humiliation in Game 1 has swiftly been followed by another face-plant in Game 3. The fact that the Hawks trail this series 3-0 isn't really the foremost concern; what has to worry executives in this organization is a far more sobering reality: This team has quit on Woodson and the season at large.

Orlando is an excellent team. The Magic, one year removed from making the NBA Finals, are looking like the clear-cut favorite to return to professional basketball's ultimate stage. Coach Stan Van Gundy's group is now 7-0 in the 2010 postseason and is a virtual shoo-in for the East Finals (most likely against Cleveland, but the jury is still out on that question). Even if Atlanta had played a lot better, this series could still stand at 3-0; however, the one unforgivable sin in professional sports is to fail to try hard on every possession. The money and privileges of pro sports are too substantial for athletes to dog it; when players step between the painted white lines, they have to give full effort, win or lose. There's no more basic hallmark of elite competition.

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Yet, it was painfully apparent that as soon as Orlando gained a 20-point lead early in the third quarter, the light went out of the Hawks' eyes. More hoisted jumpers and decidedly tentative plays only allowed the confident Magic to bully the Hawks around the court to an even greater degree. Atlanta committed only six turnovers in this contest, but Woodson's lineup hit just 29 of 83 shots to finish at 35 percent from the floor. That stat tells you all you need to know about the Hawks' shot selection and, accordingly, their (lack of) willingness to go to the basket. The Hawks attempted only 19 foul shots, and without Jamal Crawford's nine free throw attempts, that number would have been just 10.

No guts.

No toughness.

No hard-edged resilience.

Just a meek surrender against a good team that doesn't need any help.

There's just one more game left in the Atlanta Hawks' season... unless, that is, they show the grit they're so thoroughly noted for not displaying.

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By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer

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