Atlanta Hawks Braced For Onslaught

Todd CallahanContributor IMay 8, 2009

CLEVELAND - MAY 07:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers comes though a line of teammates during player introductions prior to playing the Atlanta Hawks in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 7, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland won the game 105-85 to take a 2-0 series lead. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The last time Atlanta faced a dominating foe from the north like the Cleveland Cavaliers, a man named William Tecumseh Sherman, an Ohio native, was in charge and that didn't end well for the Georgia capital.

Nearly 150 years later, another Ohio native is reeking havoc and leading the opposing opposition on a march toward a quivering city.

If the first two games of the Atlanta Hawks second round playoff series with the Cleveland Cavaliers were any indication of what Saturday's Game 3 has in store, perhaps the city would prefer to put out the welcome mats for Sherman and his boys, as opposed to fellow Ohioan LeBron James and his band of merry men.

The collateral damage may be a lot more when the Cavs leave town following Monday's Game 4.

History tells us that the great Atlanta fire was caused, not by the north, but fleeing residents and the Confederate army, determined not to leave anything for the Yankee invaders.

Perhaps we should do the same to Phillips Arena, hosting its first second round playoff game. If the first two games are any indication, the arena and Hawks fans would be in a better place if it was torched by its own, rather than the invaders from the north, who undoubtedly plan on not coming back following Monday's series sweep.

The numbers have not been pretty.

The Hawks, trailing by seven at halftime of the series opener, were held to 28 points in the second half and fell, 99-72.

Thursday's Game 2 was not any better.

Playing without Marvin Williams, out with a sprained ligament in his shooting wrist, and Al Horford, still nursing a sprained right ankle, the Hawks posed as much of a threat to the charging Cavs as Sherman encountered on his "March to the Sea."

Atlanta trailed by 59-35 at the half, and the Cavs were up by as much as 36 before LeBron and the rest of the starters took their place on the bench to watch the rest of the game.

In a fourth quarter that looked more like an exhibition game in mid-October rather than a playoff game, the Hawks went on an 11-0 run thanks to the play of reserves such as Thomas Gardner and Acie Law.

Garner scored nine of his 12 points in the fourth period, and Law added all eight of his points in the final four minutes, when most of the crowd were polishing off their beers or already headed home.

The Hawks cut an 85-55 deficit at the beginning of the fourth quarter to 95-80 on rookie Othello Hunter's lone basket of the game with 2:37 left.

But Cleveland's Wally Szczerbiak, who had 17 points off the bench, curbed any chance of a comeback, as the Cavs took a stranglehold on the series with a 105-85 triumph.

The Hawks' scrubs outscored Cleveland's benchwarmers 28-18 in the final stanza, but chances are LeBron, who led all scorers with 27 points, was already making dinner reservations before the end of the game. His mates Mo Williams (15 points), Delonte West (14 points), and Anderson Varejao (12 points) were also sitting and sipping Gatorade, as the second stringers were on the floor.

What made the evening even more dire for the overmatched Hawks was an injury to Joe Johnson with 3:32 left in the third quarter.

Johnson, a virtual no-show for much of the playoffs, had 10 points and was five-for-15 from the floor, when he twisted his right ankle after getting a shot blocked by Zydrunas Ilgauskas. It was one of nine blocked shots by the Cavs.

X-rays on Johnson's ankle were negative, but the Atlanta guard did not return to the game. He is also considered doubtful for Saturday's game.

With Johnson out, Williams and Horford questionable, and Josh Smith struggling both offensively and defensively, perhaps the best strategy for the Hawks is to follow that of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston—retreat.