No, really, you had to.
For the Hawks couldn’t have dreamed — not even in their wildest nightmare — of circumstances as discomforting as these were to begin the second round of the NBA playoffs.
But the Hawks knew the score, perhaps as well as the Cavs fans did. Then again, every team in the NBA knows the score these days: Quicken Loans Arena isn’t a place that treats visitors well.
“This place has been electric the whole year,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said Tuesday night after a 99-72 win.
And that was the problem for the Hawks.
They found an atmosphere that overwhelms visitors, even visitors who arrive here with fresh legs. Nothing was fresh about the Hawks. They were a tired team that tried hard to find its legs after a seven-game, first-round series against the Miami Heat.
The Hawks would not find their legs in The Q. No team does — not any more.
Give them some basketball love, though. They did make a show of it early. For unlike the Detroit Pistons, the Hawks didn’t come to town with the purpose of falling behind in the series 1-0.
They took a modest lead in the early minutes of the first quarter, and they didn’t play badly throughout the half.
“I thought we competed in the first half,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “That’s just not good enough.”
No, it wasn’t good enough — not in the house that LeBron fills. Not in front of his 20,562 faithful who jam The Q night after night.
On this night, they dressed in black T-shirts, the words “WITNESS MVP” printed on the front. They turned the arena into a sea of white towels waving in the air.
A disadvantage for the Hawks?
A decided one. But the arena wasn’t nearly as big a disadvantage as not having a player who could contain James.
Anybody who needed convincing — and Woodson didn’t — that James deserved the league’s MVP award found all the evidence to silence any doubt by analyzing his play in first quarter.
Rested after nine days of watching, James scored 16 points and grabbed five rebounds. Yet it wasn’t his statistics that spoke to his brilliance; it was his court savvy.
“He carried us a little bit until we got going,” Brown said.
A little bit? Coach, please!
The best player in the NBA played like it, Woodson assured. James conducted the Cavs like a maestro. He dominated the basketball at times, orchestrating the offense and establishing the rhythm of the game.
“We played pretty good,” James said.
The Hawks agreed. They found no answers in trying stop LeBron James. They did, however, come away with a big question.
What to do now?