Johnson didn’t use the word “quit,” because such a word brings under scrutiny a teammate’s fortitude and his professionalism. Professionals just don’t quit, and to suggest one does borders on slander.
But if you dare resort to slandering a teammate, if there’s ever an occasion to slander one, the occasion presented itself Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
For unlike the game Tuesday, the Hawks didn’t wait until the second half to give up; they gave up — or was it really an example of quitting here? — after the first quarter.
By halftime, the Hawks trailed the Cleveland Cavaliers, 59-35. So far behind were the Hawks that they needed binoculars to see how broad the distance actually was between them and the Cavs.
“This loss is embarrassing,” said forward Josh Smith, the 105-85 final score fresh in his mind.
It might be profound to look at the Hawks as if they were the slowest runners in the Boston Marathon. The top men (and women) had completed it, celebrated, showered and taken cabs to dinner before these stragglers reached the finish line.
The stragglers crossed, though; they finished the marathon. But it can’t be said that the Hawks finished.
Keep in mind that the Hawks, absent the injured Al Horford and Marvin Williams, came into the game undermanned. They might have kept this game from turning into a 105-85 embarrassment.
“When you’re missing pieces, it’s tough,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.
His Hawks also didn’t seem to have shaken the fatigue from their rough seven-game series with the Miami Heat. What little fight the Hawks had could easily have been left in the earlier series.
Still, if they were going to lose twice here — and no one thought they wouldn’t — they could put in the effort. At least try. At least play hard.
They did no such thing. They executed their offense as if running in a dungeon. They played matador defense, waving at LeBron James, Mo Williams, Delonte West and anybody else in a white Cleveland jersey who had the temerity to drive inside.
And when the white jersey stayed on the perimeter, the Hawks had no one outside to defend the open jumpers.
So the Cavs rolled on. They continued to bury the Hawks in a deeper and deeper deficit — from 20-plus points to more than 30 points.
As the third quarter turned into the fourth, the Cavs had about as much interest in this blowout as the Hawks did. Wisely, coach Mike Brown rested LeBron, West and Williams. Brown let Tarence Kinsey, Sasha Pavlovic, Darnell Jackson and the other role players run out the final minutes.
Woodson followed Brown’s lead. He rested his starters. They, however, didn’t seem to need more rest. They had about as much as they could want in the two playoff games at The Q.
“We’re not playing well right now,” Woodson said. “We’ve got a chance to go back home and see what we’re made of.”
From what his Hawks showed here, they aren’t made of much.