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Hawks come up empty

Inexperience is exposed on road again

Rajon Rondo is swept off his feet by Marvin Williams, a move that earned the Hawks guard a Flagrant 2 foul and an early exit. Rajon Rondo is swept off his feet by Marvin Williams, a move that earned the Hawks guard a Flagrant 2 foul and an early exit. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 5, 2008

It seemed everybody in the Hawks locker room was thinking something different after yesterday's 99-65 Game 7 loss to the Celtics at the Garden.

Marvin Williams had been sitting there since the third quarter, when his hard foul on Rajon Rondo turned out to be a second-level flagrant foul that got him kicked out.

He wanted to catch Rondo, he said, but he couldn't. He didn't argue the call, either. He saw the replay as soon as he hit the locker room. "The refs made the right call," he said.

The Hawks had lost by 30 points before this season, but in that game they still put up 92 points on the Suns. But the loss the Celtics handed them yesterday was a different kind of beating.

For most of the Hawks, this was the biggest game they had played. And after scaring the Celtics so much that signs saying "Shock the World" started popping up, they somehow played their worst game of the season.

"I think this loss is going to sit in everybody's mouth for the whole summer," Williams said. "It's going to leave a sour taste in everybody's mouth. Now that we've been here, you never want to miss it again."

Joe Johnson had trouble wrapping his head around the loss, and he wasn't even thinking about the difference in his team from road games to home games. That was a different mystery, he figured, and one they'll solve next year.

It was that Johnson said he had trouble sleeping Saturday night because he was so ready to play, but he felt like he was in a locker room with a bunch of guys who slept too well.

"We're so inexperienced and this is Game 7," Johnson said. "We acted like this was just a regular game. We didn't come to play at all. This is the biggest game of all our careers and we just didn't come to play."

Johnson didn't think his team quit, but he thought it might have settled.

"Maybe some of us were satisfied that we made it to Game 7," Johnson said. "But you never can be satisfied in this league, man. We had a chance to do something special, and for it to be Game 7. It's tough. I can't swallow that."

Ever since he ended up forehead-to-forehead with Kevin Garnett in Game 4, Zaza Pachulia had been a magnet for boos in Boston. It got so bad yesterday that fans at the Garden chanted "USA! USA!" whenever the Eastern European went to the free-throw line.

"You're going to deal with the fans all your career," he said. "It's part of the game. You should get used to that."

Atlanta coach Mike Woodson, whose contract expires in June, wasn't in the locker room at that point, he was at his news conference, talking about what his team had done. During the season, his future with the Hawks became a mini issue, but even with the strong playoff showing, he still refused to talk about his status. "I'm not going to discuss my job," he said. "I'm just happy about this season."

He got endorsements from one end of the locker room to the other. Johnson said Woodson was the reason he came to Atlanta. And Williams added, "What he's doing with us young guys has been unbelievable. So I think people really need to look at that and have him back next year. If he comes back next year, we can pick up where we left off and continue to be a playoff team."

There are a number of veterans on the market and Johnson said there are some the Hawks could use.

"We need more veteran leadership," Johnson said. "We got a lot of young guys just running wild. We need more veteran leadership, and hopefully we can get that."

"I hope they sign me," said Josh Smith, who is facing free agency. "But I understand it's a business. If it's not meant for me to be here, then it's not. And if it is, then I'll be extremely happy."

Josh Childress, also dealing with free agency, took a deep breath when wondering what kind of future the team had, and if he would be a part of it.

"I love Atlanta," he said. "I'd love to be here, but those aren't my decisions. It's going to come down to us coming to an agreement, and if it happens I'd love it, and if it doesn't, I'll realize that this is a business and you just have to roll with it."

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com

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