Finishing with 47 regular-season victories and a first-round playoff series win over Miami won't be enough to send the Hawks into the offseason with a good feeling. Getting swept by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals has a way of draining all of the positive energy associated with the Hawks' best season in more than a decade.
Just as tough, Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson said, is the immediate shift in the perception of the Hawks across Atlanta and around the world.
The Hawks were the toast of the town after their Game 7 win over Miami in the first round, only to be skewered by fans and pundits for being on the wrong side of a 3-0 series deficit to Cleveland before Monday night's Game 4 loss.
"In this league it's always, 'What have you done for me lately?' " Johnson said. "The regular season is over and done with. We started a fresh, new season in the playoffs. And we were decent in the first round. We did enough to get by. But in this round, we haven't done anything to make people respect us."
Last year the Hawks finished the season in Boston, losing Game 7 in a first-round series against the eventual NBA champions.
That left a good taste in their mouths as well as a lasting impression around the league. Johnson knows that won't be the case this summer.
"It's a tough pill to swallow for the whole summer," Johnson said. "It's even tougher when you know you didn't get a chance to put your best foot forward because of all the injuries and stuff we had happen to us. But it's a learning experience for us. And we'll come back stronger next year because of all this."
Not done yet
The Hawks' 22-15 first-quarter edge marked the first time during the series that they led at the end of a quarter, and their seven-point lead matched their largest in the series up to that point.
The Hawks followed that by missing their first eight shots of the second quarter, allowing the Cavaliers to regain the lead with a 10-2 run.
But the Hawks battled throughout the first half, keeping things tight through halftime, just as Josh Smith said they would before the game.
"We're not going to go quietly in this series," he said. "I know people expect us to. I know the [analysts] said we would. That's just not who we are, though. We're not that kind of team to just roll over and die for somebody."
Working at the line
The Hawks' increased output on the offensive end was evident in their early work at the free- throw line.
They made twice as many free throws by halftime (14) Monday than they did in all of Game 3, when they finished 7-for-11 from the line.
That free throw work helped offset a brutal shooting effort from the floor in the first half. The Hawks shot .316 (12-for-38) in the first half, including a dismal 4-for-18 showing in the second quarter. And they were still down just two points, 40-38, at halftime.
Ilgauskas injured early
Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas went out late in the first quarter with a mild right ankle sprain. He landed awkwardly on his left ankle after making a layup over Al Horford.
Ilgauskas returned to the floor two minutes later and continued playing without issue through the first half.