Finishing the regular season with 47 wins and a win in their first-round playoff series 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 Monday had a way of draining all the positive energy associated with the Hawks' best season in over a decade.
Just as tough, Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson said, is the immediate shift in the perception of the Hawks around Atlanta and around the world.
The Hawks were the toast of 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.
"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."
Hawks coach Mike Woodson refused to allow his team to be defined by their last four games as opposed to the sum of the 93 games they played this season (regular season and playoffs combined).
"It's been a long road to get to this point," he said. "Like I told those guys in that locker room, I don't want them hanging their heads. This was a positive year for this Atlanta Hawks basketball team."
CAVALIERS 84, HAWKS 74: It took them three games to adjust to the pace set by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but for once, the Hawks decided to play like they belonged.
It was just too late to make a difference.
The Cavaliers swept the Hawks out of the playoffs with Monday's 84-74 Game 4 win at Philips Arena.
"You show up to the fight like that and who knows, this series goes six or seven games," Hawks swingman Mo Evans said afterwards. "It's going to be hard not to wonder what might have been."
After being smashed by a combined 62 points in the first three games, the Hawks went toe-to-toe with the Cavaliers Monday in an attempt to extend the series and their season for at least a couple more days.
Their three injured starters -- captain and All-Star Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Marvin Williams -- were on the floor at the start, each one playing with an injury that they would not have at any other time.
But in the end there was just too much to overcome, particularly with the Cavaliers.
Even on an off shooting night -- James was just 9-for-22 from the floor -- he made things difficult for the Hawks.
He didn't come anywhere near his 47-point scoring outburst in Game 3. But he did chase a triple-double, finishing with 27 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, finding his wide-open teammates repeatedly for backbreaking shots in the game's final minutes as the Hawks scrambled to cover both James and the open shooters.
"It's frustrating because we know we're more capable than what we showed," Horford said. "The injuries really limited us and impacted the way we played. There's no doubt about that."