With 6:25 remaining in the third quarter of the Hawks Friday night game against the soon-to-be New Orleans Pelicans – the Hornets for now – El DeBarge was featured on the big screen above center court at Philips Arena. The staff played the DeBarge hit, "Rhythm of the Night" and El treated the crowd to a bit of unsoulful dancing for a little less than 15 seconds.
At that point the Hawks were up 66-62 and had led the game since the 10:14 mark of the first quarter when Josh Smith threw down an alley oop from Jeff Teague, the second in a string of back-to-back-to-back oops for the Hawks. Everything had been going smoothly until that point. They had built a lead as high as 13 points and went into halftime up 55-50. Then came DeBarge and the Hawks unraveled. They lost 111-100.
"We had low energy in the third quarter," said Hawks center Al Horford. "That third quarter was critical. Ever since I've been here we've always had trouble in the third [quarter]."
His coach concurred.
"We've come out flat in third quarters," said coach Larry Drew. "We can't continue to come out with that level of energy in the third quarter. We can't continue to have that happen."
Drew was noticeably peeved during his post-game press conference and with good reason.
After an impressive win against Memphis on Wednesday, the Hawks surrendered a home court loss to a New Orleans team that is 17-33 and one game out of the basement in the Western conference standings. The win gave the Hornets back-to-back victories, something they haven't done in close to a month and hadn't done since November prior to that.
"If I were to say it wasn't frustrating I'd be lying," Drew said. "They've got some good young players, but it's not about New Orleans, it's about us. It all starts with energy."
Drew told the Daily World he could see his team's lack of energy and focus "right out of the shoot" to start the second half.
"We were not sharp; we were walking the ball up, not doing things with urgency," he said. "When we do things with urgency we're a different basketball team."
The loss dropped the Hawks to 27-22 and into sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta is now just one game ahead of the Boston Celtics and a game and a half ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
Drew put the onus squarely on the Hawks, but the young Hornets played their collective stingers off, particularly in the second half. Point guard Greivis Vasquez had a triple double, dropping 21 points, dishing 12 assists and grabbing 11 rebounds, and Eric Gordon looked unstoppable any time he got the ball, finishing the evening with 27 points.
As a team, New Orleans shot 52 percent for the game and 56 percent from the 3-point line, finishing 9-16 from beyond the arc. (Though, the Hawks were a staggeringly hot 13-24 from long range.)
"It was one of those games where a team shot extremely well," said forward Josh Smith, who finished with 23 points and 6 rebounds. "[Robin] Lopez was great, everybody played well for them."
Maybe it was El Debarge, maybe it was Robin Lopez, maybe it was New Orleans voodoo. Or maybe the Hawks just need to find a way to play better in the third quarter.