"Must-win" is an overused term in sports.
There are certainly instances in which it applies, given that teams are often faced with elimination with a single loss in a playoff situation. At the same time, though, there is a difference between "must-win" and "really need to win".
Game 4 is the latter for the Atlanta Hawks.
The previous words are not an attempt to lessen the significance of Monday's game against the Washington Wizards. In short, the Hawks must win in order to avoid what would be a perilous 3-1 deficit in the series, and if they were to drop Game 4, the great majority of the NBA world write the team off in one sweeping motion.
Because Atlanta has two of the final three games at home in Philips Arena and the Wizards could be without John Wall for the remainder of the series, the series isn't "over" if the Hawks lose on Monday night. In the same breath, it would be a damning result for a team that has underperformed the playoffs.
With all of the background out of the way, there is an important basketball game to play. The Hawks charged to the finish with a massive run that included a 17-0 spurt in Game 3, but as you know by now, Paul Pierce broke the souls of everyone with a game-winning, off-the-glass jumper at the buzzer.
In actuality, that Pierce game-winner simply ensured the "correct" result, as the Hawks were soundly outplayed in Game 3. The bench was heroic, including a 15-point quarter from Dennis Schröder (perhaps a turning point?) and a clutch three from Mike Muscala (!), but the main pieces for Atlanta were generally lifeless.
Game 4 should, in theory, bring a sense of urgency to the table for the visiting Hawks, but on the other side, that urgency should have been present in Game 3. Jeff Teague must win his match-up against the likes of Ramon Sessions and Will Bynum if John Wall can't go, Paul Millsap (though he was visibly ill) and Al Horford must improve their performance and it is time for Kyle Korver to see an increased workload by any means necessary.
There is plenty of room for strategic discussion about what the Atlanta Hawks have or have not done in this series, and that includes some rotational weirdness deployed by Mike Budenholzer. Still, Game 3 was an unacceptable effort from a group that has been fantastic this season, and that no-show places the team in a corner for Game 4.
Let's see if they come out swinging.
Game Date/Time: Monday, May 11, 7:00 p.m. ET
Location: Verizon Center, Washington, DC
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM