Harsh enough that Atlanta squandered home court advantage in their Eastern Conference first-rounder by losing to Miami last night, 108-93, but True Hoop’s Henry Abbott wonders just what the heck is going on in Phillips Arena’s game operations department. A year after Hawks’ scorekeepers booted Shaquille O’Neal from a game in which he only had 5 fouls (causing the final minute of said contest to be replayed at a later date), Atlanta allowed a national televised playoff game to be interrupted by a flying hawk. Not this sort, either, as Abbott explains.

There we are, with 9:44 left in the first quarter, and Spirit the Hawk — an actual live Hawk in the habit of swooping from the rafters during introductions — landed on the basket support, but well away from play.

A little weird, perhaps, but not without novelty value.

Then with 9:17 left, just after Josh Smith had poked the ball out of bounds, play was briefly stopped as Spirit swooped around, freaking everybody out. Some fans ducked, needlessly, as he is a very precise bird and was easily a dozen feet above their heads. This time, he came to rest on top a remote-control TV camera mounted atop the shot clock, as you can see above.

NBA referees might stop a game for a bald eagle or an osprey. But this was a Harris Hawk. Game on.

Spirit stayed put for one play. But after James Jones drained a 3, and the action moved to the other end, Spirit moved the length of the court to take a closer look.

And that’s when the trouble really started, with 8:48 left in the quarter. Referee Danny Crawford wanted to be tossing up a jumpball, but instead was suddenly faced with players worrying over a real live hawk perched directly on the backboard — a high-arcing baseline jumper might well brush his beak.

Crawford must be a dad, because he did what any reasonable dad would do — tried to look like he was dealing with it. He approached the bird somewhat gingerly, making eye contact all the way. Then, to ensure the safety of all, he somewhat vigorously slapped the ball with his own hand. Once. And then again. All the while, he studied the hawk for a reaction. I can only imagine he was testing — to determine character. Was it a stable bird — or one that would attack after, say, a ball-slapping?