Tuesday, April 29, 2008
All This Amazing Has Me Hoarse
Those of you who thought at the start of the series that Zaza Pachulia would be gracing the front page of ESPN.com, raise your hands. Those of you who thought that the Celtics would be the ones losing their cool, raise your hands. Those of you who thought that Joe Johnson could turn in a Kobe/Lebron fourth quarter, putting the team on his back and willing them to victory (complete with a beautiful Randolph Childress in the '95 ACC Tournament Final moment), raise your hands. Those of you who saw the Hawks coming back from spotting the Celtics a 16-3 lead to start the game and a 75-65 lead to start the fourth quarter, raise your hands. Those of you who thought that Philips Arena would become something along the lines of a raucous college gym (with nicer TV screens and more temperamental shot clocks), raise your hands. Those of you who thought that hundreds of Hawks fans would be chanting "Let's Go Hawks!," "Overrated!," and "Boston sucks!" on the escalators after the game, raise your hands. (Personally, I thought that both fan bases could bond over a "Yankees suck!" chant that would have the added benefit of our friends from Massachusetts not knowing that the joke was on them.) Those of you who thought that this series was going back to Boston 2-2 with Celtics fans likely wearing expressions of extreme constipation when their team takes the floor on Wednesday night, raise your hands.
OK, with that out of the way, here are some random thoughts:
1. Josh Smith has to be hearing a cash register with every big play he makes. His line from last night: 28 points, seven blocks, six rebounds, and one turnover. He played good defense on Kevin Garnett when called upon. He didn't take too many dumb shots, although he fell in love with the three a little much for my tastes and didn't hit from outside like he did on Saturday night. At this stage, the Hawks have to pay to keep him. Hopefully, with the interest generated by this playoff performance, money won't be an issue.
2. While the Hawks had a few terrific individual performances last night, they still don't run anything approaching a coherent offensive system. That works when Joe Johnson is absolutely unstoppable, but I'd like to see more movement and structure from this team. That said, you can't fault Mike Woodson last night for simply riding a hot hand. A lot of coaches would have screwed that up by complicating was was a very simple situation: Boston could not guard our best player, so our best player should get the ball on every possession.
3. The Celtics hit 12 of 23 from behind the arc. I can't say I ever thought that the Hawks could win a game against Boston in which the Celtics were so hot from outside.
4. I cannot escape the '91 Braves vibe from this Hawks team. While the '91 Braves were excellent for four months and this Hawks team has been excellent for exactly three days, there are a number of parallels the deserve mentioning. Both teams were very young teams that had been built patiently. Both teams broke nine-year playoff droughts. Both teams energized previously moribund fan bases. That last point is where the analogy works the best. Philips Arena was always a fun place to watch a game because the facility is so nice and NBA basketball is really impressive in person, but the Hawks never generated much excitement in the crowd. All of a sudden, the crowds have gone from 0 to 60. The noise is intense, people are standing and screaming from start to finish, and the opponents seem legitimately rattled by the experience. All we need is the Tomahawk Squawk to bring it all together.
5. Another historical analogy: the Hawks and Celtics played an epic, seven-game series 20 years ago that started with two wins in Boston by the home team, followed by two wins by the Hawks at home. The Hawks then stole game five at the Garden before suffering heart-breaking losses in games six and seven. The game seven loss is famous for the scoring duel between Dominique and Larry Bird, but game six was the real killer. The Hawks had a chance to close the Celtics out at home, but lost after falling behind early and spending the whole game trying to dig out of the hole. Cliff Levingston missed a running one-hander on the Hawks' final possession that would have tied the game. The team responded to the "close, but no cigar" moment with the acquisitions of Reggie Theus and Moses Malone, neither of whom lived up to their reputations in Atlanta. The '89 Hawks lost in the first round to Milwaukee and spent the next several years in the wilderness. Hopefully, the downward trajectory from the '88 Boston series isn't repeated this time around. The fact that I'm invoking a tight seven-game series between two good teams is evidence enough that these Hawks have taken a significant leap in the past three days.