With their demolition of the Heat on Sunday and ultimate victory in the least competitive seven-game series in NBA history, the Hawks have achieved just about every reasonable goal that could have been set for them at the start of the season. The Hawks improved by ten games, they got homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, they won a playoff series for the first time in a decade, and they won a road playoff game for the first time in 12 years. The only goal that the team didn't achieve was to win 50 games. Now, with the 66-win Cavs on the schedule, anything that the Hawks add to this season's accomplishments will be gravy.
A few thoughts looking backwards and forwards...
1. Mike Woodson needs to show Josh Smith a clip of his first six minutes against the Heat on Sunday and say "that is how you should be playing basketball." After turning the ball over on the first possession, Smith went right at the hoop every time thereafter, consistently scoring or drawing fouls. He kept the team in the game until Joe Johnson's shooting put the Hawks ahead. The million dollar question is whether Smith can put together that sort of show on the road. He's about to be matched up against Anderson Varejao, the kind of defender who should be able to frustrate Smith. Let's see if Josh can show some maturity on the biggest stage that he's played on to date.
2. I often complain about the Hawks' offensive system (or lack thereof), but they were pretty to watch on Sunday. The spacing and ball movement were outstanding. The team doesn't run an organized system, but they do have a number of players who are above-average passers, so when they play collectively, they're a sight to behold.
3. If Marvin Williams isn't able to play at full speed, then the Hawks chances of making this a series will take a hit. Williams did a reasonably good job as the primary defender that the Hawks used on LeBron in the regular season...and by "reasonably good job," I mean that LeBron averaged 26.3 ppg as opposed to his normal 28.4 ppg average. LeBron's shooting percentages were also a little lower against the Hawks. Keep in mind that there may be one or two statisticians who would say that a four-game sample size isn't enough to make firm judgments.
4. Part of what has made LeBron such a dominant player this year has been his ability to lock down the opponent's best perimeter player. Joe Johnson, this means you. Johnson's ability to get points, especially on big possessions, is going to be massive.
5. After being the irritant in residence for the Heat series, what does Zaza do for an encore? The Cavs are good at just about everything and one such strength is their rebounding. The Hawks were not a good rebounding team during the season, so Zaza & company are going to have to exceed expectations on the glass. That, and Zaza is going to have to hand out more concussions.
If this series goes longer than five, then that's a victory for the Hawks.