Saturday, January 30, 2010

Brace Yourself for Elimination

Two years ago, the Hawks landed their first punches on the eventual champion Celtics. It was quite the shock at the time that a 37-45 team took three playoff games off of the favorites for the title. The Celtics ultimately put the Hawks back in their place in Game Seven, but the seed was planted: these Hawks can compete with the team that is the historical gold standard in the NBA, not to mention the best team at present.

Last night, the Hawks reached the summit of the mountain. I know it's a regular season game, but if ever an NBA regular season game could mean something, it should have last night for the Celtics. Several Boston players bristled at the notion that the Hawks had some sort of advantage over them when Atlanta won at the Fleet Center to go to 3-0 on the season. With KG back in the lineup and a chance to show that the Hawks don't have an advantage, Boston should have put forward their best effort last night.

By halftime, it was 51-39 Hawks and Atlanta had a 25-3 advantage in fast break points. It was a classic instance of a veteran team watching a younger usurper shoot past them. The Celtics were reduced to a collection of grumpy, bitching old men trying to deal with younger, more athletic players in a young man's game. About the time that Josh Smith beat his man down the court on the secondary break for an uncontested flush, I was thinking back to the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, when the Bulls finally got past the older, declining Pistons who had kept them down for several years. If only the East was bipolar and not quadpolar. (Is that a word? I doubt it.)

The odd aspect of the box score is that Boston's starters all finished with positive plus/minus numbers. If last night's game was emblematic for this Celtics team, then their bench is dreadful. Boston was even in the first quarter and dominated the third quarter, but they got worked in quarters two and four, most likely because they don't have anything close to this guy:

Jamal Crawford comes into the game and scores a pile of points that the opponents' reserves can't match. (I kept pumping my fist in the second quarter and muttering "Jamal was the last piece.") Rasheed Wallace comes into the game and hoists a bevy of threes that rarely find the mark. Amazingly enough, he was over the hill last year and is over the hill this year.

So here we are. The Cavs are the best team in the East, as they were last year. Atlanta and Orlando will be fighting for the spot right behind them. The winner of the Southeast Division gets the Celtics in the second round. The loser gets Cleveland. That makes tonight's game a little important, dontchathink?


Will said...

We cannot seem to get through the Magic, can we? Your point about the Pistons/Bulls series was important, but your aside about the fact we've got more problems than the Bulls did was also very true. Where do we go to contain Howard? I hope we can find an answer at some point this season.

Jesse said...

I don't think the Hawks have to contain Howard. The Magic seemed to be doing a fine job losing games by themselves that I think the Hawks should just worry about winning all the other games and let the order of the division take care of itself. While Hedo isn't playing near the level he was last year, the Magic are definitely not better with VC and I have to believe that the LeBrons can take Orlando in seven.

The Hawks could easily get past Boston in seven and I think that we could push the Cavs to seven. It would be in their best interest to stay away from the Magic in the playoffs if they can help it.