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.


Jerry Hinnen said...

I actually think Bill Simmons comes in for a little too much bashing in the blogosphere, but man oh MAN I cannot wait to see what kind of response he has to seeing 1. the team that allegedly "peed its pants" at the sight of the mighty Celtics in Game 2 morph into smack-talking intimidating badasses the Celtics clearly weren't ready for 2. the Hawks crowd he's mocked at every possible turn into this year's version of the 2007 Golden State crowd.

The best part is having the Hawks basically call the Celtics out with Bibby's crowd smack and Horford's Game 3 taunting, and then having the allegely angry, motivated, pissed-off blah blah blah Celtics respond by doing absolutely nothing about it in Game 4. Seeing Zaza go to-to-toe with KG was awesome, but the Hawks aren't winning because they've "stood up" to the Celtics--they're winning because Josh Smith is playing out of his mind, the defense has been tremendous, because Johnson went Lebron for a quarter--basically, because they've been the better team.

Anonymous said...

I've fallen in love with Josh Childress this series. Anything and everything they ask him to do - he does.
Rebound, bring the ball up, get those long arms in the passing lanes, great defense on Ray Allen, run the floor. Awesome 6th man effort!

Predicition on Simmons complaints:
1. Refs
2. Doc Rivers poor coaching
3. Sam Cassell

peacedog said...

Woodson and Rivers cancel out.

Anonymous said...

I will admit it: I have been one to bash Joe Johnson in the past. However, I did not (and still do not) think that he could shoot a high enough percentage and/or create his own shot on a consistent basis.

However, last night he was truly unstoppable. It was awesome to watch.


Something looked wrong with the Celtics. They didn't even seem like they wanted to be there. And Joe Johnson was just making everything he was looking at. I mean, he threw up some crazy shit and it went in! (Good for us, tho). I thought things were happening in slow-motion. He looked like Kobe or old-school AI at half-speed (but still somehow managing to dominate and score like them).

I have little idea how the Hawks can possibly win with Kid Dynamite as leader. Unless he turns, full-time, into a poor man's Kobe -- the way he did last night.

I just don't see it. This performance is going to keep Woodson's job, goddammit. Didn't everybody want Larry Brown? Any coincidence he signed after the win last night?

And yes-- I could not believe what Phillips Arena looked like last night, either. That was truly awesome. A better Georgia-centric comparison is with the Georgia Dome and the Falcons' fans in Mike Vick's first couple of seasons.

Anonymous said...

On riding Joe Johnson--why on earth didn't Boston double him until literally the last couple possessions? I don't often think coaching comes significantly into play in an NBA game, but Doc Rivers was a little, uh, iffy.

On Boston's shooting--man, no kidding. I kept thinking the game was about to go from a nailbiter to a comfortable Atlanta lead, and then here comes another friggin' three. That's the kind of game where you have that sinking feeling the whole time that your team is going to eventually fold, and it makes it all the sweeter when they don't.

On paying Josh Smith--do you mean a max deal? I think they're probably going to have to, I know 29 other teams are salivating at him right now (his games 1 & 2 a distant memory). Tough call. I mean, you *gotta* do it, you have no choice, but it means you're gambling a lot on Smith rising to true superstardom, because it kills you on the cap when you have to pay max money for a non-superstar.

Go Hawks!

Michael said...

Simmons was typically pissy about Doc Rivers, but he did give credit to the Hawks for standing up to the Celtics. He was especially complimentary about Horford. Ryno, you hit the nail on the head.

Peace & N&G, you're both right about Woodson. The downside to this run could be that we are going to have the same dreck offensive sets next year.

JJ, I don't see how the Hawks don't give Smith the max or something close to it. It's dangerous because I have no idea whether he'll become more consistent once he's set financially, but there's no way they can let a player go with his skill-set. The fact that he's a local product just increases the necessity of signing him. It's not like they are going to do anything better with that money in free agency. I'm hoping that they have the money for Childress and Smith.

I sorta agree on the Celtics doubling JJ, but the Hawks did have a bunch of good players on the floor at the time. Years of lottery picks will do that for a team. Still, better you take your chances with the rest of the team than keep watching a red-hot scorer torch you.