Posted on: March 24, 2010 10:57 pm
ATLANTA – As much as they wanted to downplay it, this meant something. The Atlanta Hawks didn’t want to go into the playoffs with a Can’t-Beat-The-Elite albatross following them every step of the way.
“We know we can play with anybody,” said Josh Smith, who flushed a lot more than a game-winning putback dunk at the buzzer Wednesday night in an 86-84 victory over the Orlando Magic.
It all came together for a team that no longer has to search so hard for respect. In front of a solid midweek crowd in attendance-challenged Philips Arena, the Hawks clinched a playoff berth and carried star-crossed teammate Jamal Crawford to the postseason for the first time in his nine-year career.
They also took an important step, however reluctant they were to admit it. Despite a 4-0 season sweep of the Celtics, the Hawks’ resume was stained by an 0-6 record against the other elites – 0-1 against the Lakers, 0-2 against Cleveland, 0-3 against Orlando, with those three losses coming by an average of 22.3 points. That streak ended Wednesday night, when Joe Johnson’s jumper caromed off the rim and into the left hand of Smith, who soared through the lane and beat the buzzer with a dunk that sent a lot of doubts down with it.
It was important, Smith was saying at his locker, “Just for our confidence, to know we can beat this team.”
The deciding sequence came after Vince Carter’s 3-pointer tied it at 84-84 with 9.9 seconds left. As it turns out, it was better that the Hawks didn’t have any timeouts, because Smith said the matchup confusion resulted in nobody putting a body on him as Johnson’s 16-footer floated toward the rim.
“Vince hit a great shot at the end, and Vince played great defense at the end to get the stop,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “On the weak side, we just stood and watched. We absolutely spectated. All we needed was one boxout and we’d be in overtime. But we didn’t get the boxout and we’re not in overtime. How you stand there and watch that play, I don’t know. The guys on the court were doing the same thing the guys on the bench were doing – standing there watching.”
Down the hall, in the Hawks’ locker room, they were doing something else. Crawford, who’d spent his entire career on pathetic non-playoff teams in Chicago, New York and briefly in Golden State, proudly flashed a black T-shirt that read, “Clinched!” He hung it in his locker, saying he figured he’d let it stay there for a while. It’s been a long wait.
“When you first come into the league, you think you’re supposed to be in the playoffs in year one or two,” Crawford said. “I don’t take it for granted. I’ve seen some tough situations, the worst of the worst.”
And if the Hawks had lost to another elite team, they’d be wondering if they were ever going to take the next step.
“It feels good,” Al Horford said. “There’s a lot of people that have been talking and questioning us against the bigger teams.”
As the locker room was clearing out, the party was just starting in coach Mike Woodson’s office. Earlier in the day, after shootaround, roses and balloons had adorned his office signifying his 52nd birthday. Now, family and friends and adult beverages had joined them.
“That was a great game, a playoff game,” Woodson said.
They will be playing those in Atlanta again this spring, the third straight year Woodson will lead the Hawks to the postseason. For five straight years, he’s won more games than he did the last. By beating Orlando, the Hawks clinched their ninth consecutive winning month – the third-longest streak in franchise history and second-longest since the team has been in Atlanta.
Woodson is on the last year of his contract, Johnson is poised to join the star-studded free agent class, and all bets are off as to how that shakes out. For now, they should all take Crawford’s advice.
“You have to appreciate it,” Crawford said, “because you never know when it’s going to happen again.”
Posted on: May 1, 2009 6:52 pm
Edited on: May 1, 2009 7:20 pm
Game 6 of the Heat-Hawks first-round series Friday night comes down to exactly what we thought it would: Is Dwyane Wade enough of a one-man wrecking crew to contend with the deeper, more athletic Hawks?
Conventional wisdom -- including mine -- has been that you don't pick against the Heat as long as D-Wade is showing up. Despite a sore back that has affected him in this series, Wade will show up Friday night and presumably will do what Wade does: Put his team on his back and help the Heat stave off elimination and force a seventh game Sunday in Atlanta.
Injuries that will keep Al Horford and Marvin Williams out of Game 6 further bolster this argument. But not so fast. How have Wade and the Heat performed when facing playoff elimination during his six-year career? Not so good.
The Heat have faced elimination four times during Wade's career, and they're 1-3 in those games. Wade has shot .395 from the field (30-for-76) and averaged 20 points -- well below his career playoff average of 25.4 ppg.
So what gives? Wade is going to need some help. With no Horford around to protect the basket, it's going to have to come from Michael Beasley, who is shooting a miserable 31 percent in the series. Jermaine O'Neal has been solid, but he's not the prolific scorer he once was before all the knee injuries. Someone is going to have to draw some of the defensive attention away from Wade, and the best candidate is Beasley. In my mind, he's the key to whether Miami can force this series back to Atlanta for a seventh game.
One more thing: What is the over-under on the time in the game when Josh Smith really starts to regret that dunk-contest stunt in Game 5? I have seven minutes into the first quarter.
Posted on: December 17, 2008 12:26 pm
You know something is up when a Hawks game is (almost) sold out.
The Celtics are in Atlanta Wednesday night for their first meeting with the Hawks since they needed Paul Pierce's dramatic fallaway jumper at the buzzer to secure a 103-102 victory on Nov. 12. Boston is riding a 15-game winning streak, but lost all three games in Atlanta during the playoffs last season. The Hawks have won seven straight at home and nine of 10, including a 97-92 victory over Cleveland Saturday night -- snapping the Cavs' 11-game winning streak.
SLAM opens the floor to debate as to whether you can call Celtics-Hawks a rivalry yet. A promo on the Hawks' website has caught the Celtics' attention, with Ray Allen saying, "The building is going to be a playoff atmosphere so we need to go down there with a different mindset."
(Here's the promo, which apparently provided the Celtics with a few laughs. It quoted Kevin Garnett saying, "I wouldn't call it a rivalry," and showed a highlight reel that makes it appear that the Hawks won the first-round series.)