If you predicted a first game blowout of the Heat, by the Hawks…then kudos to you. No doubt every Hawks fan was anxiously, eagerly looking for a win, but a win like that? You certainly couldn’t ask for any better. The Hawks took note of other teams in the playoffs losing game 1 (and therefore homecourt advantage) and responded accordingly. Point blank: they smacked the Heat right in the face with a steel gauntlet and drew blood. There’s really no other way to say it.
And they did it in a way that represents the teachings (and constant implorings) of head coach Mike Woodson. That’s right, defense and rebounding. Dwyane Wade never became the Mr. Flash of old in this game, even though he got to the basket with relative ease a few times. He didn’t get the calls, and other than the few aforementioned forays into the paint, he got nothing going. He looked anything but a superstar, and his teammates were unable to help. Sure, Michael Beasley had a double double, but in the sorriest possible fashion, as the Heat were beaten to death on the boards by a determined Hawks squad that saw 7 players get at least 3 rebounds, with three of them getting 9 or 10. Meanwhile, only Beasley managed double figures in rebounds for the Heat. Two other Heat players literally only got about half as much. Rebounding and Defense. There went two smacks with the steel guantlet!
Eric Spoelstra has done quite a job with his team as a rookie coach. Much can be made of the Heat getting this far with a rookie head coach, rookie point guard, and their second-best offensive threat being….you guessed it….a rookie. But regular season achievements mean little come playoff time. Everything changes, and you have to bring your A game. And that’s hard to do when you just haven’t been in that position before. Either way, Spoelstra and his staff were just not able to counter the schemes that Mike Woodson and his staff brought to the table. Not even for a little while, and not on either side of the court. Woodson had to feel good, putting it to the newcomer in fine fashion, all that hard work coming to fruition. A gauntlet smack again!
Mike Bibby has been much-maligned by myself and others for his less-than-stellar defense, and his propensity for shooting many long jumpers (and not making enough of them) during the regular season. He’s even come under fire for playing more like a shooting guard than a point guard. However, I’ve always maintained that his presence will be needed in the playoffs. And did he ever come up big! Bibby looked every inch the battle-tested, playoff-savvy veteran on both ends of the court. His 10 point, 9 assist, 2 steal, 2 block performance…..wait a minute. Did I see 2 blocks? 2 blocks! Now there’s a part of Bibby you definitely don’t see on a regular basis, but you have to take that with a wide smile. Anyway, Bibby made sure Chalmers looked like the rookie he is, schooling him with ease. By the way, Chalmers’ assist-to-turnover ration was less than 1 to 1. Bibby? His was 3 to 1. Another smack! (Am I beginning to sound like Emeril?)
Of course, there was also the battle in the paint. Just looking at the box score, one would have to ask, “What battle?” Jermaine O’Neal, Udonis Haslem, and Jumaine Jones were simply no match for Al Horford and Josh Smith. Add in the zealous contribution of Zaza Pachulia, and the three of them nearly matched the entire Heat team on the boards, while also combining for 47 of the Hawks’ 88 points. Josh Smith led the way with an array of jaw-dropping dunks, layups, and hooks, while Al’s sweet mid/short range jumper was on display. And while he wasn’t on the court for a very long time, Marvin Williams made the most of it, coming out hot and shooting 3-4 from the field initially (including a 3-pointer) , enroute to a quick 10 points. Meanwhile for the Heat: Joel Anthony was not a factor, Moon had no impact, and Magloire never even made it into a game that was firmly taken by the Hawks in the second quarter.
You know I have to say it….Smack!
When the Hawks play like this, they are going to do more than compete. They are going to win, and in some cases (like last night), they will dominate. Good contributions from EVERYONE on defense always helps. Self-less play on offense is another huge key, and major credit goes out to veterans Joe Johnson and Mike Biby for doing just that. Joe had an unremarkable game of 15 points and 5 boards on 7-16 shooting, but any complaint on this is nitpicking, considering his solid defense and within-the-flow-of-the-game play.
Now all the Hawks have to do is KEEP playing like this, never letting up. Fortunately, coach Mike Woodson will not let these guys get too ahead of themselves, and he will have the help of veterans Murray, Johnson, Bibby, and Evans to keep things well grounded. But a game 2 does beckon, as does the remainder of the series that has just begun. Will the Heat come up with sufficient adjustments to make life harder on the Hawks? Will the Hawks disregard this and beat them into submission anyway? Staying tuned for another smackdown!
In other news, Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown won Coach of The Year. Hawks head coach Mike Woodson finished a very distant 8th in the voting, far behind even 7th place finisher and playoff opponent Heat coach Eric Spoelstra. Spoelstra received 2 first place votes, 8 second place votes, and 19 third place votes. Woodson received 1 first place vote (who let Coach Samuel into the voting process? Hee Hee..), 3 second place votes, and 3 third place votes (Astro Joe got in there too, and voted like he’s from Florida…heh heh). Same as Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
But you know what? None of that matters. Ask Coach Woodson, and I’ll bet you he’s all too focused on the task at hand. Spoelstra’s votes (and those of any others for that matter) count for nothing when compared to playoff wins, and it looks to me like Woodson is up 1-0, and counting. All that matters is what he, his staff, and this team can accomplish in the playoffs, in the wake of a successful regular season.
What’s that metallic sound you say? If last night was any indication, that’s Woodson and the Hawks, pulling on their steel gauntlets….