It seems that Philips Arena is going to be the new nightmare for traveling teams in the NBA. Nobody is going to want to come here to play.
It won’t be like Madison Square Garden. More like going to Utah. Or Cleveland. Denver. Even San Antonio or L.A. (Lakers, that is). Owners of a 31 and 7 mark, the Hawks are just one of eight teams who have single digit losses at home this season. Two of these eight teams are but one home loss away from being removed from this exclusive club. A third is just two losses from it. Meanwhile, Atlanta can do no worse this season, than lose its remaining three home games, and finish with 31 wins and 10 losses at Philips Arena. Will that happen? I doubt it. Not with the way this team has played at home. Not with the pride they seem to now have.
Speaking of pride, what of us as Hawks fans? Our team is not the greatest on the road, but neither are they the worst by far. What they are is excellent at home. So can we as fans match, in the way only fans can, what the team is doing in Atlanta? Shouldn’t we?
Hawks fans, can you feel it? Is it that time yet?
HAWKS VS. LAKERS – POST GAME
Okay, now you know how bad I am with predictions. Most of the time I won’t even try. But I did predict a Hawks win against the Lakers. Others did as well. But did anybody predict – check that – did anybody predict a blowout win? I sure as heck know that this wasn’t what I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I love this team, but four quarters of focused basketball? Say whaaaaaaaat! As excited as I was about the win over Orlando, this game really did it for me. I wish I could have watched it when it actually played (I got the pleasure of watching it on my DVR after two certain sick little kids FINALLY went to sleep – why do they have SO much energy when they’re sick??). Aw, forget that, I wish I was THERE. I envy each and every fan that was. I hope you all razzed the Laker fans right out of Atlanta. Wow! What a win!
Post game commentary is best left to a pro like our very own Hawks Beat Writer Michael Cunningham, but I’d like to throw my two pennys in next to his dollar bills, if I may. Let’s start with two guys who really deserve some love in this game: Joe Johnson and Zaza Pachulia.
Hi, my name is Joe….
It really hit me when Hawks analyst/commentators Bob Rathbun and Dominique Wilkins were talking about how tough Kobe Bryant was. You know, some people just get too much love sometimes. Kobe had just been fouled by a hotly pursuing Josh Smith, and landed awkwardly on one of his feet. He limped around for a while, the team called a timeout, Kobe grimaced and postured, sat on the bench (off to the side, by himself, who knows what his teammates were doing…getting coached, I guess), then got back up and into the game. “Kobe is so tough.”
I couldn’t stand it. Did nobody see Joe Johnson having his right hand taped, wraped, and all but put in a sling early in the game? Was it talked about or noticed? How many times has Joe played hurt, or otherwise somehow physically inconvenienced? But no posturing, no grimacing, no “hey, look at me” moments. He just plays. And play, did he ever….
If you have any doubts about how good Joe Johnson is, last night should have cured them. Kobe couldn’t stop him. Ron Artest didn’t have the answer. After having one of his worst months in who knows how long, Joe Johnson took on the game’s best player (argue with me later on that one), and one of the League’s best defenders, and….. how did he do? Oh, not too shabby. Just 25 points on 50% shooting. A mere 8 assists with but a single turnover. A paltry 5 bombs from beyond the arc, one of which had to be close to 30 feet. How did his NBA MVP candidate counterpart do? The box score will tell you that it was about even, but it just wasn’t. Joe led his team to a win, plain and simple. Kobe didn’t lead anything but a bad attitude parade. Oh yes, it showed all over. Pau couldn’t get into a groove. Artest couldn’t either. Lamar? Ha!
It’s funny. Joe has been called a ball hog. Kobe looked like he fit the description much better. Joe is accused of stalling the offense. Kobe couldn’t have been more guilty. Nice to see the shoe on the other foot, first hand. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for Joe Johnson. He couldn’t have picked a better time to have a better game in the regular season, don’t you think?
You have to love Zaza Pachulia. Flops, fumbles, and all. Yes, we tend to notice the worst in a player, and don’t often enough recognize the best in him.
The Lakers were missing Andrew Bynum, but before you try and diminish this win because of that, try and recall something. The same squad, minus Ron Artest, made it all the way to NBA Finals without Bynum in ‘07-’08. So, I don’t want to hear it. Nobody feels sorry for Kobe and the Lakers. Having said that, Pau Gasol is a star big man in his own right, and he proved how much trouble he could be by helping to get starting center Al Horford into early foul trouble. No doubt this is something the Lakers salivated at the very thought of, but did they see what was coming next? I don’t think anybody did. While Pau’s stats were fairly good, Zaza Pachulia never once let him get back into his comfort zone, and with the help of Josh Smith, all but rendered him ineffective in the game. Managing a healthy double double in just 23 minutes, Zaza was seemingly everywhere, and even made some nice offensive plays (splitting the defenders for the one-handed dunk was a a thing of beauty). Could the Hawks have asked for a better performance from their backup center, when things could have easily taken a downhill turn as Horford had to be benched? I don’t think so.
We’re not the only ones who should be appreciating Pachulia right now. Mo Evans owes Zaza a dinner at a place of his own choosing. Remember when Mo pushed Ron Artest after Artest got away clean with two elbows on the defensive end? Remember Artest’s eager jog toward Evans? Personally, I would have never turned my back on that dude after pushing him, but I guess Mo is just living right. Whatever the case, Artest had a thing or two to say, and it might not have stopped at that. We’ve all seen this before. But we’ve also seen Zaza in the heat of battle. I watched that series over and over. Yep, I’m sure of it. Mo owes Zaza a dinner. Not because Zaza came up to stop a fight. Oh no, he wasn’t there to do that. He was there to stop Ron Artest. I’ve seen that look on him before. Say what you want about the rest of the team. Even wild man Mario can’t hold a candle to the Stormin’ Georgian when things get hot. Good thing that ref grabbed Artest after Pachulia pushed him away from Evans. I was thinking it was going to be The Head Butt Heard ‘Round the World: Part II.
Hate it or Love it…
You have to give Mike Woodson credit. For all the grief we give him for what he does and doesn’t do, Woodson has this team on the brink of 50 wins. Hawks fan and frequent blogger Sautee recently made an observation that I can’t quite remember accurately enough to quote him on. Basically, Sautee says that perhaps we’re seeing Mike Woodson’s style, but not recognizing it for what it is. Perhaps his style, particularly on the subject of offense, is to allow things to happen. To make room for and flex as players grow and develop. How else can we explain our offense working with Josh Smith as a point forward? How about the new inside-outside game that Al Horford presents? Let’s be honest, the offense of this team has problems, but it is also wonderfully versatile. When it works, as it did against the Lakers last night, it’s beautiful to watch (unless you’re an opponent). When it doesn’t, it’s like a two high school marching bands smashing into each other. It’s hard to explain, sometimes hard to watch, and maybe hardest of all….to understand.
As it is, Mike Woodson coached one of his best games last night. Not only did he use his bench very wisely, but he seemed to know exactly what to do, and when. Most of all, we didn’t really notice him, did we? Not much yelling or screaming, no hastily called timeouts to draw up some inane play. Everything went pretty smooth, even when it seemed like the Lakers might make a run or two. As many times as we’ve argued about bench production vs the minutes they are allowed to play, we could certainly stand to leave the chicken and egg argument out of this one. What I know, is that the bench produced well, and Woodson let them play. Could we really ask for more than that?
Speaking of the bench, everybody that played significant minutes played pretty darn well. Say what you want about our guys, they showed up ready to play, and didn’t let up for even one second.
Moving On… HAWKS VS. CAVALIERS
As fabulous a victory as this was, the Hawks have to move to the next game, which will be against the Cavs in Quicken Loans Arena. How’s that feel, going from home court to one of the absolute worst plays to be, as an opposing team? Can the Hawks come with the same intensity as they did last time they visited Cleveland? Will they focus for 48 minutes, or will they have a late game meltdown?
How different and difficult will it be to face a Cavs team that now features Antawn Jamison, who has always been a thorn in Atlanta’s side? Cleveland is dead set on claiming homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, and every expectation is that they will succeed in doing so. Playing them is tough enough. Playing them in their own arena is tougher. Playing them while they still have very good reasons to win? It can’t get much tougher. That alone would make a win for the Hawks so much the sweeter, though.
The race with the Celtics for 3rd place in the Eastern Conference rages on, with the Hawks jumping a full game ahead (Boston lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder while we trounced the Lakers).
So what matchups do you think will be the most pivotal in this daunting road game? Who is going to have the biggest game for Atlanta? Will it be more of a collective effort, or will one guy truly shine above the others?
Can you feel it Hawks fans? Is this the time? Will the Hawks earn and keep that 3rd seed?