Their slogan this season, plastered all over billboards and cheer towels, has been, “Now You Know.”
Not too sure about that. If the Hawks’ first-round playoff series against Milwaukee proved anything, it’s that we really don’t know. They just were taken seven games by a dented team missing its best player.
Do we know what they can be? Yes. Play defense and share the ball like they did in the last two games of their playoff series, and the Hawks will be a tough out in the next round. If Milwaukee did it to them, they can do it to Orlando. But is it possible to have a high degree of confidence after watching this team visit both ends of the spectrum so frequently over the past two weeks?
“I definitely have a sense of what kind of team we have,” Josh Smith said on Sunday after the Hawks finally cured themselves of the Milwaukee Bucks. “We just can’t test ourselves all of the time. We were down and that’s when guys stepped up and started doing things right. We’ve got to have that from Game 1.”
The Hawks have only one shot to beat Orlando: Play desperate. We didn’t see that often enough in the first round. We certainly saw it after the Bucks won three straight to go up 3-2. There’s something wrong with that.
Desperation keyed the defense in the last two games. Through the first five of this series, Milwaukee was averaging 97.4 points and shooting 46.3 percent from the field. In the next two, they averaged 71.5 and 32.7. Shooting becomes significantly more difficult when defenders are fighting to get past screens and actually trying to get in somebody’s face, as opposed to just assuming a teammate will pick them up in ill-fated switches.
The Hawks won 95-74 on Sunday at Philips Arena. This came after they won 83-69 on Friday in Milwaukee. That followed the Bucks scoring 107, 111 and 91 points in the three previous games.
Now you know the Hawks. Their ceiling and their floor.
“Sometimes it looks like we need to have a challenge,” Smith said.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence what happened the last two games – we had no choice,” Marvin Williams said.
“We were in a desperate situation,” Mike Bibby said. “I think we took them a little too lightly after the first two games. Being up [2-0] and playing our game and them not having any answers, we looked at it like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna get through this pretty easy.’ And then when they came back and beat us in Game 3, we knew we were in a series. When they had our backs against the wall, we weren’t ready to go home yet.”
You find out about players in Game 7s. We found out again about Al Horford. He easily was the Hawks’ best player Sunday (16 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, three blocks), and for that matter in this series. Smith had a strong second half after getting in foul trouble in the first. Williams was solid. Zaza Pachulia was solid. Jamal Crawford led them in scoring again (22).
Joe Johnson? Not so much. When he asks for a max contract after this season, Johnson would be well advised to not include Sunday’s game tape. He was good defensively, but max contract players don’t get paid just for that. They also don’t get paid for scoring eight points (4-for-14) and being largely invisible for four quarters.
Two of Johnson’s points actually put this game away, but it was Smith who made the play. Smith blocked a Brandon Jennings shot that could have cut the Hawks’ lead to 12 and started a fast break that Johnson finished, putting them up by 16 with nine minutes left. That was it.
After the Hawks finally rid themselves of the Bucks, Jennings looked ahead to the next round against Orlando and cracked, “I hope we didn’t tire them out.”
The Magic swept their series against Charlotte. They have been sitting for a week. If nothing else, the Hawks have given them something to think about. Game 1 would be a good time to play desperate again.
Earlier Hawks posts