There’s a saying in sports that a playoff series doesn’t really begin until a team loses a home game.
It’s understandable if you’re not feeling that way after seeing the Hawks dismembered in Game 1 and fizzle in Game 2 against Orlando, losing two games of this playoff series by a combined 57 points. But back now in Philips Arena, where all is usually well, this is the Hawks’ last chance to show a pulse — and maintain it for 48 minutes.
It has been stated enough times in this corner but here we go again: The Hawks are at the point in their evolution where they shouldn’t be defined by the regular season (53-29) but by the postseason (4-3 over undermanned Milwaukee; 0-2 against Orlando).
Granted, only the most optimistic of folks projected them to beat Orlando in this series. The Magic reached the finals last year. They may win the championship this year. They’re superior at basketball’s two key positions: center and point guard.
But what you wanted to see from the Hawks this series is passion, intelligence and consistency under fire, and too often that hasn’t been the case.
Can they win tonight? Absolutely. In a 2-0 series, the trailing home team tends to play its best game, knowing at 3-0 the series probably is over. (For what it’s worth, Las Vegas has this as a close game: The Magic are favored by 2 to 2 1/2 points.)
The Hawks’ objectives shouldn’t change: pound Dwight Howard inside as much as possible with rotating hackers (Zaza Pachulia, Joe Smith, Jason Collins). Play pressure defense to try and force turnovers. Hope Orlando doesn’t get hot from trey-range. See where you’re at in the fourth quarter.
The Hawks are 37-8 at home this year (34-7 in the regular season; 3-1 in the playoffs). However, Philips Arena is not a cure all. We saw Milwaukee win Game 5 here to push the Hawks to the brink of elimination in the first round.
In fact, since winning four straight home playoff games in 2008 (3-0 vs. Boston) and 2009 (first game vs. Miami), the Hawks have gone only 5-4 at Philips. The breakdown: 2-1 in the rest of the Miami series, 0-2 vs. Cleveland, 3-1 vs. Milwaukee.
So what do you think. Can the Hawks make a series of this? We’ll be here blogging live during the game, but let’s hear your predictions now.