ORLANDO — I keep thinking of the opening verse to the Talking Heads’ song, “Once in a lifetime.”You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack And you may find yourself in another part of the world And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”
The last time the Hawks played a playoff series, they lost by a combined 101 points. To Orlando. But now they are own a 3-1 lead and can close out the previously favored Orlando Magic tonight and move on to the second round.
How did they get here?
They haven’t played great in every game. But they have been consistent in two important areas: 1) Defensively, players have stuck with coach Larry Drew’s game plan to not double Dwight Howard, which has enabled defenders to harass the Magic’s three-point shooters (who are a collective 21 for 96, or 21.9 percent); 2) They have given strong, consistent efforts and played physical in four straight games.
Josh Smith has received his share of criticism in recent years, but he was on target with this comment: “Every possession is not going to be perfect. What you do to make up for that is effort plays, and we’ve been doing that the whole series. Guys have been playing with an unbelievable passion that I haven’t seen all season long. We’re playing as though we have something to prove.”
If the Hawks can finish this thing, they’ll experience some rare franchise history. Consider:
♦ Since relocating from St. Louis to Atlanta in 1968, the Hawks have played 23 playoff series as the lower seed. They were 2-21 in those series coming into this first round (they’re the East’s No. 5 seed, Orlando No. 4). Atlanta’s only previous series wins over a higher seed came in 1978-79 (2-0 over Houston in a best-of-three) and 1995-96 (3-2 over Indianapolis in a best-of-five).
♦ The Hawks won best-of-seven series in the first round the last two seasons over Miami (2008-09) and Milwaukee (2009-10). The last time they won a best-of-seven in fewer than seven games? That would be 1969-70: 4-1 over Chicago. Then again, they lost 14 straight best-of-seven series after that Chicago series, ending the streak against the Heat.
But all that seems ancient history right now. And I maintain that if the Hawks win this series, regardless of the perceived weaknesses on the Magic’s roster, it’s a more significant postseason triumph than the first-round wins over Miami and Milwaukee.
As always, I’ll be blogging live from tip-off, at least until I have to start banging out the game column.
So how confident are you feeling? Predictions beginning in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .
By Jeff Schultz
Earlier today: Digi-Blog previews Hawks and Magic, game 5