This isn’t a great team, but we’ve known that all along. What we now know is that it’s again a dangerous team. Indeed, these Hawks are more dangerous than they were a year ago, when all they did was force the champs-to-be to a Game 7.
You wouldn’t bet on the Hawks to win the NBA title, but you wouldn’t want to face them, either. All the elements that fueled last spring’s run are still in place, with this bonus: They now know what the postseason entails, whereas last season’s team was flying blind.
“We’re more dangerous now,” Josh Smith said Sunday. “We have more experience. We’ve been in the playoffs.”
Smith spoke after a game in which he, Joe Johnson and Al Horford combined to score eight baskets, and still he wore a winner’s glow. The Hawks had beaten the NBA’s second-best team by 10 points, and beating the Lakers to close a nine-day stretch that included losses to Cleveland, San Antonio and those infernal Celtics was more than a tonic. It was a signal flare.
There’s a toughness about the Hawks, a toughness born in that Boston series and cultivated over a season that has exceeded expectation. If they split their final eight games, they’ll finish 47-35. That would constitute a 10-game upgrade without adding a real starter, although the guy starting in Marvin Williams’ stead had a bigger impact Sunday than the famous Kobe Bryant.
Philips Arena was packed for the occasion, with at least a third of the patrons wearing gold and purple. The Lakers drew within a point at the half, whereupon you figured Kobe would do his thing and that’d be that. Instead it was the promoted sub Maurice Evans, known as Mo, who did the Kobe thing. (The MoBe thing?)
Evans hit a trey 17 seconds into the third quarter. Then he hit another, and another. (The Hawks made six three-pointers in the period.) In the final 20 seconds, he scored off a dunk spawned by Johnson’s strip of Bryant, and now it was 72-58 and the Lakers were finished.Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
“This was definitely important for our confidence,” Evans said. “We’d won seven in a row before we lost, and you don’t want to lose momentum now. There aren’t many games to get it back.”
One home win on a Sunday in March doesn’t mean the Hawks are unbeatable. That said, they’re a hard bunch to beat. They have enough of what you want in a playoff team – a slew of shooters, some seasoned reserves and the capacity to defend at every position save point guard – to make other qualifiers nervous.
“I view us as a very dangerous team,” Evans said. “We’re flying under the radar. We’re not expected to contend for the championship, and that’s the kind of team you have to look out for.”
The Hawks will finish fourth in the East, and you have to like their chances in Round 1. Philadelphia is working without Elton Brand, and Miami is essentially a one-man gang. Beyond that looms Cleveland, and that’s a tall assignment. But it’s no taller than the Celtics in 2008.
Only a fool would pick the Hawks to unhorse LeBron’s bunch. That said, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see these Hawks in another Game 7, this time in Round 2, this time knowing full well how a Game 7 on the road feels.