If you’re a NBA player, you play a six-month regular season and slog through 82 games, and come the seventh month and the 83rd game everything changes. You notice this even before you’ve reached your locker room or donned your uniform. You notice because, from the moment you step through the arena door, there are TV cameras tracking your walk down the hall.
Generally, not much can happen as an NBA player walks down a hall. (J.R. Rider might stand as the exception that proves this rule.) But everything gets ratcheted up when the postseason commences. International TV and satellite radio and all the big-name Web sites are in the building, even in Game 1 of Round 1.
These Hawks saw it a year ago, and for the first two games in Boston they didn’t really cope. “That was the first time for a lot of these guys,” Mike Woodson said Sunday night, speaking before Game 1, “and there were a lot of nerves. We were a little jittery up there. We just didn’t fare well in Boston.”
As a consequence, those Hawks were always fighting the current over those seven famous games. They held their own here, but they never actually took a series lead. These Hawks have worked all season to position themselves to take a 2-0 lead before going on the road, and that, as we know, is a vast consideration.
“Getting the fourth seed, starting the first round at home — that’s big,” said sixth man Flip Murray, who has played in the playoffs but not as a Hawk. But any veteran can attest that one bad Game 1 at home can leave a team starting at a Round 1 exit.
Said Murray: “[The scrutiny] is something you’ve got to experience. You’re more in the spotlight. But you can’t be distracted.”
We learned a year ago that mighty strange things can happen in a series. Said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra: “Every playoff series is about change.” Indeed, Spoelstra pulled a shock an hour before tipoff, announcing that James Jones, a shooter, would start ahead of Jamario Moon.
Lest we forget, Zaza Pachulia went from being an unskilled sub to a cult figure by virtue of his Game 4 stare-down with Kevin Garnett. And now Zaza is about to play in the 2009 postseason, while the screaming and preening Garnett could only sit and watch as his Celtics lost at home to Chicago on Saturday.
Yes, it’s a funny old world. And the really funny stuff is just beginning.
Pregame update: Dwyane Wade did his walk-down-the-hallway in a handsome tie-and-tennis-sweater ensemble. And AJC pro editor Chris Vivlamore informs us that T.I. is on hand. And Sekou Smith hints of a possible Diddy appearance. (If so, I’ll Tweet. I’m following him on Twitter.)
Pregame update No. 2: Just walked out of the press room and found the Hawks yelling and jumping and bumping into one another in the hallway. (Right on cue, three cameras captured this magic moment.) They broke by saying, “One, two, three — together!”
Regarding this jumping-and-bumping thing, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, before a preseason game against Phoenix, the aforementioned Zaza was introduced as a starter and, unaccustomed to the star treatment, went to do the jump-and-bump and whiffed. He wound up sprawled on the floor. And Al Horford laughed like crazy.