If Mike Woodson said it once this regular season, he said it 82 times: “We want to get back to the playoffs and have the homecourt this time.” Having worked six months to accomplish one mission, Woodson’s Hawks embarked on another Sunday night.
They didn’t just defend their floor. They overwhelmed Miami in a way a No. 5 seed isn’t often overwhelmed. They led by 20 points at the half and 26 at the end. They reduced Dwyane Wade’s team to D-Wade and the Nobodies. The Hawks had 59 points after two quarters. The Heat were stuck on 59 with three minutes to play.
If we weren’t still acclimatizing ourselves to the notion of the Hawks being good, we’d be getting really excited right about now. But we’re Atlantans, and it takes us a while. There were empty seats at Philips Arena for Game 1, and while there are easy explanations – it was a school night, and the economy isn’t in the pink – it still seemed a shame. This is a good-looking and hard-working and smart-playing (well, most of the time) club, and we as a city needn’t wait until LeBron James arrives for Game 3 of Round 2 to do the bandwagon hop.
“I saw some empty seats tonight,” Woodson said. “I’m begging and I’m pleading for people to come out.”
As well as the Hawks played over those 82 games, they saved their best for the 83rd. They limited the Heat to 15 first-half baskets against 12 turnovers. Nearly half of the former and exactly half of the latter were by Wade, who grew so frustrated he threw up his arms after losing the ball to Mike Bibby.
On this night, however, D-Wade was no match for J-Smoove. Sometimes we as an audience fixate on the clanging jumpers launched by Josh Smith and forget what a rare talent he is. Game 1 was our reminder.
Smith scored 13 points in the second quarter, dunking three times, two of which were multiple-replay-worthy. The first was off a 40-foot fast-break lob from Joe Johnson, who was quietly terrific himself. The second was better still, Bibby delivering from midcourt and Smith catching and dunking with his back to the basket.Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
“[Bibby] thought he threw it too high,” said Smith, who finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and five dunks. “I wanted to go up and get it and make this place erupt, and that’s what I did.”
That massive moment came in the midst of a surge that saw Heat coach Erik Spoelstra burn three timeouts in four minutes. The Hawks outscored the Heat 29-12 over the final 8:11 of the second quarter, and in the process they proved this isn’t the same callow bunch that spotted Boston two games before realizing they could play with the imperial C’s a year ago. These are grownups with a grown-up sense of self.
“It’s a totally different team,” Al Horford said. “We were really poised. The coaches had us on edge.”
Even Games 3, 4 and 6 of the Boston series paled alongside the purity of this showing. The Hawks are no longer a No. 8 seed with nothing to lose; they’re a big-boy No. 4 with a series to win. If they keep playing like this, they’ll win it without much fuss.