They’d better win because they’ve worked 12 months for these 48 minutes. They’ve said it daily since May 4, 2008, same as Mike Woodson said it Saturday: “We wanted to have a chance to host Game 7.” Now they do.
They’d better win because to do otherwise would leave them where they were 364 days ago. They’d be just another team that made a bit of noise before taking its leave, just another Round 1 loser. They’d get to sit and watch while the big boys sort out the NBA championship, and again they’d have to ask, “When are we going to grow up?”
They’d better win because these Hawks are almost grown, or they should be. Joe Johnson and Mo Evans entered the NBA in 2001, Flip Murray in 2002, Zaza Pachulia in 2003. Mike Bibby was drafted in 1998. Even Josh Smith, widely viewed as the epitome of young and reckless, has been a pro since 2004.
They’d better win because they saw in Boston what it takes to win a Game 7. They saw the Celtics in all their focused fury. They saw the Celtics’ captain, Paul Pierce, score 22 inspirational points. They saw a proud defense that had yielded points on 17 consecutive Game 6 possessions limit the visitors to 24 baskets in 48 minutes. Woodson again: “They hit us in the mouth and we never responded. But we learned from that.”
They’d better win because they’ve let Dwyane Wade’s middling team linger too long, and you do that at your peril. As nice as it is to have Game 7 at home, it’s still a game that can be lost. This time a year ago, the famous Kevin Garnett was so nervous about an elimination game against the 37-45 Hawks that he stayed up all night, and the almost-as-famous Ray Allen was texting teammates at midnight.
They’d better win because any excuses would fall flatter than L. Frank Baum’s Kansas. Marvin Williams has a bad wrist, but the Hawks have won without him. Al Horford has a sore ankle, but that’s no alibi. (Said Horford: “The season’s on the line … I’ll be ready.” And Woodson plans to start him.) Jermaine O’Neal missed Game 6 and the Heat won by 26 points, and Jamario Moon was lost a week ago. Come the playoffs, you win with what you have. Or you lose.Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
They’d better win because this is Atlanta and they’re the Hawks, and we’ve come to view them with skepticism ever since they lost a winner-take-all Game 5 against undermanned Milwaukee at the old Omni on May 7, 1989. We’ve spent the past 13 months warming to this team, but to lose a series after leading 3-2 would test our patience. And we Atlantans have no patience. Ever seen us drive?
They’d better win because, even after being outscored by 19 points over six back-and-forth weirdo wipeouts, they still seem the better team. They’re the fourth seed for a reason. Game 7 is here for a reason. “We’ve put ourselves in this position,” Woodson said, “and I like our position.”
They’d better win, and they will. Hawks 82, Heat 77.
Tune in tomorrow! I’ll be blogging live from Game 7 from my lofty perch alongside my new Twitter pal Spirit the Hawk. (Just kidding, but most of us press people are pretty high up.) We’ll get started around 12:30 p.m., and we’ll keep going until this strange series is finally finished. I invite one and all to join the theoretical fun.