Live from Hawks-C’s: Can apt pupils sweep aging teachers?

Two springs ago we wondered if the Hawks could keep from being swept by Boston. At issue this night is whether the Hawks can sweep Boston. Yes, there’s a difference — those were the playoffs, and this is the regular season — but any graph of the local team’s climb from sub-.500 to near-sublime must include a pushpin for those 15 days in 2008.

In their heart of hearts, the Hawks were probably hoping to win one game. They won three, all at Philips Arena, each more improbable than before. They won Game 3 and the Celtics ran out to a huge lead in Game 4, as if to say, “Order is being restored to nature.” But the Hawks won that night, too, and four nights later they were back at home, this time facing elimination.

Again the Celtics took an early lead. Again the Hawks outfought them down the stretch. (The home side scored on 17 consecutive possessions, which isn’t just good — it’s obscene.) And even if that strangely rousing series ended with a blowout loss in TD Banknorth Garden, it was clear that something had changed in the A-T-L. We had ourselves a basketball team again.

Last season Mike Woodson said it 25, maybe 50 times: “The Celtics taught us how to play playoff basketball.” But it was more than that. From beating the Celtics — who would go on to become NBA champs — three times in the spring of ‘08, the Hawks realized that they were capable of playing not just basketball but inspired basketball. They were tough enough and talented enough to hang in, at least at home, against the absolute best.

And now they’ve stamped themselves as among the best. They were tied for the lead in the NBA Southeast entering Friday night’s game and stood only a half-game behind the imperial C’s for second place in the East. The Hawks have gone from 37-45 in 2007-2008 to 47-35 last season and were on pace to go 54-28 this time. They placed two players on the All-Star roster, should have a third and could have had a fourth.

They’ve gotten so good so fast that they have attracted imitators. Oklahoma City and Portland are trying to do as the Hawks have done, which is to accumulate as much young talent as possible and give it room to grow. And now it’s Boston, which was 4-0 against the Hawks in the 2008-2009 regular season, that’s having to address speculation about being too old to fend off this young usurper.

Or, as was the case after the Hawks beat the Celtics on Jan. 11, not to address it. Were the Hawks, a reporter asked Glen Davis, in the C’s collective head? “Next question,” Big Baby sniffed.

Sweeps don’t really mean much unless they come in postseason, but just being 3-0 and in position to put the ol’ broom to the pride of Beantown offered yet another gauge on these Hawks. No, Kevin Garnett didn’t play in two of the three losses, but he played in the first meeting — Nov. 13 up there — and the vistors won by 11. (Besides, we all know the Big Ticket wants no part of the big Zaza. Yes, I’m kidding.)

It was two springs ago that Boston taught the Hawks how to play playoff basketball, and no one, the Celtics least of all, could have known how apt and ambitious their pupils would prove. The Green People now seem yesterday’s men — they were outscored 35-22 in the fourth quarter of a two-point loss in Orlando on Thursday — while more and more the Hawks seem the team of tomorrow. And maybe today.

And with that, I’ll open the floor to questions, comments and Tweets from Spirit the Hawk. (Remember him?) I’ll be chatting until game’s end, and I welcome your company.

250 comments Add your comment

UGA 2010

January 29th, 2010
6:18 pm

Well even tho i might not be….FIRST!!?

mark

January 29th, 2010
6:18 pm

Mark, Like alot of sports, NBA is about match-ups and the Hawks match up well against every team in Eastern Conference. Orlando has slipped and if the Hawks get a #2 seed, it will be Hawks vs. Cleveland in Eastern CF. That has game 7 written all over it. The Celts are aging and if rondo gets hurt their offense becomes stagnant overnight.

UGA 2010

January 29th, 2010
6:19 pm

Thats two today. one here and the junkyard….

mark

January 29th, 2010
6:20 pm

Enter your comments here

mountain_jim

January 29th, 2010
6:25 pm

If it’s on he NBA channel then I will get to see this game – Go Hawks!

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
6:32 pm

UGA 2010 breaks the tape. Kudos!

justahawkfan

January 29th, 2010
6:42 pm

Some of your bloggers still believe the Celtics are better than our team. They believe that the celtics are just bidding thier time, waiting for the post season to show thier true colors and take the hawks behind the wood shed. Question, do you think the hawks are worried more about losing to the celtics or vice versa? Which team has more lose at this juncture?

Justin

January 29th, 2010
6:43 pm

I think that Zaza has a higher vertical and moves faster than KG now. I don’t think KG wants anything to do with Z.

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
6:44 pm

From the Celtics’ Kendrick Perkins a few minutes ago: “We’re just trying not to get swept.”

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
6:47 pm

Also from Perkins: “We put out a hit on [Jamal Crawford] today.” Meaning: The Celtics have made it a point of emphasis to stop the sixth man who has averaged 17.7 points and 3.3 assists against them in three games.

Sonny Clusters

January 29th, 2010
6:53 pm

Sonny Clusters

January 29th, 2010
6:55 pm

Is there also a secret to playoff baseball and could you spend some time with Bobby Cox?

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
6:58 pm

Bobby Cox is unbeaten in the playoffs since 2005, Sonny. You could look it up.

Russ, the Temporary Mascot

January 29th, 2010
7:02 pm

Mark, does the Celtics mascot travel with the team? Does he have any lucky charms? Can they correct an a$$ painting gone bad?

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:04 pm

Russ, I don’t believe the Celtic leprechaun travels. He suffers from separation anxiety.

Justin

January 29th, 2010
7:04 pm

Mark, which do you think would be more meaningful? Winning tonight to finish a sweep of the Celtics or winning tomorrow night in Orlando, the only team that we can’t seem to compete with on a regular basis.

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:07 pm

That’s a great question, Justin. It would be good for the Hawks to sweep the Celtics just to say they’ve swept the Celtics, but it would be big to beat Orlando, which has hammered the Hawks and is in the same division. Probably the latter would be a tad more meaningful.

hawkfan

January 29th, 2010
7:08 pm

@ mark:

The Hawks match up well with everyone in the Eastern Conference? I havent seen them match up at all vs the Magic. Ugly blowout losses at home and on the road … that’s the team the Hawks really need to improve against if they want to reign in the East down the road.

Sonny Clusters

January 29th, 2010
7:10 pm

Clusters used to see leprechauns out by the practice field at Parkview. They was little and green and moved about real fast. Jeff always thought he could catch one and one day he tried and we had to send him to Gwinnett Medical Center to get his hat out of his ear. None of us could figure how that whole hat, right down to the button, got stuck in his ear but now we think it may have been leprechaun magic.

Justin

January 29th, 2010
7:13 pm

I’d really like to see the Hawks get a big enough lead to give Mario and Collins some burn.

Raph

January 29th, 2010
7:13 pm

Go Hawks! Tought two game stretch here, but if we can win this one, we will have a good chance tomorrow night. We are still young and can get down on ourselves, but can get hot if we win a big game like tonight.

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:13 pm

I’m thinking a little green leprechaun would be easy to detect in the Big Orange Jungle, Sonny.

Tony from Stone Mountain

January 29th, 2010
7:14 pm

Let’s beat down the old and tired Celtics within three quarters then rest the starters for Orlando on Saturday!

hawkfan

January 29th, 2010
7:15 pm

Winning vs Magic would be much more meaningful … Hawks dont need to sweep the Celtics to prove they are the better team, but they need a win (or at least a very strong showing) vs Magic to prove they can compete with anyone in the East.

As far as the Cavaliers, the Hawks showed they can play with them despite their 2nd half meltdown and controversial loss last time they met.

Whopper Dawg

January 29th, 2010
7:16 pm

Get out the broom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Pepe

January 29th, 2010
7:16 pm

Mark – I can see the argument that Josh is equally or more deserving than Joe or Al, but I definitely think they both belong in Dallas. With that said, who other than A.I. and the others Hawks does Josh have the biggest case againist for making the East roster?

Sleek_Nique_21

January 29th, 2010
7:17 pm

Hello Mark & Hawks from Down Under. I know this is all about the Cs today but win or lose here, in the 2nd round of the playoffs (opps, I’m getting ahead of myself) we are still gonna have to face the Magic or Cavs – sooner or later. Is our (so far) season dominance over the Grand Ole Celtics just a mental thing? It’s one thing to beat up on OAPs, it’s another to be a door mat for SuperHoward and The King. QUESTION: What can we take from our growth against the Celtics that will help us when we face both or either at different stages of the payoffs in a few months?

NOW YOU KNOW!

Raph

January 29th, 2010
7:19 pm

I would love to see eyebrow less Woody coaching in the All Star game. Go Hawks!

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:24 pm

Horford has been great this season, Pepe. Heck, he has been great since his sophomore year at UF. But I think Josh has had the better season by just a bit. (Still, that’s one reason to keep Horford at center, as opposed to moving him to power forward. He’s the second-best center in the East. He wouldn’t be the second-best power forward.)

mmgtfan

January 29th, 2010
7:24 pm

How’s the crowd Mark?

Justin

January 29th, 2010
7:25 pm

Perhaps if Josh Smith dominates KG tonight, KG will bow out of the All-Star game and open a spot for Josh. After all, KG still looks hurt to me, and we’d rather see Josh with his highlight dunks instead of KG missing alley-oops like he did against Orlando.

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:26 pm

Sleek Nique, all I can say is that beating the Celtics, who owned the Hawks as recently as last season, can’t hurt. As Mike Woodson said tonight: “To me it shows we’ve grown.”

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:27 pm

I was just about to type something about the crowd, mmgtfan. We’re six minutes from introductions, and it looks big but not full. Not yet, at least.

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:29 pm

About that missed alley-oop against Orlando, Justin: The Hawks were watching it on tape when I went into their locker room earlier, and one of them (who shall remain nameless) said: “KG, you ain’t got it!”

mmgtfan

January 29th, 2010
7:32 pm

Will you tell us if we guess?

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:33 pm

No. Sorry. But feel free to tempt me.

Old man

January 29th, 2010
7:35 pm

Did Rasheed Wallace leave his cane in Orlando?
http://ow.ly/11fdP

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:43 pm

Here we go. Place not full. Good crowd, but not the sellout the Hawks wanted. (It might be announced as a sellout, though.)

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:43 pm

Garnett with a jumper. Maybe he has a little something still.

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:44 pm

Josh air-balls a jumper — Joe threw it to him with the shot clock down — and then misses a layup after beating Garnett.

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:48 pm

Not much of a start. Josh has missed two shots and lost the ball. Marvin has lost the ball and missed a shot. Celtics lead 8-2.

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:51 pm

Bibby with his second foul. Crawford in for him. Good. Celtics lead 10-2.

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:54 pm

Three layups for the Celtics already. It’s 12-6.

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
7:54 pm

I think it’s just me, JJM. I can clear a room like nobody’s business.

J.J.M.

January 29th, 2010
7:56 pm

mark where is everybody?

J.J.M.

January 29th, 2010
7:57 pm

i never understood why horford always fade away instead of drawing contact

Elmore Spencer

January 29th, 2010
7:57 pm

Hawks better find some offense somewhere

freemikewoodsonexpress

January 29th, 2010
7:58 pm

Mark Bradley

January 29th, 2010
8:00 pm

Getting it going. Mo Evans stole a Rondo pass and drove for a three-point play. Now Josh scores from the lane and has a foul shot coming. The Hawks have played poorly and trail by four.

J.J.M.

January 29th, 2010
8:03 pm

I think Josh is trying to prove something this game