Sweepless in Atlanta: The Hawks finally slam the Magic

After the jam: Josh Smith seems rather pleased. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

After the jam: Josh Smith seems rather pleased. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

In the grand scheme, it might mean nothing. But when it happened, it sure felt like something. It felt as if the Hawks proved to themselves and the Magic that a Round 2 series between these teams might not be a mismatch, and they proved it with two exclamatory points a millisecond before the horn.

The game had started badly — the Magic led 15-2 — and was winding down the same way. Leading by 11 points with 5 1/2 minutes remaining, the Hawks saw Orlando tie on Vince Carter’s 26-footer with 9.9 seconds left. Having burned all their timeouts, the Hawks were left to their own creative devices, and what they managed was pretty sound basketball.

Joe Johnson drove and pulled up along the left baseline. Josh Smith flew along the right baseline and, with one majestic swipe of a mighty left hand, dunked home the miss.

Then everybody got really excited. Then they had to calm down to see if the hammer of Smoove had beaten the buzzer. Then the refs checked the monitor and ascertained that it had, just. Then everybody got really excited again.

“I knew it was close,” Smith said. “But I had to celebrate anyway. It had been a long time coming.”

Since Oct. 29, 2008, to be precise. Not since the opening game of last season had the Hawks beaten their Southeast Division cousins, and given that the two could well land in the same half of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, this six-game losing streak — including three egregious losses this season by an aggregate 67 points — didn’t augur well for the local club.

But on this night the Hawks hit back. Said Al Horford, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds and who helped limit Dwight Howard to four baskets: “A lot of people were talking and questioning us against the great teams. It’s nice to go get a win.”

There’s no consensus on whether regular-season results matter once the postseason begins. “Not at all,” said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, speaking before the game. “I don’t think so.” But his was the team that had owned the Hawks over the past 17 months, and his was the team going for a season sweep.

And imagine the drag on the Hawks’ spirit if they would have let this one slip after building that 11-point lead. “It would have been another heartbreak for us,” Smith said.

Instead it became another in a series of last-gasp victories: A Smith dunk at the horn against Houston; the Jamal Crawford trey against Phoenix; the Joe Johnson jumper against Charlotte last weekend; now this. Say what you will about these Hawks, but they do keep fighting until the last dog dies.

“This was a playoff game,” Mike Woodson said, exaggerating only slightly. And the Hawks did as they might well have to do in the playoffs: They made Howard make free throws for his points and kept the many Orlando shooters in check and shared the ball — Johnson had eight assists, six of them in the third quarter — and Mike Bibby and Mo Evans made big treys to override the awful start. In sum, it was a reminder that for all the talk about Cleveland and Orlando, these Hawks can play a little, too.

Said Jamal Crawford: “It would have been one thing if we’d split the season series coming in, but they’d beaten us every game. I believe this will do something for our psyche. It was a big win.”

In winning, the Hawks — after a false alarm last week — clinched a playoff berth and stayed even with Boston in the Eastern Conference standings, and they drew within 3 1/2 games of the Magic in the Southeast. With 11 games remaining, they surely won’t catch Orlando; still, it was nice to let the Magic know there’s a bit of competition here in the A-T-L.

“There’s still room for growth,” Crawford said. “We didn’t play a perfect game. They threw the first punch.”

But the Hawks threw the final one. Two months from now, we might forget all about Josh Smith’s winning slam. But there’s also a chance we’ll have cause to remember it.

117 comments Add your comment

The Big Guy

March 24th, 2010
9:47 pm

Shanene

March 24th, 2010
9:47 pm

Shanene

March 24th, 2010
9:48 pm

Dang it. Missed it by seconds.

Bobby

March 24th, 2010
9:48 pm

Unbelievable Game! Go Hawks

The Big Guy

March 24th, 2010
9:49 pm

Missed the ending, thought the Hawks had them put away based on the way in which we were playing. Should have known (which should be the Hawks new motto [from "Now You Know?!]). Well I heard that Smith dunk was impressive, hopefully Superman will remember that Smith won the dunk contest first, while Dwight only had pro hoops aspirations.

Gilley

March 24th, 2010
9:49 pm

HOW BOUT THEM HAWKS?! It should not have come to this but a win is a win and finally gets the money off our back!!!

flying hight

March 24th, 2010
9:50 pm

First, and what a game. I think this will do alot for the teams psyche and will have big implications for the playoffs. Not gonna make any predictions, but this win will go a long way when we meet Orlando in the playoffs

Show me state

March 24th, 2010
9:53 pm

Great win Hawks!!! Great effort from the entire Hawks team….and last but not least great way to follow a miss shot J-Smoove…with a great jam…..Go Hawks…..

Jim

March 24th, 2010
9:54 pm

Once again clutchless Joe misses a game winning shot. And he wants kobe lebron money. What a joke.

Greg

March 24th, 2010
9:55 pm

In the Hawks defense, two of the three losses against the Magic this season have come in the 2nd game of a back-to-back and they played the Celtics the previous night on both of those occasions.

Nice to finally beat Orlando, but doesn’t change the fact that this was another abysmal 4th quarter performance for the Hawks. As the announcers said, they were playing “not to lose”…that’s not going to cut it come playoff time. If I’m not mistaken, they went around 9 minutes in the 4th quarter between field goals. Those types of stretches are going to occur at the worst times when you don’t PASS THE DAMN BALL.

Mendoza

March 24th, 2010
9:56 pm

Seventh, and proud of it!

Jim-Hater

March 24th, 2010
9:56 pm

Jim, you are a dolt.

J SMOOVE

March 24th, 2010
9:56 pm

IM LAUGHING AT MY HATERS

Ekim

March 24th, 2010
9:58 pm

Yes, it’s best not to get upset when somebody you don’t know insults you in an anonymous open forum such as a blog. Laughing is good.

Greg in Orlando

March 24th, 2010
10:01 pm

Lol, you all are not that good at all, we’ll sweep you in the playoffs or the Cavs will. This was your championship, played out of your minds. Congrats on the big win.

WestOfAthens

March 24th, 2010
10:02 pm

“clutchless joe” what a moronic comment. Watch the games Jim, and you will see that -these- Hawks are far from an isolated game. These Hawks are spreading the joy.

Josh Smith for team MVP, this man has matured

freshd

March 24th, 2010
10:03 pm

I still cant believe JAY BILAS said that J SMOOVE would be a bust in the NBA the night he was drafted. I hope he”s eating BBQ crow.

Greg in Orlando-Hater

March 24th, 2010
10:03 pm

Well thanks Greg in Orlando, now we don’t even have to play the games now that you’ve announced the results in advance. You saved a whole lot of people a lot of trouble, and fed your onerous ego besides.

Greg

March 24th, 2010
10:03 pm

The schedule makers did the Hawks no favors vs the Magic this season. The last two losses to the Magic were the 2nd game of a back-to-back and the Hawks played the Celtics the previous night on both of those occasions.

Smith’s play at the end takes attention away from the fact that this was another ABYSMAL fourth quarter for the Hawks. They went NINE minutes between FG’s in the 4th. That’s what happens during “winning time” when other teams ratchet up the defensive intensity and you run offensive sets that involve very little passing/teamwork.

Greg in Orlando-Hater

March 24th, 2010
10:04 pm

I wonder if you were predicting a season sweep about three hours ago?

Greg

March 24th, 2010
10:05 pm

Played out of their minds? LOL. Other than Bibby, the Hawks shot the ball horribly and still won.

WestOfAthens

March 24th, 2010
10:06 pm

…..and still won

you are correct Jim, what else matters, please do explain

Arif

March 24th, 2010
10:06 pm

Mark: The Celtics hold the tie-breaker if both teams end up with the same win-loss record. It sucks, especially because the Hawks beat them 4 times out of 4 this year, but the first tie-breaker is division standings. And, the Celtics are certain to finish 1st. The Hawks will probably be second, behind the Magic.

falcons pick spoon

March 24th, 2010
10:06 pm

Greg in Orlando,

You idiot. We won the game with you guys having the refs in you backpocket. Although you guys took 3 out of 4, the series should really be tied but once again the refs have asecret love affair with D. Howard

WestOfAthens

March 24th, 2010
10:08 pm

Jim = Greg Greg = Jim

Both inept comments

Furtive

March 24th, 2010
10:08 pm

Last I checked,

ugly win > loss of any kind

You're All Gay

March 24th, 2010
10:13 pm

The Grinch

March 24th, 2010
10:15 pm

I thought the HOME team was supposed to get the calls. That elbow to the chin on Marvin from Howard right in front of the ref should have gotten him fined and thrown out of the game. Maybe if we keep winning we’ll get stuff like that ignored one day too.

The Grinch

March 24th, 2010
10:15 pm

But we won anyway, which is what matters.

Hawks Fan

March 24th, 2010
10:17 pm

Hey Jim,
Lighten up man. The Hawks won and how do you what kind of money Joe wants? Stop jumping to conclusions!

Ree Roe

March 24th, 2010
10:17 pm

Mark,

The sentence should read: “Having swept the Celtics this season, the Hawks (don’t) hold the edge in any tiebreaker.”

Great game, good article. Go Hawks!

-fREE Roe!!

Kent

March 24th, 2010
10:17 pm

Mark, I have enjoyed your writing for years, but I believe I found a mistake in tonight’s column. My understanding is that the Celtics would have the tie-breaker if the Hawks and Celtics have the same record because the Celtics would win their division. Is that correct?

Arif is right

March 24th, 2010
10:17 pm

Yeah the Hawks have to finish ahead of Boston in the standings to get the #3 seed, because Boston will most certainly win the Atlantic division.

lou

March 24th, 2010
10:21 pm

Mark,

the hawks do not hold a tiebreaker over Boston because winning the division trumps all, and they will win their division.. our sweep does not help us in that situation

Tech Sucks

March 24th, 2010
10:29 pm

Shanene you are epic fail at life.

Kane337

March 24th, 2010
10:29 pm

Go Hawks. Now lets win some friggin games on the road.

Section 303

March 24th, 2010
10:36 pm

Josh Smith = All Star

Great win. Great crowd. Let’s get the playoffs started!

Mark Bradley

March 24th, 2010
10:43 pm

Sorry, folks. You’re right. The Hawks have to finish ahead of the Celtics, not the other way around.

Elmore Spencer

March 24th, 2010
10:52 pm

I figured that game would bring out Bradley.

Elmore Spencer

March 24th, 2010
10:53 pm

Anybody else think Joe Johnson traveled before the dunk?

Dr. R.

March 24th, 2010
10:56 pm

Win or lose, they are fun to watch, you have to give them that. Nice to see pro basketball revived in Atlanta.

Elmore Spencer

March 24th, 2010
11:02 pm

One of those finishes people will remember for awhile.

J.J.M.

March 24th, 2010
11:03 pm

josh smith crib is on nba tv

Elmore Spencer

March 24th, 2010
11:03 pm

In fact I wonder how many games have ended with the ball coming out of the dunkers hand with .01 on the clock?

Mark Bradley

March 24th, 2010
11:04 pm

.01 percent, Elmore.

J.J.M.

March 24th, 2010
11:04 pm

I didnt know josh had kids

NoCoach Blewitt

March 24th, 2010
11:10 pm

Great win

Paul I will be sending the limo over round 9ish okay??? So make sure you are ready (With a pen) and I will make sure you make your flight to LaGuardia … I will buy a ticket just so I can make sure you make it onto the plane …. Enjoy the media in our hometown !!!!!

lewis halp

March 24th, 2010
11:13 pm

what i liked: al horford’s 15-18 foot jump shooting game. josh smith’s intensity, at 225-235, 6′9, he was muscling around nicely with his old pal josh smith. i lovd the defensive lineup with Horford at PF and Zaza at C, good way to athletically muscle up against Dwight. Joe was good with his assists and free throw shooting. Marvin’s stats aren’t there but he seemed to have an important imapct with his 4 points and 4 rebounds. His d was real solid before getting elbowed in the face by howard. Jeff Teague had a super nice weaving through the lane assist, sort of would have liked to have seen him in there with Crawford struggling the way he did. Gotta give maurice evans credit, he wants to win as much as anyone in the league and helped us change the momentum of the game.

Crawford was scurred and not doing his crazy ball handling stuff? Why’s he so afraid of good teams? Players who seemed to have proven they are going to be able to compete against good teams in the playoffs are Al Horford and Josh Smith for sure, Marvin Williams surprisingly, Maurice Evans, Joe Smith. Mike Bibby has the ability to provide 4-5 3 pointers early in the game, but hasn’t been consistent. we know Jamal’s gonna be in when it matters most anyway, so hopefully jamal will figure out how to be more confident against better defenses. We spread fouls around nicely today. Still have defensive problems at the PG. I like Teague’s defense to be honest he’s good one on one, better than bibby at 31, but mario often comes off the bench for those last minute defensive scenarios. Switching defense clearly didn’t work, over and over they get legitimate mismatches and score. Clear example is when vince carter had the easy dunk with less than 20 seconds left against horford i think? Horford is a solid defender against big men, but he can’t guard the smaller positions as well. Somehow we managed to hold them, the gamble of the switching d paid off more than it failed. I don’t like the gamble of it. zone d is the way to go for atlanta.

today i liked al and josh a lot

woody slowly but surely does one or two things differently, but it might be too late for him to come up with more effective strategies for elite teams with great scorers and centers.

lewis halp

March 24th, 2010
11:14 pm

and i meant muscling around with his old pal dwight howard

yellow snow

March 24th, 2010
11:16 pm

Looks like ole Josh pulled the monkey off of the Hawks back tonight! Go Hawks….