To recap: I hated the Larry Drew promotion, wasn’t overwhelmed by the Kirk Hinrich trade and had been unimpressed by the games I’d seen the Hawks play this season. (I saw them blown out by Boston in November, saw them blow a 22-point lead against Charlotte last month.) And for 24 minutes last night I saw nothing to make me rethink.
The second half I saw a team worth watching. The second half reminded me why, not so long ago (meaning pre-Orlando sweep), I’d come to like the Hawks and the way they played. You can say it was just one game of 82, and you’d be correct numerically, but if this one game had become just another meek home loss we’d have been dismissing the Hawks altogether. But you cannot dismiss a team that surges from 19 points down without its third-best player to run down a big-time opponent at the end.
The first half was laughable, but the laughter ceased in the third quarter. The Hawks dug in and defended the Bulls in a way they haven’t defended anybody all season. Some of it had to do with the new man Kirk Hinrich’s ball pressure at the top, but that wasn’t nearly all of it. Damien Wilkins, Mr. 10-Day-Contract, entered and played significant minutes. Marvin Williams made the best defensive play — maybe the best play, period — of his NBA life, blocking a Derrick Rose dunk inside the final three minutes. Joe Johnson switched over to Rose at the end and kept him shackled. And Al Horford … well, about him you’ve already heard.
Said Drew: “After a game like that, they have to feel really good about themselves. They have to believe they can line up against anyone and beat anybody.”
If I told you I now believe these Hawks will go on to the NBA championship or even the Eastern finals, I’d be lying. I still don’t see that sort of potential. But I’m less inclined to dismiss this team’s postseason chances out of hand than I was 13 hours ago. The next six days — home games against Oklahoma City, New York and Kobe Bryant — will tell us more. But if you’re facing a month of key games, coming from 19 down to beat the Bulls was the way to start.
Said Jamal Crawford, standing in a giddy Hawks’ locker room: “You couldn’t have done it any better.”
By Mark Bradley