It’s win or go home, except that the Hawks are already home. But you get the picture.
The series in quick review: Hawks shot great, played hard and won Game 1; Hawks did neither and lost Game 2; Hawks appeared ready to succumb in Game 3; they refuted such a notion in winning Game 4 and in clambering from 15 points down to take a brief lead in Game 5.
Larry Drew on his Hawks, speaking a few minutes ago: “I think people saw us as a team that would make the playoffs and wouldn’t do well … [What his men have done] is truly a testament to their commitment.”
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau on his by-now-familiar opponent: “This is a quality team. They have quality depth. They have a lot of guys who can put it on the floor.”
This was reminiscent of what Dwyane Wade said after the Hawks beat his Heat in a Game 7 in 2009: “They’ve got five guys they can throw it to and have them make a play.”
Along the way, we’d lost sight of that. The epic Round 2 collapse against Orlando last spring skewed our view of these Hawks, and this middling regular season did nothing to make us remember. But these playoffs have made us recall why it was we got excited about these Hawks in that giddy Boston series of 2008, and the giddiest of those nights came in Game 6.
The Hawks fell behind by 15 points early and you figured, “That’s that, done and dusted.” Then Josh Childress — remember Josh Childress made a tip-in that hung on the rim forever and cut the lead to one after the third-quarter horn — and the rest was astonishing.
Spanning the third and fourth quarters, the Hawks scored on 17 consecutive possessions. They did it against the Celtics, who would become NBA champs. “They thought they had us,” Josh Smith said, speaking of that star-spangled night.
But they didn’t, at least not in Game 6. And Chicago, like those Celtics a No. 1 seed, haven’t yet gotten a real handle on this bunch. The Bulls have won three games in the series, but their biggest lead in any game has been 15 points. If we return to the regular season, the Bulls led the Hawks by at least 19 in all three games.
Yeah, these are the playoffs, and they’re different. But the Hawks are also different. They’ve gotten good again. They can take this back to Chicago. They really can.
And with that, I turn it over to you. Another tight deadline looms tonight, so I’ll be flitting forth and back, but I welcome you company as we hurtle into Game 6. And if the Hawks score on 17 consecutive trips this evening, just recall who put a little bug in y’all’s ear.
By Mark Bradley