The Hawks’ Game 2 task: Win when they’re supposed to win

Josh Smith in exulation after the Hawks won Game 1 Sunday night. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Josh Smith exults in the Hawks' emphatic Game 1 victory. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The greatest favor you can do the Atlanta Hawks is to discount them. They hate that, which is to say they love it.

“[Pundits] help us out a lot by counting us out,” Josh Smith said Monday. “We like to prove people wrong. [Being summarily dismissed] is disrespectful.”

The Hawks are playing the Boston Celtics in a 4-versus-5 series, which by definition should be seen as a coin flip. This one was projected to be a Boston walkover — even though the Hawks held the homecourt edge in the sport where playing at home matters most.

It was as if these were still the callow Hawks of 2008 — the No. 8 seed lugging a losing record — and their opponent was an in-its-prime  Boston team that had won 66 games. Neither of those things is true. These Hawks lost Al Horford, heretofore considered indispensable, in the season’s 11th game and still won more than the Celtics.

To the chattering class, that mattered not one whit. Boston was still Boston, which it demonstrably is not, and the Hawks were still the Hawks, whatever that means. To be fair, it can be hard to know exactly what the Hawks are.

This has been a pretty nice team for a while. This is its fifth playoff run in succession, and it has advanced to Round 2 the past three seasons. They were fourth in the East in 2008-2009, third in 09-10, fifth last season, fourth this time. No, they haven’t become a gold-plated colossus, but they’ve won a lot of games. Trouble is, not many of those victories seem to have registered.

“Boston has just been talked about in that [exalted] way ever since the Big Three [Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce] got there,” Smith said, speaking the day after the Hawks had led wire to wire in Game 1. “It’s been Boston, Chicago and Miami. It’s like no other Eastern Conference team existed.”

That’s overstating, if just. Cleveland was a big deal before You Know Who took his talents You Know Where, and Orlando was seen as a power until Dwight Howard’s whining began to override Dwight Howard’s playing. Still, there’s a difference between being a Brand Name and Brand X — the latter struggles for shelf space.

Said Smith, sarcasm rising: “We’re not concerned with what analysts –quote-unquote ‘analysts’ — think. It all kind of ties down to what kind of sports town this is. You go to Boston and every game is sold out. Go to Chicago and every game is sold out. If you don’t have the title of being a sports-fanatical town, they’re reluctant to talk about you.”

There’s truth there. The Celtics and Bulls played to 100 percent capacity (or more, in Chicago’s case) even in this post-lockout season; the Hawks played to 81.9 percent of Philips Arena’s capacity, which ranked them 24th in a 30-team league. But the national disdain for the Hawks isn’t so much data-based as perception-fueled: Put simply, the Hawks are seen as a screwy team.

Which brings us to our second Talking Point: The worst curse you can hurl at the Atlanta Hawks is to suggest they’re ready to take a step up in class. Because every such forecast to date has gone unfulfilled.

From being swept in Round 2 by Cleveland in 2009 to swept (by 101 aggregate points) by Orlando the next year to losing in six to Chicago last spring after stealing Game 1 up there; from beating the Heat with all hands on deck in Miami on Jan. 2 to losing to the LeBron-less, D-Wade-less Heat in Philips three days later … this is a team that lives to confound us. And that’s why the Hawks are in both a good and bad place as they approach Game 2.

If they grab a 2-0 lead, it will be difficult for an opponent of advanced age to claim the series by winning the requisite four of five.  And the Celtics will be without their best player, Rajon Rondo, who has been suspended for bumping ref Marc Davis at the shank of Game 1. (Wait a second. Isn’t it the Hawks who were supposed to lose their cool?)

Without Rondo, you’d have to like the Hawks’ chances. You’d like them until you recall that January loss to depleted Miami, or the home loss this month against a Toronto team that included three men working on 10-day contracts. The simple reason the Hawks aren’t taken more seriously is that, over time, they’ve contrived to lose in ways that suggest they aren’t as good as their record. Here’s their chance to win a big game they’re supposed to win. Here’s their chance to shut some yaps.

By Mark Bradley

93 comments Add your comment

Rickster

April 30th, 2012
4:59 pm

Rickster

April 30th, 2012
5:01 pm

Getting kudo’d is a great way to start a week. (A Hawk’s victory isn’t bad either.)

Brent

April 30th, 2012
5:06 pm

Just waiting for the hill on the roller coaster. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Mark Bradley

April 30th, 2012
5:08 pm

Kudos, Rickster.

Rickster

April 30th, 2012
5:08 pm

Thanks Mark!

No fear here

April 30th, 2012
5:11 pm

I’d like to see the Worldwide Leader shut its yap.

Aaron

April 30th, 2012
5:13 pm

Can’t help but think this game decides the series. A Hawks win makes it VERY hard for Boston to come back.

However, a Celtics win on the road without Rondo and the Hawks will be in very bad shape.

Mark Bradley

April 30th, 2012
5:15 pm

No Game 2 decides a series. But winning four of five could be beyond the Celtics’ capabilities.

sansho1

April 30th, 2012
5:17 pm

Great Moments in Quote-Clarifying Brackets

“[Pundits] help us out a lot by counting us out,” Josh Smith said Monday. “We like to prove people wrong. [Being summarily dismissed] is disrespectful.”

John

April 30th, 2012
5:21 pm

Will find out alot about the Hawks this playoffs.

They now have a golden oppurtunity to beat Boston, and with D Rose out for Chicago can really have a chance to get to the East Finals.

If they do not get past the second round this year, it’s time to start to considering going in a different direction with the nucleus of the team.

Dawg Haus

April 30th, 2012
5:22 pm

Win Game 2 and it should be a short trip down easy street. Go Hawks!

ClemsonBrad

April 30th, 2012
5:28 pm

Couldn’t have said it better Mark. it’s funny, I feel better about the Hawks winning with the celtics having Rondo, then the celtics not having him…that is how screwy this Atlanta team is.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution [...]

kevkat

April 30th, 2012
5:40 pm

MB what’s your opinion on Teague’s play? Why can’t we see more “clutch” Teague like we saw last night?

LomaLinda

April 30th, 2012
5:40 pm

Even going up 2-0 doesn’t mean an easy series, its going to be tough to win in Boston anytime. My fear is the Hawks relax and play to the level of the competition with Rondo out. If the hawks were to lose game 2 at home without Rondo playing that would be such a crushing blow it might lead to a series loss. Luckily playing at home the fans might keep the Hawks from having a let down.

Mark Bradley

April 30th, 2012
5:43 pm

Jeff Teague is technically in his third NBA season, but he really didn’t play much until the second round last spring. He’s still learning.

BigDawg

April 30th, 2012
5:57 pm

Rondo deserved to be suspended, pumping out his chest while he “stumbled.” He certainly stumbled, glad the talking heads on TNT didn’t have their way!

ryan

April 30th, 2012
5:57 pm

Paul Pierce won’t play as poorly as he did in game one so Joe needs to show up

The Celtics could not hit the broad side of a barn last night and nearly stole the game

This series has a long way to go

Wink

April 30th, 2012
6:13 pm

Mark, I don’t agree. Teague has talent. If nothing else he has speed and he has had that since he arrived here in Atlanta. A case could be made he was our best player in the playoffs last year, when he held his own with D Rose. Teague should own the first 5 seconds of every shot clock like Tony Parker, but I will say he is no Tony Parker…why?

He does not believe in himself or his motor get stuck in 3rd gear in 2 out of every 3 games. I believe he & JJ (afraid of the spot light) needs to get an appointment with John Smoltz’s physiologist.

The starters as a whole do not always apply their talents. This is why Boston’s core which is older can make runs against the younger core the Hawks to get back in games. For the record the Hawks core has been together longer than Boston’s core.

Was this the first game where our youth outlasted the talented older guys or did Boston run out of time due to the Rondo incident…I believe it’s the latter!

I’ll take the win, but we can’t continue to play this way. This we get no respect from the National media…they only play to the level of their competition.

Mash

April 30th, 2012
6:28 pm

I really feel like that Rondo moment is a turning point for the entire franchise. Bad breaks, losing cool: those were the types of things that always – always – went against the Hawks in the past. Not anymore.

I think the Hawks will go for the jugular and throttle the aging Celtics into submission and then go onto beat the Bulls to gain their first Eastern Finals ever.

John

April 30th, 2012
6:40 pm

Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce cancelled themselves out offensively in game 1 because they both exerted so much in defending each other.

With Joe playing SF and Heinrich playing SG the Hawks lineup is more defensive oriented.

Outside Observer

April 30th, 2012
6:52 pm

These Hawks had a big lead at halftime, nearly blew it in the second half, and won the game after a terrible decision by Rondo. Analysts have been discussing the rough nights for Pierce and Garnett, but Joe Johnson had a pretty terrible night himself. I personally would like to see Joe step up his game in these playoffs, because with Al and Zaza on the bench, we need multiple options besides just Josh.

phil

April 30th, 2012
7:06 pm

This is exactly the type game we lose.

Always.

Why should it be any different tomorrow night?

:roll:

phil

April 30th, 2012
7:08 pm

[...] The Hawks’ Game 2 task: Win when they’re supposed to win [...]

[...] The Hawks’ Game 2 task: Win when they’re supposed to win [...]

TJ

April 30th, 2012
8:02 pm

Spot on Mark…and that last paragraph’s theme could be applied to a football team that resides in Athens, GA as well.

tjhook

April 30th, 2012
8:04 pm

I am interested in how Hinrich plays this series. He provided a lot of relief for Teague in the ball handling responsibilities. If he can consistently drop the ball in the basket, a lot of teams will be wondering what happened to their chances against the Hawks. Go Captain Kirk – to infinity and beyond (I know Cpt. Kirk didn’t say that but it’s a space theme – work with it.

Whopper Dawg

April 30th, 2012
9:20 pm

They should win this one if ever one was important for them. However, even money says they gag it up like a stone.

While they don’t win the series if they choke on this one, they probably lose it if they do.

Jethro

April 30th, 2012
9:58 pm

This is Josh’s team. JJ has the money, but this is Josh’s team. How much more full, I wonder, were some fans not willing to give a farthing to ASG? For myself, I hope Josh takes the team to the Finals – because this team is that good – then say “screw you, I’m going where ownership cares.” A fitting ending.

DawgNole

April 30th, 2012
10:13 pm

“The simple reason the Hawks aren’t taken more seriously is that, over time, they’ve contrived to lose in ways that suggest they aren’t as good as their record. Here’s their chance to win a big game they’re supposed to win. Here’s their chance to shut some yaps.” — Bradley
________________________

Pretty accurate summary of their history in ATL.

Here’s their chance . . . again.

Up yours ASG!

April 30th, 2012
10:53 pm

I will not give this team my time or money until those Spirit fools sell. They deserve every disinterested fan and empty seat they get!

Abe the Fan

April 30th, 2012
11:04 pm

Mark, please pass a note to Hawks management to lose the streamers! I still can’t believe there were streamers after winning game one!!!

Dr. Warren

April 30th, 2012
11:50 pm

Ginsu-knife-precise, MB.

Dr. Warren

April 30th, 2012
11:57 pm

And this Hawks team I know all-too-well, if true to form, will lose Game Two by 1 or 2 points. Hope I am wrong.

clay

May 1st, 2012
3:34 am

I have felt like we should win the series anyway. We are a better team than the Celtics are. We have a better bench than the Celtics do. I say we win the series in 5 or 6.

Hawks d

May 1st, 2012
4:01 am

Great article Mark.. Right to the point!

This game is won and lost in the head.

Its funny how considering the celtics lost rondo the game will be even more demanding….

If the hawks bundle together their efforts again and pull off a win in game two i think their chances might be pretty good.

Go Hawks! Time to take the advantage!

Eb

May 1st, 2012
5:32 am

Josh Smith has been undisciplined and lazy for years and now we’re supposed to give him the ‘respect’ he deserves? Sorry pal, respect is earned over time and you’ve got a long way to go based on past performance.

Can I get me some painkillers?

May 1st, 2012
7:03 am

If only Joe could dribble, he might be worth the money they are paying him. Leave him wide open, he’s deadly. Guard him and he’s average at best.

Bill Stanfill

May 1st, 2012
8:16 am

ALL 6 OF SPORTS ILLUSTRATED WRITERS HAVE PICKED THE CELTICS OVER THE HAWKS

You’re right, Mark. The Hawks get no respect. But they’ve done a great job this year considering that they have been without Horford. Drew deserves some credit for this. And I have to hand it to Josh Smith–he has stepped up and has been the team’s MVP.

Hawks will win the series in 5 games. Series against the Bulls will be very interesting.

Hawks serve up a little crow to all the national sports writers.

mark

May 1st, 2012
8:48 am

Eb

May 1st, 2012
5:32 am

Josh Smith has been undisciplined and lazy for years and now we’re supposed to give him the ‘respect’ he deserves? Sorry pal, respect is earned over time and you’ve got a long way to go based on past performance.

Well there are many of us who do respect Josh.

hayman

May 1st, 2012
9:04 am

This series is far from over. Hawks can not get sucked into this type of chatter. The Celtics are plenty dangerous with what they have. Last I checked, champions like Paul Pierce and KG are still playing and and arent gonna lie down. They still got a pretty good squad. Hawks better bring it from the start of the game.

MelHawk

May 1st, 2012
10:03 am

the celtics–old, tired, washed up. Look for an easy ATL sweep. The Hawks will upset miami and win the east!!!!

Driver 8

May 1st, 2012
10:19 am

The young Hawks are finally ready to dethrone the aging Celtics. Sorry, that theme goes back to the late 80’s. I’ll believe it when I see it. BTW, what is Cliff Levingston up to these days?

Eddie

May 1st, 2012
10:26 am

Mark,

You hit the nail on the head with this article. The second point of your article is the absolute reason its hard for me to back the Hawks, I would much rather spend my money and time on anything else than on a ticket at Philips arena b/c you never know if they are going to show up! The Hawks can beat anybody and the Hawks can lose to anybody!

Eisendawg

May 1st, 2012
10:41 am

This is a very dangerous game in that the Celtics have their back against the wall, and will play like there is no tomorrow. You would think we could assume a victory here, but it’s been my experience that these type of games can be the toughest to win. The Hawks better bring their “A” game.

Andy

May 1st, 2012
11:12 am

If the Hawks need motivation for this game, they need look no further than some of the write-ups by national and Boston sportswriters, who make all kinds of excuses for why the Celtics lost and why the Celtics are in great shape for the series. They say the Hawks won game 1 because they made every shot (not true) and that they won’t be able to continue to play at that level. Doc Rivers said he thought letting the Hawks get the early lead gave them confidence, which carried them the rest of the way. The way people talk about the Hawks gives them no credit and makes it seem like they are a minor league team. Everybody has plenty of excuses for why the Hawks aren’t any good but are somehow able to win games. The Hawks should feel plenty disrespected.

maler

May 1st, 2012
11:39 am

Atlanta Hawks, good to respect the Boston Celtic heros off the court but when the game starts tonight disrepect them with your play. DON’T let up!!!!!

maler

May 1st, 2012
11:42 am

Just do the damn thing

Frustrated, Inc.

May 1st, 2012
11:55 am

As two others have posted above, this is the type of game the Hawks find a way to lose. Very telling game on tap tonight. Have the Hawks turned the corner? Will Joe J. take off the skirt and have a big time perfromance tonight? Will Josh get frustrated with all the no calls and start jacking up threes?