As noted, the Hawks tripped over a splendid opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference finals. But, even had they gotten there, they wouldn’t have been expected to win the Eastern Conference finals. You had to figure Miami’s Big Three would have been too big.
Update: Miami’s Big Three is down to two, and the Heat just lost Game 2 at home to the Indiana Pacers. Meaning: The Hawks might have had a better chance in the ECF than we’d have thought.
Run the (depleted) numbers: In Round 1 the Hawks had the homecourt edge over Boston, which was without Ray Allen for Games 1 and 2 and Rajon Rondo for Game 2 and which saw Paul Pierce hurt himself in a shootaround before Game 4; in Round 2 they’d have faced eighth-seeded Philadelphia, which beat Chicago after Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah got hurt, and if they’d won Round 2 they would have faced either Miami, suddenly without Chris Bosh, or Indiana, which nobody really fears.
Oh, and this, too: Al Horford returned in Game 4 of Round 1 after a 3 1/2-month absence, and the Hawks thought Zaza Pachulia might have been ready for Round 2. And we’re being reminded on a nightly basis that the 2012 NBA playoffs are less about excellence than about who’s fit to play.
As we know, Round 2 and the Eastern Conference finals were rendered moot points when the Hawks lost to Boston in six games (after winning Game 1 and leading Game 2 by 11 points). The notion of what might have been hurt, and it will keep on hurting with every wobble by the Celtics (who lost Game 2 of Round 2 at home to Philadelphia after having to steal Game 1) or the Heat (who are tied headed to Indianapolis for Games 3 and 4) or anybody still standing.
For decades we’ve been noting that the Hawks, in addition to being not quite good enough, have never been very lucky. Had they been good enough this time, they’d have had the wind at their backs. I guess you’d have to say that’s the story of their lives: They finally get lucky and it still doesn’t matter.
By Mark Bradley