I’m not quite sure how this one is gonna play out. Yeah, the Hawks looked pretty good in the season opener down in Orlando. But this is different. It’s Saturday. The first home game. Against the revamped Philadelphia 76ers. In front of the same folks who willed the team to an improbable seven-game series against the eventual world champs. How would Joe, Mike and Josh do in the first game off that postseason high? It’s funny you should ask…
— First off, my seats are in Section 307. If I were solo, I could have name-dropped “Susan Price” or “Ben Osborne” for a better spot. But seeing as how I’m rolling with four other people, we had to get where our pockets allowed. Thankfully, these opening-night seats were 50 percent off for “valued customers,” so we got the $43 joints for $21 each.
— Clearly, not everybody got the half-off email I got. Behind us, there is nothing but empties. Same goes for just about every other section in the 300s. Things look fuller in the lower levels, but for a home opener, I’m a lil’ disappointed in the overall turnout.
— But those in the lower section who do show up get a small treat in the form of all the players coming down the aisles, giving high fives and smiles to the lucky fans on the end of the rows.
— The other treat is this flag that’s given out to everybody as they come through the Philips Arena doors. The damn thing is huge. Maybe Speedy Claxton will parade around the court with it during timeouts to get people hyped. Not like he’s doing much else.
— The game tips. The new-look Sixers (what up, Elton!) come out fired out. Thaddeus Young, who played down the street at Tech for a minute, is working the Hawks. Son has 17 at the end of the first and he did it from all over the court. It’s 34-18 at the end of the first. Philly have to be shooting, like, 70 percent from the field. They aren’t missing a thing.
— The Hawks, on the other end, look like a team that’s still trying to figure things out. Marvin Williams starts his first game–he served a one-game suspension against the Magic–and looks like he could use some WD-40. Mo Evans relieves him. And if Marvin doesn’t get it together quickly, he’s going to relieve him of his starting spot, too.
— Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Mike Bibby slowly get things together in the second. When Philly leaves, either of them open longer than a half second, it’s curtains. Okay, so maybe that doesn’t apply to J-Smooth. Dude still has too much confidence in his 20-footer. But the man thinks he can swat anything within 20 feet, too, and usually does, so we’ll call it a wash.
— Za Za “The Head-Buttin’ Georgian” Pachulia is still fired up, even though it’s been months since he and Kevin Garnett nearly kissed on camera in the Playoffs. Dude’s energy is incredible. He might look like an extra off Eastern Promises, but if Za keeps this level of play up, he deserves a bench spot for the Eastern Conference All-Stars. Off the strength of his rebounding (Elton Brand does have 11 at the break himself), Josh’s blocking and Joe’s shooting, the Hawks are able to kinda get back into it at the half, 57-44.
— Being in the A, you’d think the home opener’s halftime show would feature Young Joc or Ciara or, hell, even old-school R&B group Silk. But all the team could muster is the Skyteam, a gang of trampoline-jumping dudes that dunk at every other Hawk game. Yikes.
— The team must have pretended to listen to Atlanta Coach Mike Woodson in the locker room ‘cuz they come out with a different flair in the second half, none more so than Joe Johnson. To quote a text I got from Lang after the game, Joe is “bad ass!” He’s not gonna say anything much with his mouth. He’s just gonna look at the defense, do a couple of space-clearing dribbles and pull it in your face. Deuces. Who’s with me in signing the “Hey, SLAM, why is Joe only no. 26 on your list of top NBA players?” petition?! End of the third, 75-66 Sixers.
— Actor Allen Payne (TBS’ The House of Payne) is the fan chosen for this Price Is Right-style game where you have to guess higher or lower prices for Home Depot items. He guesses all three amounts correctly, so he’s given three free throw opportunities to win a $100 gift certificate. He misses the first but swooshes the second.
— The fourth quarter is an all-out Hawks bonanza. Pulling out every trick they did in the Playoffs (announcer pleas, unrelenting “De-Fense” chants, J-Smooth towering over the crowd for a loose board), Atlanta gets the Sixers on their heels and come back from a 23-point first-half deficit. What seemingly couldn’t miss for Young (quick start fizzles to a 22-point night) and the two Andres in the first half, just ain’t sinking in the second. Maybe they’re too worried about Joe Johnson’s eruption to think about their own shooting. Who knows? All that’s certain is that it didn’t matter if it was Iggy or Young in Joe’s mug, the shot was dropping, even in the game’s nail-biting last few ticks. A game-clinching three from Johnson with 11 seconds officially closed things out. Joe finishes with 35 on 14-for-23 shooting. Bibbs chips in with 19. Final: 95-88, Hawks.
— The Hawks’ 2-0 start, while modest to most, is the best for Atlanta in a decade. And you thought the Playoffs were a fluke. Ha!