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Friday, April 29th, 2011 at 9:30 am  |  19 responses

Links: ATL, Shawty

Some thoughts on the Hawks as they knock out the Magic…

by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

I spent most of the last decade writing and talking about the Atlanta Hawks.  This wasn’t some shrewd career move. If you want people to pay attention to you, you write about things people pay attention to: the Lakers, the Celtics, the NFL, politics, boobs.

I didn’t write about the Hawks because I was looking for attention; I did it because the Hawks are what I know. I grew up in Atlanta, watched Hawks games as a kid, went to Hawks games as a teenager. Even after I moved to New York, I watched every Hawks game I could get my eyes on. This was my team, these were my players.

For most of that last decade, they just weren’t very good. You know the last time the Atlanta Hawks won an NBA championship? Never. They last title they won was when the franchise was based in St. Louis, back in 1958. You know the last time the Atlanta Hawks went to the Eastern Conference Finals? Never. Since I’ve been alive, the Hawks have never been one of those teams with money to throw around. So they competed and tried, and there were years that they played hard, but most of the time they just weren’t good enough. We knew the Hawks weren’t going to win the title before the season even started. The most we could ask for was for the Hawks to exceed our expectations.

Still, for the last decade, I was completely and utterly obsessed with the Hawks. There were times when I was watching important games, sitting on my couch, my heart in my throat, and I was so obsessed that I’d throw things or yell at people. (Probably better than throwing people or yelling at things.) I wrote about the Hawks so often that the Hawks organization eventually hired me, and for three seasons I wrote weekly columns about the team for Hawks.com. I got to call a couple of Hawks games on radio thanks to the great Steve Holman. Due to the relationships I was able to forge with the players and front office, I managed to talk my way getting more access with the team than most journalists will ever get.

This season, I decided to take a step back. I needed to, for my marriage. In fact, I didn’t make Wifey watch a single Hawks game all season. I didn’t write a word about the Hawks all season on SLAMonline. I didn’t do a Final Point about the Hawks on NBA TV, and I don’t think I tweeted about the Hawks all season, either. I’d spent a decade as Mr. Hawk, and I needed a break.

Which doesn’t mean I wasn’t watching.

The Hawks made one major change coming into this season, swapping out Mike Woodson for Larry Drew. Drew promised to get more active on offense, less predictable on defense. And perhaps surprisingly, that’s exactly what the Hawks did. What didn’t surprise me was that the Hawks finished the season 44-38, with the fifth seed in the East. Above average. Not terrible. Not great.

That has been the story of the Hawks for the last few years. They got over that hump, survived that 13 win season in 2004-05, survived the lawsuit amongst the owners, even survived the crazy Lon Kruger Playoff promise. And for all of Mike Woodson’s predictability, he dragged the Hawks past horribility (#clydeword) into mediocrity, and then beyond.

Last night, while the Hawks were knocking off the Magic, the Falcons traded four draft picks to move up and draft Julio Jones. Now, whether or not you think this was a smart move by the Falcons — and I happen to think it was, because as an SEC fan I saw a lot of Julio Jones, and Julio Jones is dope — it showed that the Falcons were willing to gamble on themselves. The Hawks have made two big trades the last few years, both of them for aging guards (Hinrich and Bibby). Not exactly rolling the dice. I believe the biggest move the Hawks made in the last year was swapping Woody for Drew. I still don’t know that this was the best way to move beyond mediocrity, but at least it was something.

I didn’t come out and pick the Hawks to win this series, but I believed they had a chance. (I went to lunch two weeks ago with former SLAM EIC Tony Gervino and repeated this claim, so he can attest I am not lying.) On the surface, even giving the Hawks a shot in this series wasn’t a sure thing. Last year in the Playoffs, the Hawks got curb-stomped by Orlando, four games to none — by a combined 101 points, the most lopsided four game sweep in the history of the NBA(!). They lost Game One by something like 334 points, and it was at that exact moment I knew they were done for the 2009-10 season.

I’ll allow that the Magic have probably worsened themselves with the flurry of moves they made since reaching the Finals in 2009. And this season’s trades, especially trading Rashard Lewis for Gilbert Arenas, seemed like they were swinging for the fences. Still, they went 52-30 this season and finished 8 games ahead of Atlanta in the Southeast Division. The Hawks beat them 3-1 in the regular season, but one of those games was before Orlando traded everyone away, and one was without Joe Johnson. Post-trade, the Hawks and Magic split the series, 1-1.

So I really wasn’t sure how this series was going to play out. But give the Hawks some credit: They freaking did it. The Hawks won the series 4-2. Credit goes to several people, but here’s three:

1) Larry Drew: One of Mike Woodson’s peccadilloes was that he believed the best way for the Hawks to defend Dwight Howard was to double-team him when he caught the ball. The Hawks did this in Game 1 of the Playoffs last year against Orlando, and the Magic shredded them. The Hawks refused to adjust, the Magic didn’t have to adjust, and they crushed the Hawks. Larry Drew instead decided to play Dwight straight up with a variety of bench players, and shift Horford to the four and Josh to the three. And it worked.

2) Jason Collins: Twin was out of shape last season, but this year he came in leaner and meaner and the Hawks used him as a foul machine against Dwight Howard.

3) Jamal Crawford: Mr. Creezy came off the bench but was Atlanta’s leading scorer in this series. More than that, he was Atlanta’s spirit, making big plays whenever it seemed they were done.

I don’t know if the Hawks are going to beat Chicago. I don’t expect them to, but then again, maybe it’s better to manage my expectations. Because with these Hawks, you really never know.

And right when you count them out, they pull you back in…

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  • http://www.youtube.com/user/officerbarbrady what

    I don’t know how long this postseason run will last, but it’s nice to get to the second round again. At least we get a few more games of Philips Arena loud as hell going crazy. Go Hawks!

  • http://www.peachtreehoops.com Jason Walker

    Lang,

    I thought it was something I said…you were missed this season. Thought of you every time we won this year, because you can’t watch the Hawks can’t win without thinking “ATL, shawty!”

    As the Stinger would say, “Indeed.”

  • http://slamonline.com Eldon Khorshidi

    Great write up, much needed Links… I think it’s time to bump “welcome to atlanta”

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    I like “Welcome to Atlanta,” but on the low, one of my favorite Atlanta songs is the interlude on Stankonia called “Cruising in the ATL”:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4D_zFhcAhU
    *BREAK*

  • andrew

    as having horford and j smoove as my starting 4 n 5 on my fantasy team i have a certain attachment to the hawks.
    im really hoping the hawks chicago series is like the one boston n chicago had last year. those games were epic!
    rose v hinrich
    horford v noah!
    heres hoping for a great series and my boys come out on top!
    (also note i took d rose in the 2nd round but traded him away for smith so i have a soft spot for him too lol)

  • Ali

    Congrats HAWKS! I had the young ATLien gunners beating the magic. Damn shame D Howard ain’t get a bit of help! But that’s what that organization gets. Why implode a FINALS team from just two years ago so fast, that squad should have been kept intact, add a player or two. They were right there in the mix! They have take 5 steps backwards since then.

  • mj23
  • D12FSU

    I am about to type this, still p!ssed off following the series loss but here it goes. Crawford flops on every 3 he takes, and gets rewarded for this. Zaza was given the benefit of the doubt over Dwight Howard, I honestly think the only reason he got a flagrant was because they had just called one on Anderson earlier. Josh Smith can take all the jump shots he wants, I dont know why his coach, and teammates, allow him to make such poor decisions with the ball. Because Marvin is porbably gonna start from now on, I can safely say the Hawks bench is the weakest left in the playoffs, after Crawford no one does anything.
    But I will say some nice things about the Hawks: Horford is a 4, ATL NEEDS to find a legit center to put next to him, cause he thrived, and i think Dalembert is not a bad idea to sign. I hope Hinrichs knee is ok by Monday, you didnt mention him, Nelson destroyed Bibby last year, Kirk can play D and shoot, he hurt us. Drews offense was better than Woodys, but with about 4 minutes left in every game, it went back to the ‘ol iso-Joe, and thats how orlando was even able to stay in the game. I really dont care who wins between chi-atl, Im just going to root for the winner of the Thunder/Mem-SAS series.

  • Ali

    @D12FSU when they got Crawford coming in play like he is, dropping 20+, they don’t need much of a bench, it’s crazy. Cause dude looks like he’s 150 lbs wet, and they ain’t try to body the guy up! he was playing out there like it was not a problem for him to get any shot he wanted. Not a good look for a SVG team.

  • http://www.boogiewilliams.com Boing Dynasty

    Joe Johnson and J Crawford should swap contracts.

  • Ali

    Hahaha…I feel you Boing Dynasty. I think Joe may feel you too…which is a good thing for the ATL.

  • Bruno

    so it’s either Joe or Jamal against Keith Bogans mmm that’s a hell of advantage there for the hawks

  • QQQQQ!

    CP3 has been the best player of the playoffs so far but his team was just way too overmatched. Even if they had a healthy West they wouldn’t have had a chance haha.

  • bashmo

    damn, I was wrong about this series. I thought ORL would take it, but, Coach Drew simply outcoached Van Gundy and Jamal Crawford make enough big shots to last a lifetime. As a result of staying on Dwight, the three point shooters were held ineffective.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Joe Johnson was balling, you’re tripping Boing Dynasty. Jamal is nice, no doubt about it, but Joe was the one who got that key rebound. Joe kept getting the rack instead of settling for jumpers.
    Joe Johnson is underrated by fans because of his obscene contract.

  • http://www.boogiewilliams.com Boing Dynasty

    Nah, im not even discrediting or under rating Joe at all, i actually like his game alot, but Jamaal is emerging as “the man” in crunch time.

  • Tony Gervino

    He’s not lying. We did have lunch two weeks ago. And he did say he thought the Hawks could win. A week earlier, I wrote how I was positive the Hawks would win the series. My victory lap is tempered only by my twin prediction that the Blazers would thrash the Mavericks.

  • http://www.fiba.com Darksaber

    Naah, Tony. Wrong prediction, Spurs got thrashed (should have been over in 5 btw).
    Har Har…
    Ps: nice to see Former Ed. showing up in the comments.

  • http://www.onitsukatigermexico66.us onitsuka tiger

    A week earlier, I was positive the Hawks would win the series. anyway they win orlando. but now i still do not think that they will win in this series to chicago,rose will be stonger in the next game.i think they will go to 4-3.

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