Links: Playoffs Diary Day 10

by April 29, 2008

by Lang Whitaker

And we have a series! I’m so excited I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m sitting here at my desk today wearing a Josh Smith throwback jersey and a Hawks jacket on top of that. I’ve been driving this Atlanta bandwagon for so long that it became a job, and I forgot how much fun it can be. For the last nine years, it’s been more pain than fun. Now, we’re having fun again. And I feel like I’ve had about 200 cups of coffee.

I have so many snapshots from this series seared into my memory, from Powe laying on the ground as JJ nailed that three to Josh Smith jumping from outside the lane and tomahawking that dunk over Ray Allen. But the image I’ll never forget is this one, this photo I took last night as the clock ran out and the Hawks tied it up. I snapped this with my Sidekick and now it’s my desktop…

(You can save the full image here.)

Look, I’m as surprised as you guys. I’m probably the only person in the sports media who watched at least 70 Hawks games this season, and I knew better than to pick them to win the series. They were so unreliable this season that I didn’t think they’d be able to even win a game against Boston, much less two straight. And then this weekend they turned some sort of corner.

Meanwhile, the Boston ship be sinking. I’m telling you, the Celts’ swag has disappeared, almost completely. Three weeks ago they thrashed Atlanta in Atlanta, and Sam Cassell was doing his big balls dance and everything. Last night they looked scared. More damning, I thought they looked awfully tired last night, too. For a team that rested guys extensively down the stretch, you can’t get outplayed by a team that uses basically a 7-man rotation.

Defensively, the Celts don’t match up very well against the Hawks, mostly because of Ray Allen. JJ ate Ray Allen alive last night. Ray’s too big to guard Bibby, and Boston can’t put Ray Allen on Childress because all Chillz does on offense is work the baseline and try to get offensive rebounds, and Ray Allen doesn’t have the size or the legs to box Chillz out. And we already know Leon Powe can’t stick with JJ. KG has the length to bother Smoove and force him to shoot outside jumpers (which have been going in, amazingly), but that requires KG to step out away from the basket and opens things up for Joe to drive. When Boston is physical with the Hawks, they end up forcing Atlanta to shoot a lot of long jumpers, but they’ve gotten in foul trouble the last two games and have had to play hands-off defense.

The other problem for Boston is that Atlanta can take advantage of whichever little guy they have on the floor when they use that Bibby/Joe Johnson pick on the wing. Because if Boston tries to go under a pick, JJ can pull up for the three, and if Boston switches the pick, JJ can back Rondo/House down and wait for the double team. Why Boston isn’t zoning Atlanta, I have no idea, because the Hawks struggled against zones all season long. I’m glad they aren’t, though.

On the other end, if I was Boston I’d be riding Paul Pierce in the post, because he’s too big for anyone on Atlanta to stick with. Josh Smith has done a great job of making KG change so many of those little floaters in the paint, and the Hawks are begging Rondo to shoot, but his confidence is in the toilet now (and especially after Doc yanked him for almost the entire fourth quarter last night). And there were at least four or five times in the second half last night that KG caught the ball, wide open, and was begging for someone to swing the ball to.

One last thing: Everyone mentions David Stern being at the game last night, but nobody’s been talking about Stu Jackson being there. And he was there because he cut me off in the food line in the press room. Sekou wonders if Stu’s going to suspend KG for Game Five for shoving Eddie Rush? Hmm…

To me, the most gratifying thing about watching this team win is that the Hawks were literally built from the ground up. These guys have grown together, and they’ve added a piece every year. They each have a role, they all know their roles, and they’ve managed to get better and better without mortgaging the future. Now they’re getting their turn on the big stage and they’re loving it. And so am I.

Still, I’m not going to Boston tomorrow night…I’m too worn out. But I’ll be watching, dipped in Hawks gear. And if I have to hit the road for Game 6 or Game 7, I’ll be there.