The old saying goes it is better to have advanced, then lost, than to not advance at all.
The Atlanta Hawks will put that to the test as they won Game Seven at home against the Miami Heat, 91-78, and move on to the top seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round.
Once again the Hawks came out motivated, energized, and exercised great energy against the visitors defensively. The HHB has stated that, within (5) minutes of the game, we can determine if the Hawks will be engaged and doing the things necessary to win, or if they are emotionally detached and don't stand a chance.
At that mark in Game Seven, despite trailing, the effort was obvious that it would be the full of life Hawks that the Heat would be contending with versus the dead-on-arrival brand that stunk up the joint three times in six games.
Al Horford started, Josh Smith was focused, and the Hawks got after the Heat on both ends.
A good indicator in this series statistically we believe has been the assist to turnover ratio of Joe Johnson, who had really struggled in finding his place in the offense when the Heat seemed bound and determined to keep him from providing anything at that end with a stream of double teaming action.
It seems the Heat didn't strategize on extending that double team out to (30) feet from the basket.
Johnson started slow (0-5), but--umm--got hot the rest of the way, nailing (10) of (14) over the last three quarters or so, including some bombs that can only be called Screw You shots from very long range. Johnson also contributed (4) assists to a lone turnover. This effort, combined with an underrated effort from Mike Bibby, gave The Backcourt (10) assists to a mere (2) turnovers, which helped overcome losing the rebounding battle (39-30).
Well, that and 11-23 shooting from three point range.
This steaming hot shooting mostly came from the boiling hands of Johnson (6-8), who clearly got un-frustrated by stretching his range out to where arenas typically paint logos.
As for the Heat, Dwyane Wade shot and shot (10-25, 2-9), but he couldn't blow the Hawks house down.
When Wade is not hot, there is not much else the rest of the team can do to overcome that. We believe that role players play better at home than on the road, and James Jones (1-5, 0-3) and Mario Chalmers (1-6, 0-2) combined for about (74) minutes to help prove that theory out.
While the first quarter, which featured excellent play from Wade and Udonis Haslem in combining for (16) of the Heat's (18) first quarter points, was back and forth, the Hawks rode Joe's hot second quarter to take a (13) point halftime lead and never looked back, winning their first series since dispatching the Pistons in Joe Dumars last game in 1999, their first seven game series in forever, and winning their first Game Seven since coming to Atlanta.
See You in Cleveland
Al Horford started, but was obviously limited, though he continually got credit for whatever mental, intangible, or spiritual difference the Hawks experienced Sunday afternoon. Horford clearly could not use his sore ankle to maximum performance, and couldn't get elevation on even the closest of shots.
Lost in the Joe Johnson Shoot-a-Thon was that Josh Smith put a very solid effort forward and delivered in this critical game. Smith somewhat resisted the temptation to stay outside and attacked to great success, unveiling a killer up and under and also, and more importantly, hitting (7-8) on his free throw attempts. Smith also participated in the Hawks offensive strategy (caution: cutting edge!) of making the extra pass, especially early on when Joe was cold and Smith was getting inside. If Horford had been healthier and could finish, Smith might have even done better than his (3) assists on the day.
RFM and Zaza Pachulia provided solid minutes off the bench, with Pachulia getting dirty on the floor (in a basketball way, we assure you) and RFM a couple of key three to keep the lead at a hefty margin. In fact, had Murray not had to slum with the scrubs for a good part of the fourth quarter (the lead had gotten up to 26), his +/- would have been way higher than his (+19) for the game.
Ode to a Seven Game First Round
When the NBA extended these first round series out to seven games a few years ago, we're sure they envisioned great matchups and high drama, especially in the theoretically close Fourth and Fifth seeds.
Hey, maybe next year.
This particular series was marked by inconsistency of effort from both sides in different games. Instead of eager anticipation because "anybody could win this game" closeness in talent, it was more of a guessing game between both fan bases to see which team would show up that game.
The Hawks had more talent that the Heat, but frittered away any chance of a shorter series due to their own malaise in competing every game. The Heat had the best player (Dwyane Wade if you hadn't see or heard) but wasted his efforts by providing little strategic initiative to get the other players more involved and efficient (took them how long to attack Mike Bibby?).
We'll miss the noble efforts of ABC/ESPN to completely forget the Hawks (John Anderson---hey, we're still here!!), and of course the TNT kissing booth for Wade, but chin up Hawks fans---
--NBA Coverage of LEBRON JAMES is on the way!
The HHB congratulates the Atlanta Hawks for their first round accomplishments---trophies and participation ribbons are available for pickup in the Comments Area.