For what seemed like all season long the Atlanta Hawks sat in the fourth place position in the East, giving them access to the Home Court Club, but only technically belonging to that group.
Against the top teams in the East (Magic, Celtics, and Tuesday Night's hosts, Cleveland), the Hawks routinely looked over matched (2-10, 1-5 on the road) and wilted in the glare of better basketball. In Game One against the Cavs, the Hawks again looked the part of the hitter who can smash bad pitching, but strikes out against the good.
The Hawks actually got off to a good start, taking an 11-4 lead early on with an offense based on ball movement and a defense that would control the glass. But as the Hawks are want to do, the ball stopped offensively, the Cavs defense tightened, and the Birds eventually wore out, posting a feeble 99-72 effort to lose Game One.
To win against the best home team in basketball at their place, the margin for error is slight. Perhaps being pioneers, the Hawks seemed to try a looser approach to the upset, turning the ball over (17) times to the Cavs (7)--some of which would make even the riskiest of passers blush.
Atlanta also failed to take care of the glass on the defensive end, allowing (15) offensive boards to the Cavs and, unlike their first round opponents (the Heat if you forget frightfully quick), Cleveland's second ranked shooting will make you pay for those extra possessions. Giving such a formidable opponent (15) more shots than you take is not the formula for stealing a game on the road, nor is the thinking that free throws are an optional part of the game (9-18, that's 50 percent for those that attended Florida).
Still, the Hawks kept it close by the end of the first half and trailed only (5) behind excellent inside scoring from Josh Smith (22 total points) and more hot outside shooting from Mike Bibby (7-10, 5-7). When the bell sounded for the second half, however, the Birds came stumbling out of the gate and the Cavs jumped them and never let it get too close again, outscoring their guests 50-28 to close the game.
So Who Won Mr. Congeniality?
LeBron got the MVP trophy before the game and struggled in the first half, having (0) assists by halftime. (Take THAT, Cleveland!) OK, he had (22) points as well and ended with (34) for the game while making it clear the Hawks had no option to guard him soundly. He drove, he shot, he got to the free throw line. He was such a threat on the runouts after a missed hoop that the Hawks pulled nearly everybody as soon as a shot went up, limiting the Hawks potential offensive rebounding opportunities (They had six for the game).
LeBron's effectiveness allowed Mo Williams to continue to beat down ATL by scoring (21) points on 7-12 shooting, and gave Delonte West the freedom to create (9) assists.
Marvin Williams would normally do yeoman's work on LeBron defensively, but Williams is clearly a couple steps behind after missing so many games with his back injury and then all the recent ones with the injured wrist. Even his first free throw was ugly and his infamous moustache lacked presence. It was like watching someone who won a "Look Like Marvin, Play For Marvin" contest before the game.
Actually, it didn't seem like Cleveland had a super game offensively, with Zydrunas Ilgauskus only going 2-9 and Anderson Varejao took (8) shots. Also, when you look at the Hawks starting five, they shot 24-45 (53%). This may have been the Hawks best shot at getting a win at Cleveland, but extra shots for them + Wasted possessions for the Hawks + wasted points from the free throw line = Loss.
It's an equation that seems logical and has been proven all year long by the Hawks. If they want greater success, it'll start on the boards, move to better ball control/movement, and finish with focus from the line.
If not, theyll be down 2-0 and slumping back to the ATL.
Our Prediction? Pain.
The HHB did not offer up a prediction for this series because the Hawks have already shown a solid track record (as stated above) for these type of matchups and we didn't want to be such a wet blanket on the eve of this second round series. Aren't we fan friendly!
See, we would hate to be pessimistic by saying that the Hawks probably only have a good shot at winning a single game this series (Game Three, if forced to pick) and then go down the list of reasons why (immaturity, inconsistency, lack of depth, etc.).
We're the type that picks the alma mater every season to win it all in the March Madness pools, regardless of whether we really think they are going to win. We never wanted to see the good guys win it all---and then have to admit we picked someone else. This way, when they ride to glory, we were riding right along with them.
Which brings us back to the Hawks and the delicate balance between picking with your soul and wanting to maintain integrity.
We picked sweep last round against the Heat because the matchup heavily favored the Hawks and they should have won four in a row. This series against Cleveland is not a good matchup---they can and will attack the basket and can hit the outside shot if the Birds overplay. They have a solid bench with all the roles covered. There is a reason they had the top record in the league, the MVP, top coach, and (2) losses at home.
That reason is that they are good. Better than the Hawks more than the Hawks were better than the Heat. The best outcome we believe the Hawks can do is to have another Boston type series with Cleveland and push them to the brink (that would be to a Game Seven).
To do that would mean that the Hawks played hard and smart for all (48) minutes every game and were willing to exhibit patience, hustle, and maturity on the court.
The HHB congratulates LeBron James for his MVP and hopes that those hideous T-Shirts that accompanied the celebration were the self-dissolving type. Designs for a Mike Woodson T-8 COY shirts can be submitted in the Comments Area.