NBA Playoffs, Boston vs Atlanta

5 May

Two young guns, Rajon Rondo and Jeff Teague, go at it.

Two young guns, Rajon Rondo and Jeff Teague, go at it. Brian Babineau/NABE/Getty

Through the first few NBA playoffs, we have witnessed compelling games. Miami, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City have separated themselves as elite. Other match-ups have been tightly contested and victors are not as easily discernible. Let’s talk about the home town Atlanta Hawks who get no love.

The national media would have you believe that the Atlanta-Boston series is a foregone conclusion. They would be wrong. On Friday night these teams had to go into overtime before Boston prevailed 90-84. The ESPN pregame studio analyst didn’t even give the Hawks a fighting chance against the Celtics.  Mainly because they were the Atlanta Hawks, and secondly because Josh Smith sat out due to a knee injury.  Magic Johnson, who is probably my 2nd favorite NBA player ever, even said he’d come out of retirement if the Hawks won. Another analyst suggested that the team needed to be blown up because the current roster had maximized its potential.

At halftime, with Boston only up by 2, they talked about how horrible the Celtics were playing, barely mentioning the Hawks. Jon Barry even mentioned that if the Hawks played smart basketball like they were playing in the 1st half, they would be a much better team. This, in my opinion, is lazy journalism. The Hawks won 40 games in a shortened season. That would be the equivalent of a 50 win season if the normal 82 games had been played. The Hawks have been a flawed organization for years, and criticism of them has been with merit, whether it was horrible draft picks like Marvin Williams and Shelden Williams.  Missing out on players like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Pau Gasol.  Overpaying a stiff like Jon Koncak and now Joe Johnson; or trading Dominique Wilkins for Danny Manning. However, this year, outside of a few glitches, the Hawks have had an excellent season.

General Manager Rick Sund has done a good job assembling the Hawks current roster, picking up veterans like Tracy McGrady, Erick Dampier, and Jannero Pargo to go with the core group that was already in place. Atlanta is a good basketball team. The problem with them is that their owners, the fractured Atlanta Spirit group, hired a head coach, Larry Drew, on the cheap, and his lack of experience is showing during this series. The Hawks were winning game 2 late in the 3rd quarter when Drew put in his reserves. He played them too long and when the starters returned, their eleven point lead had been cut to 2. Momentum had shifted to the Celtics and they went on to win the game without their best player Rajon Rondo who was serving a one game suspension. During game three, the Hawks played a gutsy game without Smith and had a chance to take the lead with 37 seconds left in regulation with the score tied. However you slice it, Willie Green, a reserve, should not have been the person taking the shot to win the game. Of course he missed. In overtime, the Celtics prevailed and now lead the series 2-1.

To his credit, Drew has tried to implement a motion offense that has led to better ball movement; however, late in regulation and in overtime, Atlanta reverted back to iso Joe. This is where Joe Johnson has the ball at the top of the key, the other Hawks are stationary, and Joe is trying to beat his man and the other team one-on-one. Unimaginative ball at best, with a very low percentage of success. Johnson had a good game, 29 points, and kept the Hawks in it late with big shots, but he went 11-28 from the field, that’s under 40 percent. On the other hand, Jeff Teague was 9-16 from the floor and is playing with a lot of confidence. He needs to be used more in late game situations. As I mentioned in a previous article, Teague and Josh Smith have surpassed Johnson as the team’s best players. Drew, who may end up being a decent coach, must do a better job of end game management, and his defensive schemes need improvement as well. Former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy made an excellent observation that the Hawks were laying off Rondo too much. The Hawks were not respecting his jump shot. Playing him in this way allowed him to spot open teammates for easy buckets. He finished with a triple double.

Game 4 will determine the winner of this series. Josh Smith plans on returning. His effectiveness and a few more adjustments by the Hawks may decide whether this is a long or short series. People look at Boston like they are a championship contender. They still have the big 3, but their window closed a few seasons ago. Sunday’s game will be a wire to wire affair. I’ll go out on a limb, Hawks 82 Celtics 79.

Other predictions: The Heat and Thunder close out their series with sweeps. The Pacers beat Orlando. Philly goes up 3-1 against Chicago, and the Lakers bounce back against Denver.

Enjoy the games.

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