When did this happen? For most of the season the Hawks wallowed in mediocrity. For the first two games of the series they hung around in the first half and fell apart in the second. Thirty-eight percent shooting and 18 turns a game does not tend to build up a great deal of momentum. I don't know if Mike Woodson suddenly channeled John Wooden or if it was Al Horford's screening of the Rumble in the Jungle. The fans, however, definitely got the message and basketball has suddenly taken center stage in Atlanta. This couldn't have come at a better time. The Falcons just dubiously staked their future to (please don't be the next Trent Dilfer) Matt Ryan, then scrambled through the rest of the draft in an attempt to put pieces around him (Joe Baker even had himself going in the second round. And why address the void at DT when Grady Jackson might be available). The Braves have already been saddled with the dark-horse mantle and are depending on a couple of 40+ pitchers. College football is still a bit far away, not that you would know it from the sports page here. I forgot the hockey team's name. The Hawks, shockingly, have stepped into the void. And I am pleasantly dumbfounded.
With the exception of the thoroughly average Marvin Williams, all the Hawks pieces are suddenly operating as envisioned by basketball's (sport's?) most inept front office. Mike Bibby is guiding the team and hitting some shots. Josh Smith is changing the flow of the game with his athleticism on both ends, not to mention hitting some key outside shots, making clutch free throws, and flashing a bit of a post up game. Al Horford is a beast in the interior, even if the offense still comes and goes. Joe Johnson hit huge shots under pressure tonight and executed the very interesting pick and roll with Bibby as the screener beautifully. Off the bench, Josh Childress grabbed nine boards, was able to bring the ball up against the press at times, and threw down what might have been the nastiest dunk of the post-season were it not for the hammer Smith dropped in game three. Even the underutilized Solomon Jones made a contribution off the bench, pinning a Boston shot against the glass and generally being disruptive on the defensive end. This was fantastic stuff and the fans actually appeared to acknowledge it.
Does all this add up to a potential first round upset? Without a doubt, picking up a win at the Garden will be ferociously difficult. The Hawks, however, finally seem to have an identity. They are an up tempo team, capable of running with anyone in the league. Smith makes moves that are straight out of NBA Jam, Johnson has broken through as a legit late game go to guy in the half court, and Horford has the makings of a stud post player with the requisite mean streak. After games three and four, I can actually say the words "Hawks Highlight Factory" with a straight face, or better yet, an irony-free smile . And, at least for tonight, Atlanta sports fans have something new and promising to cheer about.