Sunday night’s 83-74 victory over the Boston Celtics was a fantastic step forward for Hawks Basketball.
And it’s not because the win meant all that much in the grand scheme of the playoff picture — Atlanta was supposed to win that game, and they need to win Games 1 and 2 in order to maintain home-court advantage through Game 4 of the series.
What the Hawks did, in four quarters, was show the national sports media that the Celtics weren’t a shoo-in to the Eastern Conference Finals like they were proclaimed to be, 24 hours before the series began. ESPN, TNT and insert-sports-newspage-here were all asking if this would be the year for one more Celtics run to the NBA Finals.
Never mind that they’d have to win 12 postseason games to get there, and they had yet to win a single one.
So while Paul Pierce sat in the rafters of Boston Garden in that NBA Playoffs commercial, proclaiming, “This could be our last shot,” the Hawks were scheming up a plan to send Pierce and his teammates back to Earth.
Every Hawks fan should have been impressed by what they saw last night, because for once, their team didn’t buy into the distractions of that team in green. Maybe it was because Zaza Pachulia didn’t play — but the way they went about their business and kept the Celtics out of their heads should be noted.
It should be noted by Michael Wilbon. And Magic Johnson. And Charles Barkley.
But I don’t blame the national basketball “analysts” for being unprepared when it came to the Hawks. Everyone tuned out when Al Horford went down with a season-ending injury. They thought that was the end of the Hawks’ chances to achieve anything this year, and they stopped watching.
Now, they are really hoping Game 1 was a fluke, because Boston looked really bad against a Hawks team that figured out, very early, that the Celtics weren’t going to rebound the ball on offense, among other glaring weaknesses.
Sure, Paul Pierce had a terrible game Sunday night. But what if that was due to injuries and tight defense? What if he won’t be productive at all in this series?
And what if Ray Allen can’t return? What if the Celtics go 0-for-three-point-range like they did in Game 1? How does that factor into Boston’s double-bye to the conference finals?
Rajon Rondo was the only player on the visiting roster who was able to slow tempo and take control of the game Sunday night. Until Kevin Garnett finally showed up in the fourth quarter, Rondo was carrying the team.
Then, he lost his mind and got ejected with less than a minute left in the game.
Because he made contact with a referee, Rondo will be suspended at least one game. Of course, I can promise you that it will only be one game, because the Celtics need him. And the league needs the Celtics.
They made all those shiny commercials with Boston, not Atlanta. The NBA needs the Celtics, and they can afford to drop the Hawks by the wayside.
Problem is, the Hawks aren’t going away.