Hawks Narrowly Avoid Elimination

Every year during the NBA playoffs, there comes a moment where a team has a choice to lay down and allow their opponents to get some rest before inevitably heading to the next round, or choose to keep fighting in hopes of pulling off an improbable comeback.

Faced with a “win or stay home” scenario, the Atlanta Hawks nearly handed the Boston Celtics a win but hung in to earn a 87-86 victory in Atlanta.

After a successful but tough season, Hawks coach Larry Drew felt that his team was ready for the challenge of fighting out there way out of a 3-1 hole.

“I think we have had a really good season up until this point. We have overcame a lot of adversity through the course of the season,” Drew said before the game. “This team that has shown that they can take the challenge, especially when you talk about dealing with adversity and tough times.”

The Hawks definitely did their part to keep things interesting, as they made several runs but the Celtics responded at the end of every quarter, making it a back-and-forth battle all the way until the final possession.

After being down as much as ten in the second quarter, the Hawks made a furious run to close the half, making four consecutive three pointers, including two from Marvin Williams. In most cases this would leave a team with a bit of momentum going into the second half. However, a couple of free throw makes and a big dunk from Celtic big man Brandon Bass kept the Hawks from running away. To make things worse, Rajon Rondo drilled a three at the buzzer to send the teams to the Locker-room tied at 40.

In the third quarter, the Hawks played some of the best basketball they’ve played all series. Sparked by a fiery Al Horford who was playing in his first game in Philips arena since undergoing season ending surgery back in January, the Hawks soared to a 12-point lead with less than three minutes to go in the third. Then Rondo struck again.

Rondo closed out the quarter with six points, one assist, one steal and one rebound in the last two minutes and 42 seconds of the third to cut the lead to two.

In the final period the Hawks got the lead back up to seven, but the Celtics crept their way back getting the lead down to one with 10 seconds left to play.

Then Rondo struck. Again.

A Josh Smith inbound bounce pass was intercepted by Rondo giving the Celtics one last crack at closing the series in Atlanta. Luckily for the Hawks, the Celtics seemed so caught off guard by Smith’s blunder that they were unable to get off a good shot.

With the series heading back to Boston for Game 6, the Hawks will once again have their backs against the wall as they go against a pesky Rondo, a hot Paul Pierce and bustling away crowd.

Pierce, Celtics Steal One In Atlanta

After jumping out to a sizable lead early and weathering the storm late to beat the Boston Celtics in game one of their Eastern Conference matchup, the Atlanta Hawks found themselves in trap game heading into the second game of the series Tuesday night.

The Hawks had a lot of things in their favor. Ray Allen has yet to return to action for the Celtics, as he has been plagued with an ailing ankle. Rajon Rondo was forced to sit Tuesday’s contest out because of the infamous bump heard ‘round the world. To top things off, the Hawks again had home court advantage.

Perhaps the most interesting thing of it all is that the Hawks knew exactly what they were getting into.

“We can’t come out thinking that [with] no Rondo that it’s going to be an easy game,” Larry Drew said before the game. “We have to bring our A-game, because our B-game isn’t going to get it done. “

But pre-game coach preachiness was not enough to prevent Atlanta from suffering one of the most embarrassing collapses they have had all season to the tune of an 87-80 loss.

One would think the team missing their starting point guard would be the one to struggle offensively, but with the game on the line, a stellar performance from Paul Pierce and tough Celtics defense left the Hawks looking dazed and confused.

After struggling the entirety of Game 1, Pierce looked like a man on a mission. The 2008 Finals MVP scorched the Hawks for game-highs 36 points and 14 rebounds. In the fourth quarter Pierce knocked down 5-of-7 from the field for 13 points. Atlanta struggled connecting on just 4-of-19 attempts from the field and only managed to outscore Pierce by one.

“The only way we were going to win the game is if Paul played like that,” Doc Rivers said during the postgame press conference. “He knew that. So did [the Hawks], yet he still did it. It just tells you how special he is.”

Avery Bradley, who told HOOPSADDICT.com before the game that he had knocked of his playoff jitters in game one, did a solid job filling for Rondo. The second-year guard scored 14 points while shooting 50 percent from the field. He also contributed on defense with three blocks and three steals.

On Friday, the series shifts to Boston with a completely different tone. The Celtics now have home court advantage, Rondo is set to return from his suspension, and the Hawks may have to go without Josh Smith who left Tuesday night’s game early with a sprained knee. In order for the Hawks to get back in this series Atlanta will have to take a page out of the Celtics book and overcome some major adversity.

“I told our players, ‘this is what playoff basketball is all about,’” Drew said. “It will be a chess match. It’s about adjustments. It’s about when you are on the other end of the stick—really seeing what you are made of.”

Hawks Keep Celtics at Bay

Although the Hawks claim to be ignoring the media, and all the talk of the Boston Celtics being the favorite in their first round playoff matchup, Atlanta certainly played with a chip on their shoulder in the first game of the series last night at Philips Arena.

“We have a quiet bunch,” Hawks head coach Larry Drew Said. “They won’t say much. They will never give any indication that they are upset or that they feel any disappointment.”

Atlanta let their game and their raucous fans do the talking as they climbed out to a big lead early—pushing the gap to as much as 19 in the first half—while managing to keep the Celtics at bay for the rest of the game.

“We don’t listen to the naysayers,” Joe Johnson said after the game. “The game is played out there on the court, not on paper. We are going to do whatever it takes to try to advance to the next round.”

The Celtics struggled in the first half, shooting just 36.6 percent. Garnett was an abysmal 1-of-9 from the field.

“We didn’t play like us,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “But give them credit. Defensively they were terrific.”

One thing the Celtics did do well was pressure Joe Johnson. Johnson went 3-of-15 from the field, and he failed to connect on all nine of his three-point attempts.

“I missed a bunch of wide open shots that I normally make,” Johnson said. “I’m sure Game 2 will be a lot different. I’m just glad guys like Jeff [Teague] and Josh [Smith] were able to carry us down the stretch.”

Josh Smith led the way for the Hawks, scoring 22 points and snagging a career playoff high, 18 rebounds.

“When [Smith] is playing with that type of energy, when he plays with that type of rhythm he just makes us so much better,” Drew said. “He does so much out there. Things that may not show up on the stat sheet…He just played a monster game.”

The Hawks also got a good boost from their bench as they outscored the Celtics’ reserves 17-4.

“We need those guys to be aggressive,” Johnson said. “Our bench is going to have to play a big role in this series.”

The Hawks seemed to benefit from the hot stretch they experienced at the end of the season.  Atlanta won four of their last five regular season match ups, earning them home court advantage and momentum. The effects of both were on display last night.

Game 2is set for Tuesday at 7:30 in Atlanta.

In The Scrum With Larry Drew

The Atlanta Hawks capped off a back-to-back-to-back with a victory over the streaking Utah Jazz. Somehow the Hawks managed to get the win after four overtimes Sunday, despite hosting the New Jersey Nets Friday and flying to Washington to face the Wizards Saturday. Here is what coach Drew had to say afterwards.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Nets Still Flailing Despite Additions

Mikhail Prokhorov made some bold claims shortly after becoming majority owner of the New Jersey Nets. Despite being one of the most aggressive teams in the league in terms of pursuing trades and attempting to lure in free agents, The Nets (16-4) have little to show for the efforts.

Squandered attempts to orchestrate a trade for Dwight Howard saw the team settle with a acquiring Gerald Wallace from the Portland Trailblazers.

The Nets have lost five of their last six, including losses to other bottom feeders, the Washington Wizards, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the New Orleans Hornets.

Three-time all-star, Deron Williams, was visibly frustrated after the Nets’ most recent loss, which came Friday night against the Atlanta Hawks.

“It’s been a tough week,” Williams admitted. “Teams go through it. We are going through it.”

As with any young team, a lack of focus seems to be the blame. Although they are capable of pulling together a few good quarters, it is rare that the Nets play a full 48 minutes of solid hoops.

“I think our focus is there,” Gerald Green, who the Nets recently called up from the D-league, said. “Maybe not the whole entire game and I think that’s probably one of the things we need to work on. To me it just seems like we are just two or three plays from getting the victory, for these last five games.”

A lack of focus during the phase of any NBA game can be fatal—especially when it happens in the fourth quarter.

“The last couple of games we were in the game or we were up in the fourth quarter,” Green said. “It’s like we are on or two plays away from us getting the victory. I think we just have to do a better job of finishing out the quarters, finishing out the games.”

Another cause for the Nets problems is the absence of Brook Lopez. The seven-foot center has only been available for five games this season and is set to miss at least a couple more weeks.

After missing the first half of the season with a broken foot, Lopez returned only to sprain his ankle.

Coach Avery Johnson said the team is dedicated to get back to full health before placing Lopez back on the court.

“You just hope the best for the kid,” Johnson said. “We just want to get him back completely healed so we don’t have any more setbacks. We’ve had just a small snap shot of what we could be as we continue to grow and develop and our guys continue to mature.”

In Lopez’s absence, Jordan Williams, New Jersey’s second round pick out of Maryland, has continued to develop. His numbers do not jump off the page, but he has dropped eight points in the last two games.

Also, his high-energy play has left an impression on his teammates.

“He came in a little out of shape,” Deron Williams said.  “He had to work on some things and I think it has made him a lot tougher as a person and as a player. I’m definitely happy with his development.”

Jordan Williams’ game continues to develop and the 6-foot-ten, 260-pounder continues to look more comfortable as his minutes increase.

“I’m just trying to build my confidence,” Jordan Williams said. “My teammates are doing a good job of helping me with that. I’m just trying to help any way I can. Get points, get rebounds, hustle plays—whatever I can do.”

The Nets managed to end their five game losing streak with a 102-89 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats. Deron Williams will get a chance to face-off against his former team as New Jersey is set to host the Utah Jazz Monday night.

In good times and bad, support your team. Eastbay has coupons available for fan apparel.