The Atlanta Hawks are transforming before our eyes. They are becoming aware of themselves. With that knowledge of self performances like the Thursday’s 106-91 thrashing of the Miami Heat will become more commonplace. The words of Nelson Mandela ring true here, “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, it that we are powerful beyond measure.” These young Hawks are realizing just how powerful they are.
Like all of the other games in this series this contest ended early. Atlanta was able to wrestle control of this game away from the Heat early as a result of Mike Bibby’s hot shooting hand (17 points) and Dwyane Wade’s relative absence (6 first half points). A combination of stingy Hawks defense and a stiff back rendered Wade a mere mortal and allowed Atlanta to play their particular brand of suffocating man to man defense. I asked Joe Johnson about the effort on Wade in the first half.
JW: “You guys, combined with the injuries, held D. Wade to 6 first half points. Talk about your defensive effort against him.”
JJ: “We were aggressive with him. It’s important for us to look to make plays out there. That’s on both ends of the court. We tried to keep a hand in his face and give a complete team effort against him. He (Wade) puts pressure on our defense because he’s also a good passer. Limiting him is always the plan.”
Flip Murray (23 points) and Joe Johnson (25 points) provided much of the offensive firepower that turned this game into a route and led the Hawks scoring attack. The effectiveness of the bench players for both teams is usually an indicator of success. Flip Murray converted on his first six field goals and seemed to answer ever Heat mini run with a bucket. His presence in this game was enormous. I asked Flip about his Game 5 performance.
JW: “Flip, you converted on your first six shots. Talk about your spark tonight and your role with this team.”
FM: “As a team we kept the ball moving side to side to find our shooters. We attacked their rotations and got into the paint to create shots for ourselves and each other.” (In reference to his role with the team) I have to be aggressive. Coach (Mike Woodson) doesn’t want me passive out there.”
For all of the weaknesses that the Atlanta Hawks harbor (inconsistency, immaturity, lack of discipline) their strengths so overshadow them that, at times, we forget they exist. The thing that makes this team so formidable is their incredible capacity to absorb the energy from the home crowd and sustain it for long periods of time. They are a walking time bomb waiting for a spark, any spark, to ignite them.
On this night that spark came in the form of a few hard fouls during the second quarter. Solomon Jones applied one to Dwyane Wade and the ensuing gathering of players seemed to jostle the embers of the capacity crowd. Wade’s hard foul on Mo Evans nearly set fire to Philips Arena and the young Hawks were certainly ignited thereafter. Not even a stellar second half by Wade, who finished with 29 points, could derail the Hawks on this night.
Coach Eric Spoelstra talked about the Hawks frenzied home crowd and overall performance.
ES: “They (the Atlanta Hawks) did what they had to do tonight. They defended home court. They embarrassed us and pretty much turned the end of the game into a highlight show. One good thing about this is that we have that same opportunity (to defend home court). We’re very confident and we look forward to going back to Miami.”
To their credit, the Heat certainly do not look at this game as a sign of things to come. They seemed almost excited about getting the opportunity to take this series back to Southern Florida. I asked Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers what they would do to get their confidence back for game six.
JW: “How will you look to get back on track after this loss?”
MC: “First of all, our confidence is not shaken. We know they will make runs. We have to get stops. Also, we have to keep our momentum when we get going offensively. We have to match their intensity.”
DW: “The Hawks play with a lot of energy at home. They feed off of the crowd, so will we. We have to do the same thing at home. I can’t wait to get back to Miami. It will be a blackout (for the game Friday). I can’t wait.”
The Hawks appear to be one of the leagues elite; capable of holding court with any team on any given night. At times they look unbeatable. They may not be elite team like a healthy Lakers, Cavaliers or Celtics squad but is there any doubt that this group of men can contend with the 2nd tier teams like Orlando, Denver, or Houston? I think not.
There are those that feel it’s better to let sleeping dogs lay. Some critics would contend that the Hawks youthful exuberance and willingness to rub the Heat’s collective face in the dirt late in the game was uncalled for. Right or wrong isn’t my argument here. Instead I contend that the Hawks have crashed the party and although they may seem a little out of place at times, they are partying just the same.