Despite loss, Hawks on the upswing

sports@macon.comMay 3, 2014 

Hawks Pacers Basketball

The Atlanta Hawks went seven games with Indiana in the first round of the 2013-14 NBA playoffs before being eliminated.

DARRON CUMMINGS — AP

Well, it was fun while it lasted. It was fun to think the Atlanta Hawks, the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, might actually knock off the top-seeded Indiana Pacers.

But a funny thing happened on the way to making the Hawks’ reservations for Washington. The Pacers reminded us why there were the No. 1 seed with two very impressive wins to save themselves.

Indiana probably won the series in Game 6, when the Pacers rebounded from a five-point deficit with only three minutes left and went on a 14-1 run. The Hawks really didn’t look the same from then on out.

The Pacers then clinched it Saturday when Roy Hibbert woke up. Hibbert had been in a two-game funk and arguably had been the root of Indiana’s problems for the past month, but Saturday he actually looked like a productive center who at times could not be stopped.

Indiana deserves a ton of credit. The Pacers’ obituary was written all week, particularly going into Thursday’s game. Their backs were up against the wall more than once. But they pulled together through their dysfunction and proved they were the better team. Plus, Indiana finally decided to play a little defense Saturday, and it salvaged the Pacers’ season.

So Atlanta will not move on to face the Wizards in round two. The Hawks had their chances, but you can’t shoot 30 percent from the field in a deciding Game 7 and expect to win, especially when the opponent shoots 47 percent. By the way, the Hawks shot 50 percent from the field Monday when they won Game 5.

Paul Millsap was at the center of the shooting issues. He just went stone cold and could not score until it was too late.

The Hawks lost, and that’s never good. But this franchise did get a shot in the arm by the appearance and the three wins in the first round. You have to look at the big picture with this franchise. They are trying to build for the long term, and, despite the losing regular season record, they almost beat the Pacers.

There is significant hope this franchise is going in a very positive direction. Steve Koonin came on board a few weeks ago as the new team president. He has impressive credentials after 14 years at Turner Broadcasting, the past several as president of TNT and TBS. Koonin seems to want to brand this team, and maybe he’ll realize there are a lot of fans outside the 404 area code.

We already know how good a job Danny Ferry has done in his two years as the general manager. Heck, when he got rid of Joe Johnson’s awful contract we knew he was good at his job. But he’s slowly creating a roster of talented players and still has financial flexibility moving forward. He’s trying to make this team look like the Eastern Conference’s version of the San Antonio Spurs, and that’s a great blueprint to follow.

And the man Ferry brought in as head coach, Mike Budenholzer, has also proved he’s pretty good. He lost his best player (Al Horford) for most of the season and still had his team within one win of advancing past the top seed. The Hawks are a much better team fundamentally now under Budenholzer than they were with former head coach Larry Drew.

That’s a good combination. Have a good front office and a good head coach on the same page. That’s the formula winning teams have.

So it’s disappointing the Hawks’ season is over, but this organization has an upward trend in motion. They would have perhaps accelerated the time frame if they had gotten past Indiana, but there still are a lot of positives moving forward despite the series loss.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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