OK, Atlanta Hawks. You got our attention. The bandwagon is getting really crowded after the impressive victory Monday night in Indianapolis, but it’s not like you’re going to turn us all down, right?
Some of us might be a little late to the party, but everyone should be glad to join in now that the Hawks are one win away from upsetting the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks were only 38-44 this season, but they still made the playoffs. This was a team that went 2-10 in February, including an eight-game losing streak. The Hawks also had two six-game losing streaks late in the season. They looked awful, really, and it was not crazy to go ahead and hope they’d keep losing to get more ping pong balls in the NBA lottery.
Instead, the Hawks secured the eighth seed by winning six of their final eight games to hold off the New York Knicks. And then they were lucky to get paired against the most dysfunctional team in the NBA the past two months -- Indiana.
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That’s the story of this series. The Pacers are losing it. The Pacers are trailing 3-2 in the seven-game series. The Pacers are falling apart. But perhaps now it’s time for analysts to realize the Hawks are also winning it. They have played pretty well and deserve to be one win away from the second round.
Sure, Atlanta’s big lead shrunk to nine points late in the game Monday night, but everyone knew the Pacers weren’t going to totally fold up in front of the home crowd. Atlanta still won, and it was still impressive, even if it wasn’t by 30 points.
Does this Atlanta team even have a star? The Hawks have several good players, like Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap. Al Horford has been injured for a long time, and the Hawks somehow survived without him. But this is an ordinary team with a couple of decent players who can have great games from time to time.
This franchise rarely has had a star. It has had a lot of good players, some very good. A case could be made the only real star was Dominique Wilkins, who is a Hall of Famer.
But it’s a team sport, and this particular team seems to be clicking on all cylinders. The Pacers certainly are a mess, but not all eight seeds would play Indiana this tough. That’s why the Hawks deserve as much credit as the favorites deserve criticism.
How can a role player like Mike Scott take control of the game Monday night? Scott won the game for Atlanta with a memorable second quarter. How could a role player like Shelvin Mack score 20 points in a game like that? Well, those performances show what this team is all about right now. It’s a decent combination of talent, even if there is no star.
Now the Hawks have to finish off Indiana on Thursday night in Atlanta. They must do it at home, since it’s hard to imagine the Hawks going back to Indiana for a seventh game and pulling off another upset.
This is a franchise that never has been to the conference finals. That’s amazing, considering the Hawks have been in Atlanta since 1968. There have been several good teams and a few great ones, but this bunch that finished six games below .500 might be the best candidate in decades to break through that barrier.
Hopefully, the crowd will be loud Thursday night, both at the arena and around the state. The Hawks took a peculiar route, but they might be on their way to doing something quite special for a team with a losing record in the regular season.
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 twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.