The Atlanta Hawks have a lot to feel good about as they upset the Orlando Magic in the first round of the NBA playoffs and reprise their role as the underdog in a round two showdown with the Chicago Bulls.
The Hawks have to be happy with the production they got from their two shooting guards, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford. Crawford looked unstoppable at times as he averaged 20.5 points per game in the series—6.3 points more than his regular season average. Although he was held to just eight points in Game 5, Crawford scored 23 points or more in the first four games of the series and finished with a 19 point effort on Thursday.
Johnson still wasn’t the dominant scorer he once was but he was very effective in the first round of the playoffs. His unique combination of size and agility can cause match up problems for any team in the league and the Magic were no exception as they had to throw a number of help defenders his way to prevent him from getting into the post where he handled business with a number of floaters and fancy layups that even Howard struggled to defend. In Game 4, Johnson knocked down clutch free throws and in Game 6 he made several timely buckets in the 4th quarter to carry the Hawks to wins.
Stan Van Gundy touched on one of the Hawks strengths during the post-game press conference after Game 6.
“They are very good when they play from out in front,” Van Gundy said. “They get their confidence going and they really feed off of playing out in front.”
Van Gundy is right as the Hawks seemed to have mastered the art of keeping a team just and arms length away. Game 6 is a perfect example as the Hawks got the lead as high as 12 in the fourth quarter but a barrage of violent dunks by Dwight Howard had the Magic well within striking distance late in the game but Atlanta managed to weather the storm.
Although the Hawks appear to be incapable of putting away teams early, its hard to ignore their ability to win close games considering five of the six games in this series were decided by ten points or less.
The biggest concern for the Hawks moving forward has to be the injury to Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich, who is listed as doubtful for Game 1 with a strained hamstring, was a major part of Atlanta’s defensive efforts against Orlando. He played solid on ball defense and his ability to fight through screens limited the effectiveness of the Magic pick-and-roll game.
Hinrich was arguably the best perimeter defensive player on a team that forced, a playoff low, 26.2 percent from three against a team filled with sharp shooters. Needless to say, if he can’t suit up against the the Bulls, he will be missed. Even if Hinrich does return its hard to imagine he will be enthused to chase around Derrick Rose with a hamstring that is less than 100 percent.
Round one proved that the Hawks are capable of dealing with a super star but slowing down Rose who averaged 27.6 points, 6.2 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game in round one, presents a whole new list of challenges.
Upsetting the Bulls in the Conference Semifinals will be no easy task but the now battle tested Hawks have a nice bit of momentum and will undoubtedly make the series competitive.