The Last Word With Lang Whitaker | May 1, 2008
Lang Whitaker is many things - executive editor of Slam
Magazine, a columnist for SI.com, and most importantly, a
die-hard Hawks fan. For 2007-08 , Lang will be sharing his
thoughts on the team in an exclusive column for Hawks.com. Check
back every Wednesday throughout the season to read his latest
musings, and read him every day at
"Turning The Corner"
by Lang Whitaker
Well, I didn't see that coming. Come on, tell the truth: You had no idea that
was going to happen either. After the Hawks got pounded in Games 1 and 2 up in
Boston, even I, perhaps the universe's most optimistic Hawks fan, didn't think
the Hawks were going to be able to win one game against Boston, much less even
up the series.
But they did it. Somehow, some way, by hook or by crook, the Hawks managed to
beat Boston twice, convincingly. I was lucky enough to be in Atlanta for both
games. As I drove up to Philips Arena about three hours before Game Three, I saw
a bunch of people walking down Marietta Street wearing Hawks jerseys and hats,
something I don't remember seeing since back in the late '90s. Seriously? Was
this really happening? The city was getting back on board with the Hawks.
I can't really blame the casual fans for turning their backs the last few years,
because as this crew has come together, the Hawks haven't been much fun to
watch. That changed for good in
The Hawks made play after play against the best defensive team in the NBA.
up to KG, Josh Smith looked like he was
back in the
dunk contest and Mike Bibby shook off his Boston blues and led his team
like a veteran point guard should. Plus, The Highlight Factory was rocking.
After Game Three ended I escaped to the relative quiet of the Hawks locker room,
and I noticed my right ear was almost completely deaf, like I'd been seated by
the speakers at a Li'l Wayne concert. You know the Celtics weren't expecting to
be confronted like that.
We also can't say enough about Joe Johnson, who has literally carried this team
for three years and deserves more than one game like his
Game Four performance. And he definitely deserved better than to have
Dick Bavetta saddle him with a questionable second foul early in Game Five last
Our Hawks may have lost Game Five, but I truly believe we turned a corner over
the last week. NBA teams generally don't improve by leaps and bounds
instantaneously -- it takes one guy learning how to defend a pick and roll,
another guy improving his jumper, this guy getting stronger, that guy figuring
out how to pass out of double-teams. Those pieces continue to mesh and improve,
and slowly but surely, NBA teams get better. Or you can mortgage your future and
get better immediately, like Boston did, while simultaneously acknowledging that
three years from now your team is going to be bereft of stars and draft picks. I
prefer trying to build for something long-term, and that's the way Atlanta
Spirit has been going about their business.
Building for the future, however, is going to take some spending this
summer...wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. We'll get into that stuff next week.
For now, tomorrow night in Atlanta is Game Six, and the Hawks have a legitimate
chance of tying this series up. That'll leave a Game Seven on Sunday in Boston.
And in one game, as the Hawks have proved time and again, anything and
everything can happen.
I'm hoping for a Game Six win so we can take it back to Boston for Game Seven
and have our own damn tea party.
But here's hoping the Hawks can make this one a sweet tea party.
MAILING IT IN...
Reader Mitch writes...
Longtime Hawks fan, going back to the St. Louis days of '67!
What a long drought it's been, in all ways. Oy.
Watching the Boston Massacres of recent days brought back indelible memories of
the last significant Hawks/Celtic tilts played at the garden, from the Dominique
Era. Those teams, on occasion, gave the Boston Five as much as they could
handle, but ... the Bad Guys always came out on top. Those road rims seem to
repel Hawks' FG attempts in an uncanny way. Whatever offense the team was
running often ended up with 'Nique getting swarmed with nowhere to go, forcing
up a terrible shot. The athletic, running, high-flying team that I loved -- so
successful during the late 80's regular seasons -- was ill-suited for the
precision, half-court style that wins out in the playoff grind. (That's a polite
way of saying the Hawks underachieved in the playoffs ... whether against the
Celtics or the Pistons).
Then that team was no more. And things changed ... changed some more ... and
slowly got much, much worse.
But now ... a return to the Playoffs! Strike up the band! Unfurl the banners!
Declare a city holiday! Right?
This current team has in no way come close to giving anything resembling
competition so far. Watching them on TV -- a rare event in Chicago -- was
anything but pleasant; a reminder of how ugly the NBA game has de-evolved. Maybe
my standards are too high (Jordan-era Bulls spoiled a lot of hoops fans around
here?), but just to reach the Playoffs with a 36-46 record (or whatever it was),
and play so poorly, in this paltry eastern division, is an achievement that has
to be kept in perspective. My hoops fan friends, who barely know any players on
the Hawks roster, are stunned at how poorly they played. Even against arguably
the best in the East. I assure them that they occasionally do look like a
quality team ... but not now.
This playoff thing, such as it is, is a step. But there are many more to come.
Thanks for writing in, Mitch. And I hope you liked Games 3 and 4 as much as you
disliked 1 and 2.