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 www.SLAMonline.com
"Turning The Corner"
by Lang Whitaker
Lang Whitaker Archives
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 Games Three and Four. The Hawks made play after play against the best defensive team in the NBA. Zaza stood 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 night.
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.
Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The best email he receives each week will run in this column.