Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Hawks Go Big For Their First Last Chance

Finally. Not finally in the "What took you so long?" sense, rather finally in the "It took a long time for this to be possible" sense. With Al Horford missing three games, Josh Smith missing one game, Zaza Pachulia missing four games (and counting), Marvin Williams and Tracy McGrady giving Larry Drew little reason for extended minutes, the Hawks haven't had anything close to a full complement of frontcourt players, forcing Joe Johnson into an unflattering matchup with Paul Pierce for much of the series.

Combine the short-handed squad with Larry Drew's unwillingness to ride his best healthy players and an inability to figure out a point guard rotation that doesn't include Jannero Pargo and you've largely explained the 3-1 deficit.

On the evidence of Sunday night's game, neither Josh Smith nor Al Horford are near 100%. Marvin Williams has been thoroughly befuddled when tasked to guard Paul Pierce. The Hawks have yet to score 85 points in a game in the series. Still, the Hawks (two-point favorites tonight, mind you) have a very real opportunity to make a business trip to Boston before the week ends.

Smith and Horford don't have to be 100% to be far more productive than the alternatives and if Williams could manage to be only as ineffective as Joe Johnson in defending Paul Pierce, then the Hawks might be able to take advantage of Johnson posting up Avery Bradley or Rajon Rondo or Ray Allen, might force Doc Rivers to use the deeper recesses of his bench. Kirk Hinrich doesn't have much left but Jannero Pargo never had much to begin with.

The most shocking thing about Sunday night's debacle was not that the Hawks lost by 22 points but that the Celtics scored 90 points in three quarters. That's highly unlikely to happen again.

Predicting the Hawks is a fool's errand. Doubly so in the playoffs. Marvin Williams might plumb previously unexplored depths of playoff incompetence. Smith and Horford may be physically incapable of outplaying Kevin Garnett. Joe Johnson might post up a smaller Celtics defender only to retreat dribble in order to take the shot Boston wants him to take in the first place.

Even a victory tonight might just postpone playoff elimination until two or four days hence with some soon-to-be unfortunate self-aggrandizing post-game quotes to boot. But victories are good. No amount of frustration should make a team's failure the more attractive option.

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