The Atlanta Hawks have performed a Dikembe Mutombo-style finger wag at idiots the past few weeks.
Back on February 21, one idiot had the temerity to write that the Hawks’ hopes of putting together a successful season were shrinking to the point of being little more than a sliver. The path to the No. 3 seed? Hard to envision. The possibility of a journey to the East Finals? Remote.
What idiot would write such a thing? Oh… wait a minute: That byline looks familiar.
Yeah — it’s the same person who is writing this piece.
As I acknowledged in this overview the other day, the 2016 Eastern Conference season has been “the teasing season.” Don’t like how an East team is performing? Wait five minutes (or more precisely, five games). This portrait of constant flux and abrupt change remains intact — it’s the stability of instability, one could say.
The Hawks are very much a part of this reality.
After “that idiot” wrote about the grim and dark nature of the Hawks’ season, following two bad home losses right out of the chute after the All-Star break, Atlanta has gone 8-2 in its last 10 games.
The only two NBA teams better than the Hawks in that period of time? The only two teams you could possibly expect: the Warriors and the Spurs (9-1 apiece in that stretch).
The Hawks — ever since the writing of that doomsday piece — have lost three times. Twice, they lost to the Warriors, and both times, they either led or tied the NBA champions in the fourth quarter. They overcame a huge deficit at home and forced the Warriors to subdue them in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. In Oakland roughly a week later, the Hawks took the Warriors to overtime and nearly snapped Golden State’s home-court winning streak.
Even when losing twice, the Hawks acquitted themselves quite well. The only other loss over the past 11 games? A narrow road loss in Toronto against the Raptors. Atlanta overcame every other opponent on its schedule, including the Clippers and Jazz on an extended Western road trip.
In short, the Hawks are giving nothing away. They’re beating every single team they’re supposed to… and even a few they’re not. Moreover, they’re compensating for limitations with the kind of resourcefulness last season’s group displayed on a much more regular basis.
Consider this: Wednesday night’s win over the Detroit Pistons was achieved in spite of the (season-consuming) injury to Tiago Splitter. The loss of a valued backup big man against a team with Andre Drummond figured to be pivotal, if not decisive. The Hawks shrugged it off by getting to the free throw line 34 times and making 28 tries to power their offense. Moreover, Atlanta scored 118 points despite getting only four of those points from Kyle Korver, whose numbers have fallen off sharply this season. The Hawks used 43 bench points (18 from Dennis Schroder) to answer the Pistons’ foremost questions.
Consider this example a few days before the win in The Palace of Auburn Hills: In a 29-point win over the Indiana Pacers over the weekend, the Hawks got just six points from Jeff Teague. Holding Indiana to only 75 points with a blitzing defense that constantly got into passing lanes and made deflections was more than enough to achieve victory. Teague didn’t have to deliver glowing numbers.
No predictions or proclamations will be made in relationship to the next month — I’ve learned not to play that game anymore this season — but know this: Atlanta wondered what kind of playoff team it could have been last season had Thabo Sefolosha played. This year, the Hawks will get to find out, and if Sefolosha really is as important as team insiders felt he was in 2015, Atlanta could not only get the third seed; the Hawks could use that seed to make a run to the East Finals.
No predictions, but my goodness, how different the world looks from the state of Georgia compared to three and a half weeks ago. It’s just the latest abrupt turn in a Hawks season which has witnessed two winning streaks of at least six games… and four separate (unbundled) instances in which Atlanta has lost four out of five games.
Yes, this is just another plot twist in the NBA’s Eastern Conference for 2016… but it might be the plot twist that transforms the way the Atlanta Hawks remember this regular season.