May 6, 2011, 1:23 PM EDT
Among the bouquet of surprises in this most unpredictable of NBA playoffs, the one that gets me:
The Atlanta Hawks are good.
I mean playoff good. They’ve been regular season good for a few years now, but when the lights got brighter, the teams better and the defenses more focused the Hawks were not a threat.
But this season, they beat Orlando and sent that team’s fan into a very nervous state. Then they took Game 1 from the Bulls.
What is going on here? This is basically the same roster that scared nobody for the last couple years, why now?
The best of the Hawks bloggers, Brett LaGree broke it down at TrueHoop. And it starts with one thing we knew would be a boost — Jason Collins. The seldom-used big man allowed the Hawks to single cover Dwight Howard in the first round, then everyone else could stay home on shooters. And it worked.
But the biggest change is at point guard. For the past couple years, that was Mike Bibby. That was a problem. But in the first round it was Kirk Hinrich, brought in from the Bulls and he was good on Jameer Nelson, one of the few other Magic players who could create his own shot. Without Hinrich locking up Nelson it was a lot of Hedo Turkoglu. Advantage Hawks.
But Hinrich is down with a strained hamstring against the Bulls, forcing Jeff Teague into action. A talented backup point guard who never really developed for the Hawks. (Does anyone ever really develop for the Hawks? Another issue for another day.) LeGree explains:
Teague played less than 14 minutes a game and suffered through 12 DNP-CDs during his second season in the league, facts baffling in the wake of the 84 quality minutes he’s played in two games against Chicago. He’s played solid defense, mostly matched up against the league’s MVP (though Teague moved over to chase Kyle Korver around screens some in Game 2) while also shooting 50 percent from the floor, earning eight assists and committing just a single turnover. It’s fair to wonder if the Hawks would have been better than a 44-win team had Teague’s quickness been used more regularly in the regular season.
The same “little used but showing he can ball in the playoffs” storyline is there for Zaza Pachulia. Which brings us to coach Larry Drew. Who came into the playoffs on the hot seat but now….
But Drew deserves credit for the Hawks’ defensive gameplan and execution in the first round and how well the team ran Drew’s much-discussed but not-especially-effective-during-the-regular-season motion offense in the first game in Chicago. Based on these eight playoff games, the long-time NBA assistant, but rookie head coach, looks to be learning on the job, rather than, as had been suggested in the local media, in over his head.
Beating the Bulls still seems unlikely at best. But in these playoffs… I’m done trying to figure it out. The Hawks go home for Game 3 and no outcome will surprise me anymore.
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