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In NBA’s survivalist playoffs, Hawks overcoming adversity better than anybody - The Athletic


Goober Pyle
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by Jeff Schultz 

 

With just more than four minutes left, moments after Kevin Huerter dropped in a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Hawks an unfathomable 24-point lead on a night of seemingly inevitable doom, even Tony Ressler must have had trouble processing this latest sequence of events. From his seat rows up in State Farm Arena, he jumped up and down with his arms flailing in the air like he just won billion-dollar bingo, then stopped and looked to the heavens and covered his face, as if thinking, “Lord: Is this really happening?”

Well, yes. The question is whether this is the result of strange cosmic forces being at work or just the mother of all Atlanta sports market corrections — like throwing craps 79 straight times, only to then get on such a roll that an hour later you’re Scrooge McDuck doing a swan dive into a mountain of gold coins.

This entire Hawks postseason run has been, to use Lou Williams’ words, “kind of surreal.”

The NBA is in survivalist mode. The game’s biggest stars have been dropping at every turn. Kawhi Leonard. Kyrie Irving. James Harden. Anthony Davis. Jamal Murray. Jaylen Brown. And then came Tuesday night, when Trae Youngwas declared out with a bone bruise in his foot less than an hour before the game. This caused the point spread in sportsbooks to balloon from 6 1/2 to nine points.

Remember this as the night Las Vegas burned, along with all logical scenarios. The Hawks, expected to be flattened, instead led by 10 points in the first quarter and 13 at halftime and won going away 110-88 to even the conference finals at two wins each. The journey through Oz continues.

Meanwhile: Mike Budenholzer, welcome to your nightmare.

The lopsided margin was helped by the exit of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who suffered a hyperextended knee in the third quarter. So his status for the rest of the series is in doubt. But this is where it should be pointed out that the Hawks were minus Young for all four quarters and have been playing without De’Andre Hunter since the opening round and are trying to endure with Bogdan Bogdanovic playing on his own bad knee.

This is not the postseason for one team to declare, “But you don’t understand: We were missing (fill in the blank).”

Everybody is missing somebody. Nobody is navigating around the holes better than the Hawks.

That’s why they’re here, two wins from going to the NBA Finals. It’s not because Antetokounmpo suffered a knee injury in the third quarter. It’s because the Hawks learned to overcome their own injuries, obstacles and any semblance of deficiencies better than anybody else, thanks in part to the calming leadership of interim coach Nate McMillan.

The difference between athletes/coaches and fans/media is they don’t often view circumstances through the same prism. Williams, who three months ago contemplated retirement because he wasn’t sure he wanted to play after being traded by the Los Angeles Clippers back to his hometown of Atlanta, was laying on a training table when McMillan told him he had to start for Young.

“I said, ‘OK,’ and he walked off — that was the whole conversation,” Williams said. “It’s not like a ‘Remember the Titans’ thing that happens in the locker room.”

And the reaction in the locker room when it was learned Young was out?

“It’s game preparation. Everybody has their own routine,” Williams said. “It’s actually a strange thing when you’re in an NBA locker room because nobody is talking to nobody. Everybody is in their own world trying to get themselves prepared for the game. The only other person I spoke to besides Nate was Trae. I just asked him was he feeling all right, and then I had to go out on the floor and get prepared.”

Williams scored 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting with eight assists, five rebounds, one steal and just one turnover. Bogdanovic scored 20 points with six 3-pointers after totaling 20 points with four 3s in the first three games. John Collins, in the cameo role of his diminutive point guard, actually threw alley-oop passes. Clint Capela scored a basket from behind the basket.

In Game 5 in Milwaukee, expect a Danilo Gallinari tumbling pass finishing with a double twist and a dunk.
 

Fans rocked the arena. They chanted, “Hawks in six,” in the final minutes. They sang the “Na-na-na, goodbye,” song.

In Atlanta.

IN ATLANTA.

One more time: The Hawks started the season 14-20. They fired their head coach. They set the bar low: just make the playoffs.

“At the start of the season, you didn’t hear me say in my preseason press conference, ‘It’s Eastern Conference finals or bust,'” general manager Travis Schlenk said.

What’s the logical argument for this run ending now?

There’s a possibility that neither Young nor Antetokounmpo will play the rest of the series. A bone bruise in the foot and a hyperextended knee are not generally quick-healing injuries. So which team has proven to be better at overcoming adversity? Which coach has pushed buttons better? Which team has proven to have more depth?

Sure, the Hawks expanded their lead from 10 points (62-52) to 25 (87-62) when Antetokounmpo went out. But didn’t the Bucks have the opportunity to pile it on when Young was on the bench?

“When superstar-caliber guys go out, you put some other guys in the game, and their eyes are this wide, and they’re like this is a great opportunity for me to show and prove my abilities,” Williams said. “You don’t want to be the guys that let them off the hook because Giannis was off the floor.”

An hour before the game, McMillan told Williams he would start and Kris Dunn would back him up. So the Hawks would start a player who considered retiring rather than play for a team he wasn’t familiar with, even if in his hometown, and his backup would be a player who played four games during the regular season and until mop-up time in Game 3, only four minutes in the playoffs. Really?

“I mean, we’re pros, too,” Williams said.

More than that. They are pros with an uncommon level of resilience and have given enough inspiring performances to turn any cynic to mush.

“As I said to them, we’ve been here before where we’ve had guys have injuries and they can’t play, and another guy has to step up and fill in for that guy,” McMillan said. “So it wasn’t something that we hadn’t seen. Of course, Trae does a lot for us, and he’s a big part of what we like to do. But these guys have just been playing solid team basketball regardless of who was out on the floor, and they continued to just give themselves a chance to win ballgames.”

Two wins from the Finals. No reason to believe it’s going to stop now.
 

 

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2 hours ago, Goober Pyle said:

Everybody is missing somebody. Nobody is navigating around the holes better than the Hawks.

That’s why they’re here, two wins from going to the NBA Finals. It’s not because Antetokounmpo suffered a knee injury in the third quarter. It’s because the Hawks learned to overcome their own injuries, obstacles and any semblance of deficiencies better than anybody else, thanks in part to the calming leadership of interim coach Nate McMillan.

Great article. 

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20 hours ago, Goober Pyle said:

by Jeff Schultz 

Well, yes. The question is whether this is the result of strange cosmic forces being at work or just the mother of all Atlanta sports market corrections — like throwing craps 79 straight times, only to then get on such a roll that an hour later you’re Scrooge McDuck doing a swan dive into a mountain of gold coins.

 

This statement pretty much summarizes the entire Atlanta fanbase right now.

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