Much Respect Due

Before the series I entered into a wager with the Hotlanta Hawks blog .  If the Celtics won, they would have to turn their blog green for a week.  If the Hawks won, I'd have to write 500 words on how great the Hawks are.  I felt that it was still a lopsided bet, so I tossed in a promise to write 300 words for each Hawks win.  Little did I know that I'd be stretched out to a total of 900 words.  But hey, that's better than 1,400 so I'm not complaining.  I already delivered 300 words after the first loss, but I couldn't bring myself to deliver after loss numbers 2 or 3 until after the series.  But now I'm here to pay up and give props where they are due.

As it turns out, this series has given me a lot more respect and admiration for this young Hawks team, so this won't be nearly as hard as it sounds.  Of course, after the 34 point drubbing the C's handed the Hawks, I'm in a much better mood to write this as well.  Where shall we begin?  How about with Joe Johnson?

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Of course I've known his game and followed him since he was drafted.  But I haven't been tracking him close enough to understand just how far he's come since that first half year in Boston.  I knew he was a versatile player, but I never knew that he could dominate a game in different ways.  Consider the contrasts between game 4 and game 6.  In the former, he put the team on his back and simply abused the Celtics vaunted defense in the fourth quarter.  It was a historic performance that Dominique Wilkins would be proud of.  As others have pointed out, you can't simply blame it on Ray Allen's defense or Doc Rivers not putting someone like Tony Allen on him.  Once he blew by his defender, he went over, around, and through the rest of the defense as well.  We simply had no answer for him.

So Doc's answer the rest of the series was to take the ball out of his hands and force the rest of the Hawks to beat us.  Worked fine in game 5, but Johnson and the rest of the Hawks made an adjustment of their own.  JJ simply played the role of distributor all game.  The defense aggressively doubled him, he patiently waited for the right angle, and delivered the ball to an open teammate.  Time after time he found the right guy and they made the shots necessary.  I'm not sure how he only finished with 5 assists because he was setting the table all night long.  Clearly Joe Johnson is the crème of this crop and Atlanta is lucky to have him on the team.

After Joe Johnson, the biggest factor in this series was the shot blocking frontcourt of the Hawks, led by Josh Smith.  There were times, in particular in game 6, that the Celtics players looked completely lost and intimidated when they ventured anywhere in the paint.  There weren't so many blocked shots but every single shot was altered or adjusted in a way that made the shooter uncomfortable.  It had to be a psychological thing.  Every shot looked unnatural and there was simply no confidence.  Even the seven foot, impossibly long Kevin Garnett was forced into fadeaways and alligator arm layups that rolled feebly off the rim.  Rondo dribbled into the paint and immediately looked for ways to get out of there.  In fact, his too-soft lob passes to the perimeter were getting deflected and intercepted too often.  It was simply a train wreck for all involved.  For some reason, at home it wasn't as big of a deal.  Celtics players took it right at the shot blockers like you should.  They made the Hawks player make their move and reacted to what the defense gave them.  Regardless, if the Hawks can keep Josh Smith and coach Woodson on the same page, they'll have themselves a great weapon there.

I can't say enough great things about Al Horford either.  Sure, I wasn't happy with his finger pointing taunting that led to Pierce's gesture and fine, but he's an emotional rookie and we'll give him a pass for now.  At least he didn't try to take Rondo's head off, but I digress and this is a complimentary post so I'll move on.  All the stories I've heard about him have been exceedingly positive.  He apparently has a quiet but strong confidence about him that teammates appreciate.  He was the straight man to Joakim Noah's emotional leadership at Florida and now he's being a little more vocal in Atlanta.  Taking on a leadership role as a rookie deserves a lot of respect, even on a team as young as the Hawks.  His play on the court deserves its own mention.  He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, but he was able to prove in the postseason that he will not flinch or bow down when the stakes are raised.  He's going to be a great player for years to come.

See, once again I've gone well past my word quota and I haven't even gotten around to Bibby, Marvin, Zaza, and Childress.  Maybe next year, since I think the Hawks have a very good future ahead of them.  If they can develop Acie Law into a solid point guard and mix some veterans in with their kids, they could do some real damage in the next few years.

Last and certainly not least, a shout out goes out to Hawks fans everywhere.  The Phillips Arena was absolutely rocking all series long and it was a major boost to your team.  You really did "shock the world" simply by forcing the series to seven games, and the home court deserves a lot of credit.  Well done.  Now do your team proud and reward them with that same great support next year and who knows how good they'll be?  Hats off you you.

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