Game 1 thoughts: The East is shaky; the Hawks missed a chance

Laying a little MMA on the Hawks. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

We stipulate that Game 1 of Round 1 can leave a false trail. The underdog believes it has a chance to steal a game on the road and turn a series that has barely begun. The underdog believes it has a chance, period. Over the fullness of a best-of-seven, most underdogs realize why they’re underdogs and wind up  summarily dispatched.

Still, these Game 1s of this Round 1 in the NBA East were especially fascinating. Seeds No. 1 and 3 were beaten. Seed No. 2 — the defending champ, no less — would have lost had C.J. Miles made his makeable shot. The most impressive of the top four seeds was Washington, which was accused by the Atlanta Hawks’ Paul Millsap of playing “MMA” defense, which was curious given that the Wizards aren’t supposed to play much defense and that the Hawks’ 39 free throws (to Washington’s 17) were the only reason this was a game.

All of the above only reinforced the notion left by the regular season — if you’re based in the Eastern Conference, this could be a pretty good time to be pretty good. Cleveland won 51 games, which is the worst return for a team with LeBron James over an 82-game season since 2008. The Celtics won 53 but were beaten handily by both the Cavaliers and the Hawks in the season’s final week. Toronto has now lost four consecutive Round 1 Game 1s at home, which is simply nuts.

The belief remains that the Hawks aren’t very good. (They were outscored on the regular season by 0.9 points per game, which makes you wonder how they made the playoffs.) The belief also remains that they have the sort of draw that could lead to an extended postseason stay.

The Wizards haven’t reached the Eastern Conference finals since 1979, when they were known as the Bullets and their opponent was the Hawks of Hubie Brown. Dating back to last spring, the Celtics are 3-7 against the Hawks. The Cavs could well put it all together; they could also dissolve in a puddle of finger-pointing. Toronto could well lose to Milwaukee, which is playing without its second-best player.

The Hawks missed a chance in Game 1. They held an eight-point second-quarter lead on the strength of those free throws but gave most of it away by halftime and were outscored by 10 in the third quarter. The Wizards exploited the Hawks’ shaky perimeter defense and saw Dwight Howard outscored 14-7 by Marcin Gortat, once his Orlando backup.

Game 2 thereby becomes a huge deal. The Hawks have three days to ruminate over Sunday’s failings, and they’re seasoned enough to know that you can’t reasonably expect to win a series if you trail 0-2. Such deficits have been surmounted, but it requires a team winning four of five, which might be beyond this team’s capacity. Bring the series to Philips Arena for Game 3 tied at 1 and the pressure shifts to the favorite. Lose Game 2 and this could be over soon.

Reader Comments 0

green machine
green machine

definitely a huge missed opportunity in game one.  however, i didn't think the hawks played that well at all and in the end only lost the game by seven points.  with that said--i didn't think washington played their best either--therefore, game 2 probably determines the series.  the hawks have to figure a way to keep gortat away from getting his hands on seemingly every rebound on the offensive glass--if he didn't get the board he tipped it back out for another possession.  simply killed us in game one along with morris netting 20 points.  seems like those morris twins always play well against us--but then again who don't?

i think another huge key is our backup point guard.  if bud continues to let bazemore handle the ball--we'll be in big trouble!  i was screaming at the tv yesterday to just let dennis stay in the game--but definitely don't allow kent to handle the ball against pressure.  he's awful at handling the ball and instantly had two turnovers.  bud is either going to have to go back to delaney or somehow figure a way to keep dennis on the court.  the way to do it yesterday was not take him out--game two is not until wednesday--that was plenty of time to let him rest back up.

Sam v
Sam v

@green machine Regardless of foul number, Millsap hardly ever gets a call. As long as he doesn't argue loudly with the refs and the same for Coach Bud ( holller and throw a fit Coach Bud) get a 25,000 fine Coach Bud who cares or another player and if they block out, I mean really block out and I don't mean face guard and stay between the opponent and the basket, they can go far. I hope players and/or Coaches read this with an open mind, but I expect the Hawks to be nice to the refs and not block out as they won't read this with an open mind Doing these 2 things will a difference of about 10 points a game and advancing or not. Good luck. Go hawks