No small feat, beating the best team in the land twice.
Running a franchise that is torn between multiple owners can't be any fun, but credit Mike Woodson with having his players on the same page and playing hard. The offense is kind of ragged at times -- the only time they look really organized to my non-coaching eye is when they watch Joe Johnson in isolation -- but everyone is all over every loose ball, and the spirit is excellent. I have been hearing all season that, despite widespread rumors he was a lame duck, Hawks players have been buying what Mike Woodson has been selling, and that's huge.
My most lasting memory of the night was of Al Horford. Zaza Pachulia did to Kevin Garnett what everyone in Dallas wanted Dirk Nowitzki to do to David West -- he didn't take the insult quietly. But then Pachulia looked ready to get a little bit too crazy, and there was Al Horford, not acting like a rookie at all, walking that fine line. He had an arm around Pachulia, and talked him back to earth. He didn't drag him away and ruin the man's dignity. He just connected with him, and by the time they had walked twenty feet together, Horford had Pachulia channeling his energy into exhorting the crowd. That's something.
Speaking of Woodson and Pachulia, Woodson played Pachulia in the first half with three fouls. I salute him for that. Pachulia ended up getting his fourth in the first half, and didn't play at all in the second half.
Watch Kevin Garnett throw away referee Eddie F. Rush after the altercation. Hawk fans are calling for him to be suspended in the next game. If that happens, and the Hawks can somehow steal one in Boston -- then the Hawks become the "Davidson" of this tournament. Remember, this series began as one of the most lopsided matchups in recent NBA history.
Watch that altercation again. When it was Pachulia and Garnett face to face ... did Garnett flop just a little?
You have no idea how many emails I have gotten today about gang signs and Paul Pierce. The public evidence that that was a gang sign amounts to some opinions on message boards. (The story, by the way, on message boards, is that Pierce was making a "P" as sign of Piru Bloods from Inglewood, where Pierce grew up.) The strongest piece of evidence that something sinister may have happened is the NBA's reaction. To the NBA, that's a $25,000 menacing gesture. What do they know? Danny Ainge's story (not corroborated, as of yet, by Pierce) is that Pierce decided to take that moment -- just after Al Horford had humiliated him -- to walk over to Atlanta's bench to remind Horford about the blood, sweat, and tears that are required of a champion. What? Does that make sense? Gang sign or not, it's clear that Pierce was walking over towards the Hawk bench to do just what the league accused him of doing -- to make a "menacing gesture" of some kind. Ainge's "blood, sweat, and tears" tale reminds of the sign that said IDGAF in Shaquille O'Neal's locker. I saw it in 2000. O'Neal told me it meant "I Dominate Games Always and Forever." Five minutes later his mom told me it meant "I Don't Give a F---." Who would call Shaquille O'Neal's mom a liar?
For all Joe Johnson's heroics, Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith (seven blocks!) are the two players I most enjoyed watching last night. (UPDATE: And they were once teammates at Oak Hill Academy.) They're both exceedingly active, and have a knack for making good things happen. Last summer, when people were not as high on Josh Smith as they are now, I was talking to Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress about who my Blazers should get as a young small forward. Givony told me emphatically that Smith is "exactly what you want from a three!" He couldn't believe I would even doubt it. Now I understand.
Looking at the +/- numbers, in this game Marvin Williams was on the floor when the Hawks were outscored, and Josh Childress was on the floor when the Hawks were rolling.
You know what Joe Johnson's thinking: he has a chance to stay alive longer than the Suns he bolted three summers ago. I was one of many calling him crazy for asking for that trade.
As Sam Amico of Pro Basketball News points out, this series is not good for people who have been arguing that the playoffs should be re-seeded so that teams like Atlanta won't make it.
No matter what happens in this series, and you have to favor Boston in a three-game series with home court advantage, there is a new memo to the rest of the league: Boston is vulnerable. Ditto the second-best team in the regular season, Detroit. I'd imagine the Lakers, Hornets, Spurs and Jazz are all loving this.
UPDATE: TrueHoop reader Jana emails a fair point: "After the Diaw/Stoudemire situation from last playoffs, how does the NBA not suspend Kendrick Perkins and Marvin Williams after last night's altercation? It seems to me that a lack of suspensions would prove to Phoenix fans that David Stern has it out for them." The video showed they were both slightly on the court, although in the area of the bench. Of particular interest is the league's assertion, from last year, that this rule is really not to be interpreted. That's a line of argument that could bite them now, because I don't think anyone thinks Perkins or Williams was joining the fight. Also, David Stern and Stu Jackson were watching this game in person -- which may increase the pressure to at least acknowledge what happened. In the end, what happened last night was not that bad. There was no crisis -- just playoff basketball with hot tempers. But NBA precedent suggests it could have been a big deal.
UPDATE: Bret at Hoopinion was at the game and has collected a ton of insight. He also emails to say that he's not so impressed with Mike Woodson: "To his credit he played Pachulia with three fouls, but he also played Solomon Jones for three-and-a-half minutes at the end of the first half because Josh Smith and Al Horford had two fouls each. Woodson overreacts to the possibility of future foul trouble consistently and it drives me nuts. I was behind the basket at the end of the court where Garnett and Pachulia got into it. When Woodson got down there and tried to get Pachulia to go back to the bench, the incident almost reignited into a Pachulia/Woodson scrap. Pachulia hates Mike Woodson and shows him even less respect than Josh Smith does. Related: I think the team plays hard in spite of Woodson rather than because of him. If they show similar energy on the road in Game 5, I'll acknowledge that it was not just the rare thrill of playing in front of a raucous home crowd that energized the players the last two games."
(Photo: Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)