By: Forest C. Godwin, Feature Columnist
Atlanta, GA—The first round of the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs have not gone according to plan for the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks in their throw down against the Brooklyn Nets.
The Hawks separated themselves from everyone in the East this season, which includes a 19-game winning streak. The Hawks not only won against marquee teams in the Association, but just as important, the young red birds defeated clubs they were supposed to beat.
That hasn’t been the case so far against the Nets.
The Hawks took their foot off the accelerator leading up to the playoffs as they rested players in spots, while the Nets fought each minute in games, as the regular season concluded, just to make the playoffs.
The Hawks showed fatigue in Games 1 and 2. But somewhere between Philips Arena and the Barclays Center, the hungry Nets found some energy. Now, the series is tied 2-2 with Game 5 Wednesday night in Atlanta.
It’s hard to think a team led by NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer being in panic mode, but that just might be the case.
The series has been much closer than anyone could imagine, except the Nets.
The Nets lead in two key statistical categories for this series, total rebounding (188-186) and total turnovers (58-57). While the numbers are close, the winner of those categories typically out-hustled their opponent throughout the game, which translates to second chance baskets and fast break opportunities. That combination generates scoring from defensive side of play.
Nets guard Deron Williams, who has largely been a disappointment for Brooklyn, erupted for 35 points in Game 4 after scoring just 18 total points in the first three contests.
For Atlanta, Game 4, statistically, they played well. Six players scored in double figures. As a team, they shot 48 percent from the field, and nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc.
The Hawks lead in rebounds and assists, but still seemed flat in key moments during games. Hawks forward Kyle Korver missed three attempted 3-pointers in the same possession that would have tied the score in the final minute of overtime in Game 4.
However, the biggest hurdle the Hawks face in winning this series may be mental.
Clearly, the Hawks have the talent to win the series. A few shots drop here and there, Game 5 at Philips would have been an elimination game for Nets, and the Hawks could likely be able to begin focuing solely on hosting the upstart Washington Wizards.
Apparently, the red birds may be thinking about what they did last year in the playoffs. As an eighth-seeded team, the Hawks took the top-seeded Indiana Pacers to seven games. With each game they won during that series, Atlanta grew more confident, while Indiana began unraveling with each game.
This year, the Hawks are in the position of the Pacers, who missed the playoffs this season, were in a year ago.
By some cruel twist of fate, the Hawks are the team now feeling the pressure to close out Nets in the first round, and the doubting whisperers.
Moreover, the Nets, with a reignited Williams, appear to be gaining confidence. Fans should buckle up. This series seems to be headed to a Game 7.
Still, with each team serving home court, the Hawks should be able to avoid the disaster they caused last year for the Pacers.
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