The Atlanta Hawks have taken a lot of heat over the years for their dismal performances in the NBA playoffs.
And rightly so. Before Monday night’s shocking Game 1 victory over the Chicago Bulls, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks had lost 15 straight games in second-round series.
They had been swept three straight times, including last year’s record-setting humiliation at the hands of the Orlando Magic.
But perhaps these Hawks are different.
Nothing during the regular season would have given that impression, especially the six-game losing streak the Hawks suffered at the end of the regular season.
But the Hawks looked like a different ball club in upsetting the Magic in Round 1 of the playoffs this season.
For one thing, they actually looked like they wanted to be on the court, unlike last year when the Hawks appeared disinterested in the four blowout losses to the Magic.
Another was that they actually had a plan of how to play the Magic. The Hawks seemed content to let their big men play Dwight Howard straight up.
Of course, Howard averaged more than 30 points a game, but the Hawks didn’t try to double-team him and leave some of the other players open.
The Hawks were content to let Howard get his points and try to shut down the others.
It worked as the Hawks won in six games.
Atlanta looked to be in trouble heading into the series against the Bulls. The Hawks would be without the services of Kirk Hinrich, whom the Hawks traded for to play point guard.
But Hinrich hurt his hamstring and likely will miss the entire series.
In stepped Jeff Teague, who had his best game as a pro Monday night. Of course, that’s not saying much as Teague hardly has played since being drafted in 2009.
This season when Teague managed to find his way off the bench, it was usually for less than 10 minutes a game.
But Monday night, he played 45 minutes and scored 10 points and made just one turnover. More importantly, he played tough defense against NBA Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose, holding him to just 11-of-27 shooting from the floor and 24 points.
Rose tweaked a weak ankle when he stepped on Jamal Crawford’s foot near the end of Monday’s game. No one expects Rose to miss Game 2, but how effective he can be remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Joe Johnson is playing some of his best basketball since coming to the Hawks. He scored 34 points Monday as he made 5-of-5 shots from outside the 3-point arc.
Crawford has given the Hawks a second option on offense. He scored 22 points Monday.
What seemed far-fetched at the beginning of this series seems entirely possible: The Hawks could beat the Bulls.
Kevin Price, firstname.lastname@example.org, 706-320-4493