In an eight-day span between March 18 and March 25, the Atlanta Hawks were set to play six games, a grueling pace designed so that the NBA could squeeze a lockout-shortened 66-game schedule into a four-month window. And even before heading into Sunday night's win over the streaking Utah Jazz, the Hawks had handled the run with aplomb. Sure, the foes weren't exactly legendary (the Hawks beat Cleveland twice, New Jersey and Washington once, and lost to Boston), but tired legs often can't commit to beating even the lightest of opponents at times.
Then Utah, winners of six straight, come into Atlanta. And the teams play the first quadruple overtime game in nearly 4 1/2 years, with the Hawks pulling out a 139-133 win. Send stretchers and B12 to Georgia, because these Hawks are going to need it. Here are the highlights:
Consider Hawk All-Star Joe Johnson, who won the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award for his trouble. He averaged over 40 minutes per game during his team's six-game run, but this wouldn't seem to be a problem to someone who has averaged over or just under 40 minutes per game six times in his career. There's a difference, though. Johnson's averages usually came in 82-game seasons that lasted from just around Halloween until the second week of April. This is in a one-week stretch, though, with Johnson having turned 30 last summer, and with the understanding that Joe was clearly spent midway through most of those minutes-heavy turns from years prior.
The Hawk resiliency, even before this goofball win from Sunday, is impressive. This is a team (currently fourth in the East) that bundles together wins when it can, rarely toppling over the heavy-hitters in a way that would leave you considering Atlanta for a contender in the East, but never losing enough to fall out of a well-earned middle standing in the team's conference. They beat the teams that they're supposed to; usually relying on their defense to pull things out.
And outside of a tough upcoming week (the Hawks have to take on the Bucks, Bulls, Knicks and 76ers in a four-game in five-night stretch starting on Tuesday), the Hawks should survive this. Because of the team's location, not unlike the city's airport, it seems as if the squad was a scheduling afterthought by the league, with teams flying in almost at random. And the bulk of April will feature a litany of should-wins for a squad working without what might be their best player in Al Horford.
Atlanta will play the Pistons twice, Charlotte twice, and Toronto twice in the season's last month. They'll also have to take on the Celtics as many times, with a visit to Orlando, but the NBA has disparate teams like New York, the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks all having to fly into Atlanta to take on the Hawks in the season's final week. In spite of the injuries and up-and-down play (Kirk Hinrich shot 34 percent from the field and 22 percent from long range in February, and 47 percent from the floor and 45 from behind the arc in March), this team is still on pace to be right where they always seem to be.
Always there, always a threat to get in your way, always in the playoffs.
This is cold comfort to a team that had to play 308 NBA minutes in a week's term, but the team's impressive resiliency is a credit to coach Larry Drew, and the squad's core. Forward Josh Smith continues to improve upon his career year, and Hinrich's emergence could go a long way in helping to smooth over point guard Jeff Teague's still-developing game. This group will never win a championship, but they're clearly not ready to step aside from their yearly chance at the second round, yet.
And Utah? You'll be pleased to note that the Portland Trail Blazers, playing on the second night of a back-to-back following a four-overtime game (as you will be on Monday night) back in 1997, pulled out a win. It's possible, even with those tired legs.
- Atlanta Hawks