As the regular season came to a close on Wednesday night, the Atlanta Hawks were staring directly into the face of back-to-back losses and the suddenly-daunting task of attempting to knock off the Indiana Pacers in round one of the NBA playoffs. Just two days ago, the #5 seed seemed to be a real possibility, and the Hawks were coming off of two consecutive wins, but things can change in a hurry in this league, and they did so here.
When the starting lineup (Shelvin Mack, John Jenkins, Anthony Tolliver, Deshawn Stevenson, and Ivan Johnson) was announced on Wednesday afternoon, it was certainly accurate to assume that Atlanta was “punting” the final game in an effort to save their legs/health for the playoffs. There is nothing inherently wrong with this strategy, but with the resulting loss at the hands of the Knicks, all momentum seems to be lost.
The biggest question is an obvious one. Does momentum actually matter in this case? I am inclined to say no, as both the Pacers and Hawks will have at least two full days off (likely three) before the series begins, and any momentum could have been lost over that process. The bigger issue in my opinion is that Atlanta willfully accepted a more difficult (in my opinion) match-up with Indiana rather than battling to face a slightly less impressive Brooklyn Nets team. In the end, this decision is a personal one, but I don’t believe there is a solid statistical argument concerning a preference for playing Indiana over Brooklyn.
Simply put, the Pacers are a better basketball team than the Hawks this season, so any excuse about momentum (or lack thereof) may be a moot point. However, laying down in the final two games of the year opens the door for examination (and even criticism) and the Danny Ferry/Larry Drew duo can expect a few questions in the coming days.