Flash back to April of 2008.
The #1-seed Boston Celtics were taken to the brink of elimination (i.e. 7 games) by the lowly, unproven #8-seed Atlanta Hawks in a first-round playoff series. Atlanta was a 37-45 basketball team during the year, but they were a 25-16 home team that played vastly different basketball in Philips Arena and rode their home momentum to three wins in the series.
Sound familiar, yet?
The 2012-2013 version of the Atlanta Hawks looks eerily similar through five games of their first-round match-up with the Indiana Pacers, and while at first glance you may think that a 3/6 match-up couldn’t possibly be as “on the nose” as this we must remember that the circumstances aren’t black and white. For instance, the Hawks are playing without their two best role players in Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia — both went down with season-ending injuries earlier in the year, Williams with a torn right ACL and Pachulia with Achilles surgery. On top of that, this was supposed to be a “rebuilding” season for the franchise in the wake of Joe Johnson’s departure. That sounds like an 8-seed to me, and it’s a credit to coach Larry Drew and his staff that they were able to overachieve this season.
On the Indiana side, the comparisons aren’t as spot-on but their general disposition does reflect that of that 2008 Boston club. Defense-first (Indy led the league in Defensive Efficiency this season), gritty basketball led them to 49 wins, and they are clearly a different (read: better) team in the confines of their home arena as they went a blistering 30-11 at home this season.
What does it all mean? Well, with Indiana pulling away late on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead with a 106-83 victory, the home teams have comfortably (by double-digits) won each of the five games. If this trend continues, it will be another Game 7 loss for Atlanta, and while that wouldn’t qualify the season as a disappointment it certainly wouldn’t bring cheer heading into the off-season.
As Game 6 approaches on Thursday night it will be crucial to get the same sort of effort (especially defensively) that was on display during the two previous home games (where Indiana failed to exceed 91 points), instead of allowing 106+ points in each of the three road tilts. For specifics, Jeff Teague was frankly abysmal on Wednesday night (3-of-16 from the field) and the “big two” of Al Horford and Josh Smith combined to shoot 10-of-30 overall. It would be very surprising to see a repeat of that type of performance in Philips Arena but even with a win at home Game 7 looms in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
In that infamous 2008 series, Game 6 was a 103-100 squeak-out win for Atlanta but Game 7 was one of the bigger blowouts in playoff history as the Celtics pounded the Hawks 99-65.
Let’s hope the similarities end as Game 7 approaches.