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Mark BradleyMark Bradley

The eighth-seeded Hawks – one step from Round 2

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The happy Hawks celebrate a Naptown beatdown. (Darron Cummings/AP)

The happy Hawks celebrate a Naptown beatdown. (Darron Cummings/AP)

INDIANAPOLIS

Three observations regarding the Atlanta Hawks, a No. 8 seed on the verge of a major upset after Monday’s 107-97 victory in a Game 5 the Hawks once led by 30 points.

1. First of all, this isn’t a major upset. The Hawks have beaten the Indiana Pacers, who’ve lost eight games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season, on their home floor three times in 22 days. In two of those games, the Hawks led by at least 30 points. In the other, they led by 20. They’re a terrible matchup for the Pacers, who won 56 games because they’re great at clogging the lane on defense. The Hawks have unclogged it so adroitly they should change their nickname to the Roto-Rooters. Indiana entered the series wondering if Roy Hibbert could guard the jump-shooting Pero Antic, but it turns out none of the Pacers can guard any of the Hawks. Six scored in double figures in Game 5, including subs Shelvin Mack, who scored 20 points and made five assists in 25 minutes, and fellow B-teamer Mike Scott, who scored 17 in the second quarter — 12 of those coming on four 3-pointers in the span of 106 seconds.

How did he get so open so often? Said Scott: “It was the same game plan we’ve been doing all year, the pick-and-pops. They sagged off — they were worried about Mack. After the first two, my mindset that I was going to shoot anyway. It was a heat-check shot, and it banked in. And then I hit another one.”

2. Second of all, the Hawks aren’t really a No. 8 seed. They were third in the Eastern Conference on Feb. 1, whereupon the loss of Al Horford began to tell and subsequent injuries befell Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap. They lost 14 of 15 and 20 of 26, but when they finally got healthy — Horford remains out — they finished by winning six of the final eight. As Korver has said, the Hawks were really three teams this season, and the one they are now is quite good. “We’re not your normal No. 8 seed,” DeMarre Carroll said Monday. “People forget we were a third seed halfway through the season.”

Said Indiana coach Frank Vogel, speaking before Game 5: “There’s a perception that they’re this horrible eighth seed that doesn’t belong in the playoffs. Let me reiterate that’s the perception, which I don’t share.”

3. Finally, the Pacers aren’t much of a No. 1 seed. The Hawks get a good shot almost every trip. The Pacers get a good shot once every three trips. They have no real point guard, and they’ve been reduced to having no center, which sounds strange, given that Hibbert made the All-Star team. But he’s so wretched now that he can’t make a shot, can’t take a rebound, can barely catch the ball. He scored no points and took no rebounds in Game 5. (He did, however, commit four fouls in 12 minutes.) Antic didn’t do much Monday, but he outscored an All-Star 1-0 and outrebounded him 2-0.

Said Vogel, speaking after a game that saw his vaunted defense yield 41 second-quarter points: “We’re playing a team that plays a style that’s capable of doing that.”

And the Hawks are playing a team they’ve come, as odd as it sounds, to own. They’ve had a double-digit lead in all six games against the Pacers this month, and the No. 1 seed sounds ready to collapse. Said David West: “We didn’t have an urgency. Everybody’s got to be ready to play. We’re fighting for our lives. It’s just really disappointing.”

From myajc.com, our premium site: The Hawks are one game from an upset that’s not.

Also from myajc.com: Why these aren’t the same old Hawks.

 

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