Some very sensible and encouraging quotes from the head coach and players about the importance of the home playoff games last year and what the team needs to do to succeed this year.
"I think when you make the playoffs and you play at the level that we played, guys like that feeling. And there’s no greater feeling. I can’t describe it. I’ve been a part of a championship team [as an assistant in Detroit] and watched a group of guys go through it, and it was one of the most unbelievable experiences to go through from a coaching standpoint. From a player’s standpoint, I can’t even begin to imagine how it feels. And these guys tasted it last year and they want to get back. We have to take it a game at a time and I know it’s early. But if we continue to rebound the basketball and play like we did [in Saturday’s win over Philadelphia], we’re going to be in a lot of ball games and give ourselves chances to win."
The rebounding thing at the end is weird because the Hawks were out-rebounded so badly in the first half that Philadelphia got the majority of the rebounds for the game despite the Hawks' strong second half.
"We have to play with confidence from the start. We have to know that teams are going to try and come in here and get on us early and try and hold down our crowd and our confidence, because they saw this place during the playoffs. They know how tough a place this is to play when we’ve got it all rocking."
The late-arriving crowd was certainly a factor in keeping the building quiet during first quarter Saturday night but I've no way to prove that that was the deciding factor rather than, say, the 76ers thoroughly out-playing the Hawks in every facet of the game for most of the first half. A point upon which Johnson elaborates:
"Our job is to make sure we don’t just play strictly off the emotion and that we are more methodical in our attack. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good feeling to know that you can battle back with the help of your crowd the way we have. But you have to be more measured in your approach. You have to be more aggressive.”
As the arena filled up and the Hawks got back in the game, the atmosphere didn't scale the heights of the playoff games last Spring but it was far more raucous than any regular season game I can remember.
As almost always, Josh Smith has the most interesting take:
"I don’t see any need in over-analyzing something that’s really out of our control. Honestly, I’m more impressed when we start strong and finish strong, the way we did [in the season opening win in Orlando last week]. Not that winning at home is something we should take for granted. It’s just that we know we’re a good team, and we know we should be playing at a high level in front of our own fans. The road is where we have to have the same kind of fire. That’s where we’re going to earn our keep."
Another smart, succinct, responsible thought from Josh Smith which only serves to make it more curious that he's chosen to waste 13 of his 27 field goal attempts on jump shots (Not coincidentally he's attempted just 7 free throws through two games.) so far this season. One hopes that not over-analyzing what the home crowd is doing or not doing during games will free up some time to analyze how he can best help the team win. His first two defensive and rebounding performances of the season have been impeccable. If he can raise his offensive game to a similar level, my pre-season prediction of 34 wins could look awfully foolish.