Not that the Hawks have much of a choice.
After the first round played pretty much the way I thought it might, it's harder to have clarity about the second round and repeat the optimism I felt about the Orlando series.
And that's even before the news of Kirk Hinrich is factored in....a huge blow, especially considering the Hawks loaded all their eggs into this year's basket with the deal that brought Kirk in here to deal with matchups like Jameer Nelson (check) and Derrick Rose.
As much as we fight its inefficiency, the Hawks have continued to shove their chips into the center on this jump shooting, up and down, and never-say-fundamental defensive squad. Now, here they are for the third time in as many years in the second round, in position to do something they haven't done since moving the franchise to the ATL, win a second round series.
To each of the guys in the locker room after Game 5 (players, that is), the response to how they knock down the door they've been collectively knocking on was as similar sounding as it was lacking in depth of response: Play together, play the right way, stay focused.
While I hope to attain that aforementioned clarity before Kris and I preview the series Monday and make our predictions, right now the answer is simple: embrace the only paradigm the Hawks have been able to use to consistently win games: Hunker down on defense, rebound, and win ugly.
Looking back on the three games the Hawks played against Chicago, all in March, the Bulls dominated the series. Two decisive blowouts, including one at Philips Arena. In the one game the Hawks won, and 83-80 win at home, they had to overcome a 19-point deficit to do it, ending as one of the most exciting games of the year for the Hawks.
How did they do it? Here's a portion of the Instant Reaction from the game:
The second half numbers for the Bulls?
Rose: 1-11/0-4, 2 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 turnovers
Boozer: 2-4, 4 points, 1 rebound, 1 block
Noah: 1-4, 4 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 turnovers
Deng: 3-8, 7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block
The Hawks forced the Bulls outside more and the result was a 50-30 swing play, with the Bulls shooting 30 percent to the Hawks 49 percent. A complete reversal of the first half, right down to the part where the Hawks took the lead and the win.
Well that and Al Horford manly 13-20, 31 point, 16 rebounds. He was indeed boss.
The problem with the above strategy was in effect the next time the Hawks hosted the Bulls. Instead of Rose shooting 5-20 and 0-6 on threes when the Hawks dared him to shoot, Rose was 11-20 and 6-8 on threes the next time around, making the Hawks pay for their triple-dog-dare strategy.
Still, you have to think the Hawks will take their chances again, though they may not have a choice if Hinrich can't go. Either way, the Hawks have to embrace their inner ugly, the same type of scrapping for every rebound, defending every shot approach they took to that second half of that single win out of 3 against Chicago. Any slip up and the results will look a lot more like the second and third game they played.
As fans, we have to embrace and reward when the ugliness lends results. At home game, there be positive reinforcement over every defensive rebound, every deflected pass, anything the Hawks do on the defensive end to confound the excellent Bulls. Normally the Highlight Factory is centered around dunks and other various offensive displays. Now, it and the team must focus on the unspectacular---defense as its only measure of hope to continue.
The team is well versed in winning close games. In games that resulted in a margin of victory of 3 points or less, the Hawks managed a 7-1 record in those contests in the regular season and 2-0 in the postseason. This doesn't include every close game that became greater than 3 points due to the fouling endgame or games that were more favorably in the Hawks advantage before they allowed the opponent to get closer at the end. The Hawks are clearly comfortable when the game is close....maybe that's why they lose larger leads....they play better when they have to play better, not when they can choose whether or not to play better.
This is not going to be a stylistic offensive or defensive team. The strength of this team is its athleticism and length, even if they don't always use it the right way. Rick Sund didn't get the type of players I wanted, nor did he go in the direction I wanted him to go, so here we are. The offseason is long enough--so there will be time to wag the finger and speculate on changes if it doesn't work.
But now is the time to hope. Now is the time to wonder "can they do it?" and embrace the team for what they are now; a grinding, jump shooting, team who plays their best when they are locked in together on the defensive end, fighting over screens, everyone grabbing rebounds, and challenging shots.
The Hawks may have finally found the identity they need to maximize their abilities while dealing with their own limitations....and now they must embrace it.