There are few teams Hawks fans despise more than the notorious Boston Celtics, what with the friendly calls from the officials, the special attitude their fans have about their team and the heartbreaking defeats at the hands of the storied franchise.
Of course, Celtics fans could care less about the pesky Hawks, so it's a totally one-way feeling, but, you know, grrrrrrr.
Anyway, with the game being televised tonight on ESPN at 8pm EST, we thought it would be a good idea to spend some time with ESPN analyst and former Eastern Conference heavyweight Antonio Davis and get his thoughts about the game tonight; How the teams matchup, the keys to win, etc.
As the Hawks near a summer that we also asked Davis about how the Hawks are seen by the players and former players as a free agent destination and what his take is on Josh Smith.
Hawks vs. Celtics coming online tonight at 8pm EST on ESPN, what are the keys to the game tonight for both teams?
For the Hawks they have to figure out a way to exploit the Celtics defense in some way. If Pierce doesn't shoot well, they struggle but their defense keeps them in it. The Hawks have to be mentally tough, use pick and rolls, make the extra pass, etc.
And the Celtics force you to make the extra pass - they test you - but they can't continue to rotate, etc - so if you are mentally tough like Horford continuing to play to the level he's been at and Josh will you be smart enough not settle -- they can get it done.
For Boston, I've been watching Jason Terry running the point as of late. Him running the point is bringing him new life to have the ball in his hands and facilitating as well as creating shots himself. When he is effective and gets the other guards some rest, it's good for the whole team.
When Jeff Green any of those other guys become a threat, Pierce and Kevin Garnett can relax and not have to force a ton of shots. When they are taking 10-13 shots and everybody is pitching in, the team seems fine. But when Pierce has to take a higher volume of shots, he struggles down the stretch, not because he's old, but because he has to try to do too much in that scenario.
Without Rajon Rondo, you lose a lot in your offense - the whole team has to step up.
Why are veteran teams like the Celtics so hard to beat?
Young teams that are athletic and deep -- the Pacers, Clippers, even sometimes the Bulls, they leverage pace and athleticism to win games.
Old veteran teams who don't turn the ball over and blend young and old, teams like San Antonio and Boston with old school coaches, they are never out of it because they are playing fairly consistent, focused basketball.
Young guys can't focus and execute like that for 35+ minutes - and they try to make it up on skill and athleticism -- that doesn't always work against teams like Boston and San Antonio.
As the Hawks are transitioning into the free agent period, the question comes up about Atlanta being able to lure max-level free agents. As a former player, how is the Hawks organization looked at as a potential signing destination?
You know, I think to be fair, a lot of that is changing. Danny Ferry is creating a sense of getting guys who will compete at a high level, create an environment as professional as can be and to win a championship.
Atlanta still has a hard time pulling fans - there's football, baseball, college hoops around to pull fans. Unless you are winning, really winning, it's going to be hard. And, as a player, it's hard to create something on your own separate from the floor, publicity wise, with all that other competition.
How close are the Hawks to being that kind of team?
To be one of those top tier teams, you gotta have a star. Guys you can go to late and make a shot or get fouled. And you have to have depth; key role players like the Heat have in Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem. Finally, you have to have consistency (effort, execution)
Beyond getting a superstar, the Hawks are probably one good role player - and one super point guard - away from being a contender.
Let's be clear, I like the way Jeff Teague has been playing and growing --- but he doesnt have the experience in bigger games -- hasn't been through the trials yet and you need that on the floor. The Hawks could win with Teague if they bring in an Andre Miller type guy as the Nuggets have to go with Ty Lawson.
What's your take on Josh Smith?
Over the last year or so, he's figuring out what it takes to win basketball games. I'm not hearing it being said as much about a bad shot or bad play. For a guy as talented as he is - you don't hear enough about the great things he does. He's an excellent passer, defender, devastating inside. He poses a lot of problems for a lot of teams.
When a guy goes through a relationship like Josh has had with this organization, do you think he is more or less likely to leave?
I think that now the trend to go chase a championship with a star. Dallas and Houston are teams that come to mind for next season. It comes down to is the grass greener on the other side? However, If I'm at home, and I'm comfortable, and they pay me, I’ll stay.
You also have to factor in what Danny Ferry has done since he came in: Quick, bold moves. Brilliant.
Peachtree Hoops greatly appreciates the time with Antonio Davis and he can be seen on ESPN in his role as an NBA studio analyst and followed on Twitter @espnantoniod