The Atlanta Hawks are headed to the Eastern Conference Finals after a Game 6 road win over the Washington Wizards on Friday. The Hawks again saw a late lead melt away in the final minutes but were able to compose themselves and come away with the win.
Not before noted Hawks killer Paul Pierce did his best to spoil the party once again for Atlanta. Pierce hit an impossible shot that would have tied the game, but the officials ruled that it came a moment too late for the Wizards. A closer look at the sequence reveals some pretty nice defense from Atlanta but the age old debate about whether a team should foul when up three is once again relevant.
Here is the setup with Kent Bazemore matched up against Bradley Beal and DeMarre Carroll shadowing John Wall. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are in position to take Pierce or Nene depending on which way they go on the play.
The next sequence is the single best opportunity to foul that the Hawks had. John Wall takes the inbound pass and catches it shy of the three-point line with his back to the basket. Coaches are often reluctant to foul in this situation due to the number of things that can go wrong but those are all but negated with Wall in this position.
Wall scrambles to the top of the key trying to make something happen. Pierce slides to the wing, but as you can see, Horford is in good defensive position and forces him towards the baseline.
Kyle Korver was guarding Otto Porter in the corner, sees Pierce coming and moves to double team. Korver's lunge makes Pierce clutch the shot for just a brief moment and that may have been the difference in him getting the shot off in time. If there is a negative here from a Hawks perspective it is that Korver's contest slightly screens off Horford who's length might have prevented the shot altogether.
Other than fouling, Atlanta couldn't have defended the shot any better. Pierce was pretty much a non-factor for the entire game but has made a career out of coming up big in big moments. Love him or hate him, that was a big-time shot by a big-time player. Fortunately for Atlanta, it came just a mere moment too late.
With a Game 6 victory in hand, the Hawks are headed to unchartered territory in the Eastern Conference Finals. This playoff run hasn't been a thing of beauty so far, but the bottom line in the playoffs is getting wins. Teams don't accumulate style points along the way. Everyone knows that Atlanta is a capable offensive team when in sync and they have also shown during the postseason that they can slog through slow low possession games and come out with a victory.
For Atlanta, the pressure is off. NO ONE expects them to beat Cleveland even though it is the Hawks that are the No. 1 seed and not the Cavs. Atlanta will be fine with that situation and should they be successful in the series, the spotlight will shine the brightest on Cleveland and what they are doing wrong rather than what Atlanta is doing right. The four-day break between Game 6 and Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals couldn't come at a better time and will allow the opportunity for some bumps and bruises to heal and a mental recharge.
The ending to Game 6 was an appropriate ending to a series that was often times hard to watch. It wasn't the best exhibition of basketball by any means, but it was wildly entertaining with game-after-game coming down to the wire with a gut-wrenching ending. So many times Hawks fans have come out on the losing end of those situations. This time however, they get their moment in the sun.