Not even the best roller-coaster designer could script as many twists and turns as the Hawks have had this season.
Ten days ago, the Hawks were scuffling after a 2-9 stretch, which included two losses to the lowly Nets. It was so bad that several people in and around the Hawks organization looked at the dauntingfive games left on the schedule with a twinge of fear.
Atlanta's consecutive playoff streak was in peril. When things were at their lowest, the Hawks got it together.In an unexpected deviation of character, Paul Millsap stood up after the second loss to the Nets.
Kent Bazemore remembered it well.
"Paul is normally so quiet,"Bazemore said. "For him to speak up really got our attention, we needed to get our s—together. It took us 78 games to figure it out, but we’re here now.”
Millsap scored a team-high 26 points in awin against the Celtics. Next came a win in the first game of a home-and-home trip against the Cavaliers with Bazemore, Dennis Schroderand Dwight Howard all on the bench. After that was one of the more improbable wins in regular-season history. The Hawks fought back from a 26-point fourth quarter deficit against theCavs, electrifying the Atlanta crowd with a 44-18run in the final frame on the way to a 126-125 overtime win.
That scary five-game stretch? The Hawks finished4-1 with the only loss coming against the Pacers in a meaningless regular-season finale.
"We’re finally playing how we’re supposed to,"Millsap said. "I’ve been saying all season that when we get it together, it’s going to be all good."
Beats from Beyonce’s "Sorry"bounced off the walls of the Hawks' locker room on Thursday evening. The team had just clinched the fifth seed in the East playoffs. In this position, if the Hawks survive and advance,they could avoid the Cavs until the Eastern Conference finals.
Much likeQueen Bey’s lyrics, the Hawks were unapologetic about where they stand. Howard controlled the tunes and sang the refrain: "I ain’t sorry."
"People been counting us out,"Howard said. "But all we gotta do is keep winning;y’all will come around if we just keep on winning games."
Schroeder, the mercurial fourth-year point guard leading the Hawks for the first time in his career, was even more defiant when asked about media doubts.
"I saw Charles Barkley had said we weren’t going to make the playoffs," Schroeder said. "Iknow they get paid to talk s—, so we aren’t worried."
Starting Sunday, the Hawks have the chance to prove everyone wrong again. It's a far cry from where they were just tendays ago.