And the Sky Shall Rustle Its Own
The Suns were a movement, one that threatened to alter the face of the league. The Warriors of their moment, god bless their soul, got that one perfect chance to prove their credo sound. Theirs was a principle, a perspective, even an outlook, that stayed marginal but boogied its way into rational discourse. If only as a cautionary footnote.
Even J.R. Smith "going shot-for-shot with Kobe," which I fully believe and more or less predicted last week (why J.R. can talk shit to Bryant), is potential coming home to roost. Anyone who pays attention to the league knows that Smith can score at will, and could, given the right amount of guidance and freedom, lead the league in scoring. There is a certain amount of scientific rigor in my thinking on the J.R. question—talented, but troubled, player who will one day find his way into the light. Even if no one else knew it yet.
And then there's these Hawks wins, in which the known universe did an end-around on my wildest hopes and dreams. There's really no way to explain this expect by resorting to signs, miracles, and photos of the Six-Day War. Eff a Billups punchline post; I've spent the last several seasons watching this Atlanta team, often to the detriment of my well-being, waiting for something like this to unfold. For their long, up-tempo versatility to coalesce into a five-man front. For it to make sense when everyone jumped straight up on every single opponents' shot attempt. And, maybe even more unrealistically, for Joe Johnson or Josh Smith to just run shit in the half-court, step up in an orderly fashion that would cement their status as rising stars. Plus enjoy it a little.
It never, ever happened, until these last two games. Against a team that Shoefly described, with grudging reverence, as "the hammer." I really have no socio-political point of reference for this—it's not the American Revoluution, or even an untidy explosion of Black radicalism. These would've been Phoenix and Golden State. This is so unexpected, even to followers like myself, that it's like a leap of faith that even I was unwilling to make. I wanted Josh Smith to block KG once, or Joe Johnson to have one nationally-televised game that validated his All-Star status. Even that was hard to commit to—taking the Hawks that seriously risked tarnishing the realm of fantasy they've always inhabited.
But here we stand, with this team all grown-up in a span of days, and the strengths and weaknesses I've come to know so well suddenly figuring prominently in THE storyline of the post-season. I feel like a failure, for having so much trouble making this switch. For not having said all along that, "yes, the Hawks can." And, perhaps, for not having entertained the possibility that Atlanta could make an impact simply because I want them to. My basketball idealism is already so warped; why the trouble getting this utmost fringe to fit into a remotely responsible worldview?
And that's the problem. The Hawks transcend principle or philosophical systems. They are without precedent and supernatural in their arrival. To try and make sense of them, or to have viewed them as grist for match-up columns, would be to miss the point of this otherworldly occurrence. They have flourished not because basketball needed a savior, or because they were tailor-made for the job, but because sport is not politics, economics, or the academy. Nor should the NBA be a haven for college-style chisel jobs (sorry, Thaddeus). Even I can't convince myself I've known all along, or that this stands for anything other than itself.
For Smith blocking Garnett. Pachulia, so kind, getting up in KG's grill. Johnson's slow-mo isolations that hovered somewhere between smooth and drunken. The Hawks' negative ball movement in the fourth. Boston's seeming shock in the face of a team that had suddenly unlocked its infinite potential, and might never do so again. Anyone who believes past this week just doesn't know a whole lot about Atlanta Hawks basketball—which, of course, only makes the whole thing more overwhelming, and causes a crisis of faith in long-time fans. Like, have I been remiss in my goofy passions?
It's also damn hard for me to write about this objectively. The Hawks have been a weird fetish of mine for some time, an inside joke that suddenly shocked the world with the idealized version of them I'd always waited on. Hell, it would be a lot like if some mangy, turgid NBA blog with left-leaning politics and purple prose got a book deal.
So there you have it. The Hawks are FreeDarko. There's your State of the Union address, and why this series fills me with both ecstasy and dread.
UPDATE: Sporting News column on the surreal East, and yes, more Hawks. Also, please be reading my playoffs recaps at TSB.