Commentary

Up 1-0, Hawks' confidence soaring

Originally Published: May 3, 2011
By Michael Wallace | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- The Atlanta Hawks victory in Game 1 against the top-seeded Chicago Bulls was described in many ways during Tuesday's practice at the United Center. But there was one classification of the series opener Hawks forward Josh Smith refused to use heading into Game 2: A fluke.

"It might have been our night," Smith said of the Hawks 103-95 victory to steal home-court advantage from the team with the league's best record. "We made tough shots, a lot of difficult shots. But it's not a fluke. It's no fluke we can score 103 points against this team. We've got a lot of guys who can score the ball. We're hungry. We're not satisfied and we're never full. We understand what we can accomplish."

For the second time this postseason, the Hawks knocked off a higher-seeded team in the series opener to take control of the series. But after following up their Game 1 victory against Orlando with a dud in Game 2 loss, the Hawks insist there won't be any let up when they face the Bulls on Wednesday.

Atlanta looks to take advantage of a battered Bulls team that will limp into Wednesday's game with league MVP point guard Derrick Rose coping with a sprained ankle he aggravated late in Monday's loss and second-leading scorer Carlos Boozer still bothered by a toe injury.

The Hawks have another chance to take a commanding 2-0 series lead on the road and push the Bulls into a deep hole. Only three higher-seeded teams have come back to win a best-of-seven playoff series after losing the first two games on their home court.

After defeating Orlando by 10 points in the series opener two weeks ago, the Hawks quickly fell into a double-digit deficit in Game 2 before their late rally came up short in a six-point loss. Atlanta went on to win the series in six games.

Hawks coach Larry Drew said his team is now in a position to prove it has grown beyond being satisfied with simply settling for a split in the first two games before the series shifts to Atlanta this weekend.

"We like the position we're in right now, having the opportunity to go up 2-0 if we play well," Drew said Tuesday. "Looking back at the Orlando series, being in a similar situation, I thought we kind of let our guard down a little bit. I thought we got a little complacent. I thought we got a little soft. And that's not something I can allow to happen at this particular point."

That's why one of the first things Drew did when he addressed the team after Monday's win against the Bulls was to issue an immediate challenge heading into Game 2 on Wednesday.

"I told the guys we have to grow as a team, being in this situation," Drew said. "There are no more excuses as to why we can't come out and perform in this situation. Now we really have to step up."

After shooting 51.3 percent and scoring 103 points, the Hawks believe the Bulls are the team that will make the bigger adjustments. Joe Johnson, who scored a game-high 34 points Monday, insisted his team will play with even more confidence in Game 2, with all the pressure clearly on the Bulls.

One adjustment the Hawks are bracing for is a more aggressive approach from Rose, who did not attempt a free throw in Monday's game after averaging 12 attempts from the line in the Bulls' first-round series win against the Indiana Pacers.

Ironically, the Bulls had their most effective stretch in the second quarter when they sped up the tempo, got open looks from 3-point range and outscored the Hawks 32-23.

"We know we can beat any team in this league, regardless if we're home or away," Johnson said. "Anything is possible. This playoffs has shown that. It's probably more pressure on them, considering the fact that we've come in here, won Game 1 and really turned the tables as far as home court. All we have to do is come out and play and have fun. So there's no pressure on us. We're still the underdogs."

But these Hawks want to show the league that they have a bit more bite these days than the Atlanta teams that were swept in the conference semifinals each of the past two postseasons.

"We're more confident because we understand we can take a team's best punch and come back from that," guard Jamal Crawford said. "I think last year, when we took a punch, it was over with. Now, we counter from that and get even stronger."