We're looking at every NBA Playoff series through the eyes of both Free Darko and Basket Bawful. Here's Free Darko's look at the Boston Celtics-Atlanta Hawks series. Your author is Bethlehem Shoals.
Glee to the Atlanta Hawks! Their first playoff appearance since the year after Seinfeld ended, and an enduring middle finger to all of you who still remember the name. They are not the new Clippers. Their whole team is no longer 6'8". It does not a lick matter that their ownership spend day and night at each other's throats, or that a team in the capitol of New Black America can't draw fans. This team has overcome, and on Saturday, the yoke shall be cast off.
But could this not come under less auspicious circumstances? Sorry, Joe Johnson, ye of the max contract and fumbled reputation; Josh Smith, cult favorite who may or may not know how to play the game; Mike Bibby, forever asking God for attention; and Al Horford, the only one who might emerge from this era unscathed. You are carcass on the flats. Blood on the steel. The quinceanera held in front of a rolling Superfund site. In the cruelest of all ironies, the Hawks return to the big leagues only to be desperately outclassed by you-know-who.
The Celtics are a monolith. It's hard to explain exactly what makes them tick, other than airtight determination, three stars boiled down to their essence and a supporting cast that's equally no-nonsense. When you look at Boston today, you don't see fireworks, or anything else that would offend a Puritanical sensibility. This is the biggest tooth-and-nail in modern basketball existence, where super-stardom tried and succeeded to squeeze itself into the trenches. The Pistons are proles who became stars. Garnett, Allen and Pierce are elites who burned their mansions and took up arms.
It reminds me of America being born. Or at least the first three episodes of John Adams.
But what if, heaven forbid, we are staring right into the cavernous, lurid eyes of this year's Warriors/Mavs? Could not the Hawks, with their outlandish athleticism, glut of weapons and general air of nonsense-inducing puissance, not set the tone? It's a physics experiment I never got to perform: Why couldn't the Hawks just run like hell, push the ball as if points were at stake, and just pray they got down the floor before the vaunted Celtics defensive mindset filled the air like a rare Northrax from the North?
The Hawks have one single advantage here: Top to bottom, they could probably smoke the Celtics in a friendly wind-sprint competition. That or upside-down croquette. Or the rarely spoken-of "snooker of the damned." So, I say, why not donate their hearts and minds to the dwindling cause of the fast-break revolution? The Suns have gone out to pasture, or found their golden bull, or something; karma caught up with the Warriors. The Hawks would be the logical evolutionary — or, err, devolutionary — step from Golden State. If nothing else, it could make for some jittery "up and down basketball," that kind of pell-mell play that makes announcers vaguely nervous and sets audiences on the verge of combustion. And, I may add, flies in the face of playoff solemnity.
Mind you, I anticipate no real victory. Just a token one. A principle set forth, a small statement that might open some eyes. That while massacre is imminent, still, there could yet be the glimmer of a new day. Where the imperfect gifts set forth by the weak could one day be harnessed to fight through the implacable wall of tyranny, excellence, the tyranny of excellence, or, to be fair, this most excellent tyranny.
Hell, maybe it's the Hawks who represent America's first flowering. Right down to stealing the Celtics' ancestral monuments. Now that's some sneaky space shit. Not for today, but for a few years down the road. For future generations. So that one day, we might all be free.
Look, I can read your minds. I'm not stupid, bored or clinging desperately to a dream that's died. I'm talking about stealing maybe one quarter, or a half, as the beginning of the beginning. That's low-level jabber, compared to the Celtics' thunderous march toward the Finals. But seriously, does anything matter for Garnett and Co. until that cross-Conference battle begins? For now, they are as much a Spurs-like foil as the vessel of KG's longtime hopes and dreams. Let's get the most out of these playoffs, from start to finish; Garnett's not going to provide us with constant stress and strain like McGrady, so while he zooms on auto-pilot to that relief we all crave, why not tell the tales of his hull's barnacles?
And then there is the unthinkable. The other day, a friend of mine joked that, if Atlanta somehow pulled off the upset, we should retitle the FreeDarko book Now I Can Die Happy, Too. Get it? Like a sequel, and "also"? But fuck it, even a single, Iverson's 2001 Finals-esque performance would make my week. The Celtics will advance, but me, I'm looking for a sign.