The Hawks tore through the first part of the regular season, but things slowed after the All-Star break, and have now come grinding to a halt in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Thabo Sefolosha was lost before the postseason began with a broken leg, and Kyle Korver was lost in the series against the Cavaliers with an ankle injury that will require surgery. DeMarre Carroll has been playing, but has been a shell of himself after suffering a knee injury in Game 1.
And yes, there’s more.
The most serious of those is Millsap’s sprained right shoulder, which caused him to miss five games in early April and has never fully healed. There are whispers that it might require surgery after the season.
Every team has injuries at this time of year, and the Hawks will get no sympathy from their current opponent. The Cavs lost All-Star forward Kevin Love in the first round, while Kyrie Irving has hardly played in this series because of knee troubles. But LeBron is the ultimate equalizer, able to turn even a battered roster into a contender. That’s what superstars do.
This tidbit comes in a longer piece about the way the Hawks are constructed, and whether their equal-opportunity style is one that is capable of winning a championship.
I’m not yet convinced.
Atlanta’s hot start, one in in which the team won 40 of its first 48 regular season games, was partly due to having the element of surprise in being so good so soon, and Korver putting up all-time great shooting numbers that had defenses with little time to prepare second-guessing their coverages.
As the season wore on, however, and the Hawks became a known quantity, teams were able to adjust. The Nets even picked up two playoff wins against Atlanta, and that seemed wholly unlikely before the first round began.
Atlanta fans will blame the high volume of injuries for the team falling short in the postseason, and making it to the Conference Finals, even in the watered-down East, remains an accomplishment worth noting. If the team comes back intact next season and can shake the injury bug, it’ll be interesting to see whether it’s once again capable of getting this far.