The Hawks better hope they don't pay too much for playing their starters and top subs all the minutes in the second half of Friday's win over New York.They'll pay because Saturday night's opponent at Philips Arena is none other than the Boston Celtics, in what could be a preview of their first-round playoff series against each other.
Then again, if the Hawks can't finish off the Knicks, what makes anyone think they'll have an easier time with the likes of the Celtics, Orlando (Tuesday) or even the wretched Miami Heat, the team the Hawks finish the regular season against Wednesday night in Miami?
"Listen, we're focused," Josh Smith said after torching the Knicks for 24 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks. "I know the Knicks aren't in the playoff mix but they're a proud bunch of guys. They weren't going to let us come in here and just walk over them. They're trying to play to knock somebody off and they came to play (Friday night)."
Early on, the Hawks had no problem shaking off the funk from Tuesday's disappointing loss in Indiana; a Hawks win would have ended the Pacers' playoff dreams that night.
Johnson led the way with more than 43 minutes and Mike Bibby, who broke out of his shooting slump with a much-needed 24 points on 10-for-19 shooting, played 42 minutes and 55 seconds.
Al Horford (19 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks), Marvin Williams, Smith and Childress all played 33-plus minutes.
"At this point in time, minutes shouldn't be an issue," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "Boston played (Friday), too. And I don't know how many minutes their guys played. But it shouldn't matter."
HAWKS 116, KNICKS 104: Magic numbers and playoff-clinching celebrations will have to wait for another night.
Right now, the Hawks have to concentrate on just trying to win every time they hit the floor.
They held their concentration just long enough to turn back the lowly New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden Friday night, building and then blowing a 21-point lead in the process.
"We can't afford to do stuff like that but we're such an inexperienced team; you get a lead like that our guys want to play a lot of one-on-one instead of continuing to do what we did to get the lead," said Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson, who led the Hawks with 34 points and six assists. "You've got to be able to step on a team's neck and put them away. And we haven't shown that ability all year, to be able to put a team away after we get a huge lead early."
With their chief competition for that playoff spot, Indiana, rolling to a crucial 85-76 road win in Philadelphia Friday night, the Hawks have absolutely no room for error, not with a shaky two-game lead over the Pacers for that eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Meanwhile, the Hawks were busy surviving the Knicks.
Instead of stretching their lead, the Hawks toyed around just long enough late in the third quarter and the early fourth quarter to allow the Knicks to shoot their way back into the game.
They got as close as 95-91 inside of five minutes to play but could never climb all the way back, despite the Hawks' anything-goes attitude on defense.
"Listen, that's how it should be," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said of his team's plight to get into the playoffs. "I don't want us to depend on somebody to help us get our playoff spot. That's the only way it should be, so at the end of the day nobody can say you backed in. We have to play our way into the playoffs. We've got to go home and play a tough one against Boston."