Whatever doubts the Hawks had about their chances to turn this series around after Saturday night's loss to the Heat in Game 3 had disappeared by Monday night.The heads that were dipped at practice Sunday morning were suddenly back upright. The Hawks had serious looks on their faces from the moment they walked into the locker room.
"I trust my team," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said before his team hit the floor and shut the Heat down 81-71 to tie the series at 2-2. "They've been pretty good all season in terms of having their backs against the wall, because we (went) through some stretches this past season where we weren't playing very well and we would figure out a way to bounce back and win games and get back headed in the right direction.
"This being a seven-game series, you don't have the luxury of waiting around."
The Hawks didn't hesitate Monday, leading by as many as nine points in the first quarter and 24-17 at the end of the first quarter. They led the entire way in a game they had to win in order to keep their playoff hopes fire burning.
And now the Heat has to try and snuff that fire out in Game 5 Wednesday night, a task as monumental as the Hawks fending off a potential 3-1 Heat lead Monday.
"It's going to be tough," Heat swingman James Jones said. "You can't take any game lightly, home or away. It's going to be extremely difficult to pull a win off there because the series is even now and they have home-court advantage again. It's up to us to go up there and try to put up the effort, because they are going to want to defend their home court this time."
You'd better believe that's the case.
As focused as the Hawks were on the Heat Monday night, they didn't want to return to Philips Arena with the burden of trying to keep their season alive.
"This was probably the most important game of the series," Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson said after the Game 4 win. "There was no way we could go home down 3-1. And now we have home-court advantage again and we have to take care of it this time."
HAWKS 81, HEAT 71: The grimy defense was back.
So too was the ball movement, the heart and the relentless will that marked the Hawks' first Game 1 win in this first round playoff series against Miami.
The Hawks' 81-71 win over the Heat in Game 4 Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena was punctuated by backup center Zaza Pachulia, who tore through the Heat for 12 points and a career playoff-high 18 rebounds, six of those coming on the offensive end.
"Somebody had to step up, get us over the hump and Zaza did that," Joe Johnson said. "He was the spark off the bench that we needed. He set the tone early with the hustle plays and tap-outs and we fed off of that all night."
The Hawks fed like crazy off of that energy, just like their coach thought they would.
"They are not ready to go home," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "The fight is still there. We talked about it; when our backs are against the wall somebody always seems to come out and do something special. And this was huge, because it's our first road playoff win. And we did everything we were supposed to do to secure this win. And now we have to go home and handle our business."
Deadlocked at 2-2, things shift back to Atlanta for Wednesday's crucial Game 5 at Philips Arena.
After getting their doors blown off Saturday in Game 3, the Hawks toughened up and out-scrapped the Heat behind the rugged inside work of Pachulia, black eye and all, who was relentless off the bench with 12 points and a playoff career-high 18 rebounds.
"I don't know where it came from," a grinning Pachulia said of the black eye he suffered at some point in Game 3. "It was burning and it was already swollen. That's okay, it happens. I look like Rocky Balboa."
Just like Rocky, the Hawks refused to lose.