How do the Hawks' celebrate their first win in a seven-game series in nearly 40 years?How about by picking a fight with the biggest bully on the NBA block this season?
That's exactly what they've done with Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and they're already down 0-1 in the series after Tuesday night's 99-72 loss.
The Hawks couldn't have asked for a more diabolical opponent. Few teams pose as many threats as the Cavaliers, who boast not only league MVP LeBron James but also the NBA's Coach of the Year in Mike Brown and, if they had an award for it, the best supporting cast any superstar could ask for.
"People called Miami a one-man team because of Dwyane Wade, and they were wrong," Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson said. "Well, LeBron is the ultimate one-man team if they're talking about a guy that makes his team better and carries them every night with his play. He's the prototype."
While the entire franchise has been rebuilt around the mercurial James, the team has quietly gone about building an ensemble cast around him on the court.
From All-Star point guard Mo Williams to feisty combo guard Delonte West to veteran center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, James leads a team filled with quality role players at every turn in addition to a group with championship-caliber chemistry and swagger.
The Cavaliers had the league's best record during the regular season and own home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Unlike their series against Wade and the Heat, the Hawks can't focus solely on trying to slow down James and not expect someone else to step up and make them pay for that strategy.
"They've got weapons all over the floor. And LeBron knows it," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "They've assembled enough shooters around him with Daniel Gibson, Delonte West, Mo, (Wally) Szczerbiak and (Sasha) Pavlovic. They've got all kinds of shooters around him. And they've got plenty of bigs. Ilgauskas causes major problems. And he's kind of been the x-factor when we've played because we haven't had a good matchup for him. Hopefully Zaza Pachulia can step up and fill that void."
That's one of many voids the Hawks will need to fill.
For all the talent James' supporting cast brings to the table, few players on the planet can come close to matching James' dazzling blend of size, speed, skill and whirlwind energy.
"This is 27 years I've been in this league," Woodson said, "and I've never seen a player -- and I think Michael Jordan was the greatest player to play our game in my time -- but I've never seen a player like LeBron. A player that possesses the strength, the athletic ability, the speed and just the know-how to play the game. It's scary because he's so young."
CAVALIERS 99, HAWKS 72: Rust? What rust?
The Hawks could only wish they'd have gotten that kind of clunky performance from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Instead, the Cavaliers brushed off a nine-day rest between series to pound the Hawks in Game 1 of this Eastern Conference semifinal.
LeBron James put a stamp on his own coronation ceremony -- NBA commissioner David Stern presented him with his first MVP trophy before the game -- by working the Hawks for 34 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.
"He's the MVP of our league and he played like it," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "He was unreal on both ends of the floor. And he got all the help he needed from his supporting cast."
James kept the Hawks on the end of his jab all night, working them inside and out from start to finish. He had 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting from the floor by halftime, much to the delight of the sellout crowd of 20,562 that turned out to see their team after the long layoff.
"I'm just taking what the defensive is giving me," James said. "I wanted to be a little bit more aggressive with the time we had off. I wanted to get into a good flow. And we looked good."
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown lauded his superstar for his effort more than anything, pointing to the way the 6-8, 260-pound James hit the floor for a loose ball early to make clear that his team was coming to work with hard hats on.
"During the course of the game he got on the ground I don't know how many times," Brown said. "He came up with a 50-50 ball that set the tone. In the playoffs, everybody knows what offensive plays you're going to run. When you have him diving on the floor, getting after those 50-50 balls, it sets the tone."