Hawks coach Mike Woodson took both Josh Smith and Josh Childress to Detroit for playoff games after their rookie season hoping the sight of intense, playoff basketball would stir in them similar ambitions to reach the NBA's grandest stage.Hours before the Hawks' Game 6 showdown with Boston at Philips Arena Friday night, a 103-100 win for the home team, Woodson recalled that trip and the three long years of playoff pursuit that followed with Smith and Childress the only roster holdovers from that first 13-69 season four years ago.
"It was the Spurs and the Pistons," Woodson said of that playoff trip with Smith and Childress, "and just the atmosphere that was presented to them, they couldn't believe the level of play and excitement that goes on in those games. And here they are now playing their first playoff round against the best team in basketball."
Smith said it was hard to see the path to the playoff during those first two tumultuous seasons, when the Hawks won just 39 games and were no closer to the playoffs than those prime, courtside seats Woodson was able to secure for them.
The Hawks won just 37 games this season and barely made the playoff field. And they were blown out in the first two games of this series in Boston. Home wins in Games 3 and 4, however, rekindled some of those memories that Smith and Childress had from that Detroit trip.
"We were so young then, but we had an idea even then that this is what things could be like if we could get it all turned around here," Smith said. "I know it hasn't always been pretty, but we've been working to get to this point from the first day we got here. And it's special for all of us, not just for me and Josh because we've been here longer than some of these other guys."
So special, in fact, that many of the teammates Smith and Childress have played with during their four NBA seasons showed up at one or both of the previous home games in this series to show their support.
"Al (Harrington), Royal (Ivey), Anthony Johnson and (Kevin) Willis were all in here," Smith said. "A lot of other guys called or (text messaged) to tell us they were proud of us, happy for us and would be watching. That means a lot because they know how tough the road was for us to get here.
"I won't lie to you, when we made the playoffs, it felt like we were doing it for all those guys, too. Every person who came through that locker room that past four years has a something to do with what we did this season."
HAWKS 103, CELTICS 100: It wasn't nearly as emphatic as the last time but every bit as dramatic.
There's just something about these Hawks when they get on the floor at Philips Arena in the playoffs.
They won't lose.
Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson scored the five of the his team's final six points in yet another stunning home playoff win, this one a do-or-die Game 6 win over Boston Friday before the largest Hawks crowd in arena history, forcing a deciding Game 7 Sunday in Boston.
Mike Bibby missed the first of two free throws with 7.4 seconds to play but made the second. And Rajon Rondo's attempt at a game-tying 3-pointer fell a foot short at the buzzer for the Celtics, who'll have the added pressure of not being on the wrong side of biggest upset in NBA history on their minds Sunday afternoon in Boston.
"We knew even when we were down nine in the third that we'd done this before," said Johnson, who finished his night 15 points on 4-for-13 shooting. "Every guy on that floor stepped up. Guys were making plays and in the right spots at the right time. We couldn't have drawn it up better.
"And just because we're the eighth seed doesn't mean anybody is going to come in here and just walk all over us."
Johnson, quiet for much of the night because of a constantly trapping Celtics defensive scheme, made the four free throws in the final 10.6 seconds. His 3-pointer over James Posey at the shot clock buzzer with 1:06 to play to give the Hawks a 100-95 lead, though, was the real dagger. It was the Hawks' first made 3-pointer of the game after six straight misses.
Johnson didn't come close to matching the production of his fourth quarter heroics from Game 4. He scored 20 of his career playoff-high 35 points in the fourth quarter of that win.
But the Hawks aren't complaining this morning. Not with one last shot to pull off the most stunning upset in NBA playoff history.
"From day one I told this team that anything is possible once you get into the playoffs," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said, "and this team believes that. We are going to Boston, the crowd will be hostile, but if we stick with our game plan and not dig a hole early, we will give ourselves a chance to win."