Mike Bibby is healthy --- and it shows. You see, this is why he was brought to Atlanta . The Hawks point guard scored 11 points in Sunday's Game 7 against Miami, but eight came in the first quarter. He had two three-point plays (a 3-pointer and a basket plus foul) in a 1:03 span. His two free throws to end the first quarter gave the Hawks the lead for good.
With the 91-78 victory in the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series, the Hawks won their first playoff series since 1999 to earn a date with Cleveland in the second round.
"I was just trying to be aggressive," Bibby said of his start. "I was trying to get everyone going, get the crowd going."
A case could be made that Bibby was the Hawks' MVP this series. He averaged 15 points in the seven games and led the team in scoring four times. He had 31 assists and 17 turnovers, including only one turnover Sunday.
"[The Hawks ] thrive off the open court, with their athleticism or their spot-up open 3's with Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby," Heat star Dwyane Wade said.
What makes Bibby's playoff performance stand out is what happened last year. Bibby struggled in the seven-game series loss to Boston. He averaged just 10.5 points. He drew the wrath of Celtics fans with some of his comments. He talked the talk but couldn't walk the walk.
This year was different.
"When we had exit meetings last season, he told me, 'Coach, I'm going to come back in the best shape,' " Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "He said, 'I just didn't have a chance to do it when I was traded to you because I missed veterans camp.' He was probably the most in-shape player in veterans camp. He's had a stellar season so far."
What a difference a healthy year makes.
Bibby missed just two games this year. One was due to a sprained left foot, the other to the flu.
"I just feel better," Bibby said. "I'm in shape. I went through a whole year without injury. Last year I hurt my thumb. Then my first game here [following a trade from Sacramento] I hurt my foot. Now I'm healthy and more confident."
More than his health, it's been Bibby's leadership --- on and off the court --- that has mattered most to the Hawks .
"From training camp through the playoffs he has been leading us," Hawks captain Joe Johnson said. "He keeps everybody in the right spots on the floor. But not only that, off the court he always gets us together. We go out to eat, hang out and he brings that camaraderie. He's a great teammate."
Woodson put it this way: "Without him we're lost, I think. He's our quarterback. He does a lot of wonderful things for our ball club. He's a big-time shot maker. He settles guys down when they need to be settled down. He's been great in this series."