Fact or Fiction from Atlanta Hawks' Playoff Appearance

Joe Wirth@JoeWirth11Contributor IIIMay 6, 2013

Fact or Fiction from Atlanta Hawks' Playoff Appearance

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    After a disappointing loss to the Indiana Pacers in Game 6, the Atlanta Hawks' season has ended.

    It was a season that was marred by inconsistency and unrealized potential. Although they were unable to get out of the first round, there will still impressive individual performances.

    After coming back from an early 0-2 hole, the Hawks tied the series and looked poised to win it. Poor defense in Game 5 was responsible for the loss, and a cold offense in Game 6 left them going home and searching for answers.

    Although there is disappointment among Hawks fans, at the end of the series there was little doubt who the better team in the series was.  

FACT: Al Horford Was the Hawks' Best Player in the Series

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    Horford's elite production in the regular season continued this postseason. 

    After averaging just 13.5 points per game in the two road contests to open up the series, Horford turned his game around when the Hawks returned home for Games 3 and 4.

    In Game 3, he exploded with 26 points and 16 rebounds. Every game in the playoffs is a must-win, but being down 0-2, the Hawks were playing for their season in Game 3, and Horford put the team on his back and refused to let them fail.

    He backed up his Game 3 performance with another solid output in Game 4 with 18 points, five rebounds and four assists. The Game 4 performance did not match his production in Game 3, but it was enough to complement Josh Smith's outstanding game and lead the Hawks to the win.

    Game 5 and Game 6 were a bit of a struggle offensively for Horford, but he was still able to be a force on the boards and had 16 rebounds in the two games combined.

    As Horford enters the prime of his career, look for the Hawks to build around him in the future.

FACT: Jeff Teague Is the Hawks' Point Guard of the Future

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    Jeff Teague was one of the few Hawks who played well in the first two games of the series in Indiana.

    He led the team in scoring in Game 1 with 21 points and was a catalyst for the offense with seven assists. Teague also played well in Game 2 with 16 points and five assists.

    His offense was solid, but it was his defensive effort that needed improvement. Teague was matched up against Pacers' point guard George Hill for most of the first two games, and Hill shredded Teague.

    In the first two games, Hill averaged 20 points and had a +/- of over 19 in each game.

    That changed once the series shifted to Atlanta. In Game 3, Teague held Hill in check with three points on 1-of-8 shooting. In Game 4, Hill scored 12 points with Teague holding him to 26 percent shooting, including 0-of-6 from three-point range.

    Despite his struggles in Games 5 and 6, Teague gives the Hawks their best option at the point guard position in years. With the uncertainty surrounding Josh Smith's contract situation, look for Teague and Horford to lead the Hawks' franchise into the future.

FICTION: Josh Smith Will Be Back with the Hawks Next Year

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    Josh Smith has been the catalyst for the Hawks' offense throughout most of his time in Atlanta.

    In his ninth year in Atlanta, Smith had another all-star caliber season statistically. He averaged 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.

    One cannot doubt his production, but many questioned Smith's attitude during his contract year. In fact, during TNT's pregame show for Game 1 of the Hawks-Pacers series, Charles Barkley questioned his interest in the series.

    Even if that is mere speculation, the fact that there is chatter like that about a team leader is embarrassing.

    There is no doubt Smith has the physical tools to be an all-star every year, but his questionable shot selection and attitude has grown thin on Hawks fans.

    In this series, Smith averaged 17.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists. This is a good stat line for any player, but outside of Smith's performance in Game 5, he was unable to step up when Atlanta needed him in Game 5 and Game 6.

    He shot 31 percent in each of those games, and the Hawks needed more from their highest-paid player in order to advance to the next round.

    Smith had another great year this season and has done a lot of good things for the franchise, but both parties will be better off without each other next season.

FACT: Poor Defense Was the Reason the Hawks Lost This Series

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    In Games 1 and 2, the Hawks were shredded defensively. They gave up an average of 110 points per game and were hardly competitive. After their dismal performances on the road, some people were thinking that the Pacers just might sweep the series.

    The Hawks put those talks to bed with an impressive performance in Game 3.

    The contest was a complete turnaround from the first two games of the series. The Hawks held the Pacers to 27 percent shooting from the field, including only 16 percent from three-point range. The 69 points scored by the Pacers were their lowest offensive output since 2006.

    The big change for the Hawks came in an adjustment to the starting lineup. Johan Petro was inserted into the starting lineup while Kyle Korver was relegated to coming off the bench. Although Petro only played 14 minutes and Korver still logged more playing time, sometimes a small change can make a big difference.

    The Hawks' defensive prowess in Game 3 was especially effective against Indiana’s backcourt. Josh Smith and Jeff Teague effectively shut down the Pacers’ Paul George and George Hill.

    George averaged 25 points per game over the first two games of the series but was held to 16 points and shot 4-of-11 from the field in Game 3.

    Hill also had success against the suspect Atlanta defense in the first two games by averaging 20 points per contest, but he struggled in Game 3. Teague held Hill in check with three points on 1-of-8 shooting.

    In Game 4, the Hawks were challenged by the Pacers, but were able to step up defensively when it mattered to earn the win.

    In Game 5, Atlanta returned to its defensive ways of early in the series. The Hawks gave up 106 points and allowed the Pacers to shoot 51 percent from the field.

    Although the Hawks defense played well in a sloppy Game 6, it was not enough to stave off elimination.

    The breakdown of this series is very simple. When the Hawks were able to play well defensively, they won. But when their defense struggled, they had no chance against Indiana.

FICTION: The Hawks Are Part of the Eastern Conference Elite

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    If there was anything to take away from the Hawks' first-round exit, it was that the Indiana Pacers are part of the Eastern Conference elite and the Atlanta Hawks are not.

    The Pacers gave the Heat a run for their money last year in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and they demonstrated that they have the potential to do so again this year.

    The Hawks, while they played well at home in Games 3 and 4, were clearly an inferior team to the Pacers.

    Indiana is a team on the rise and has the potential to be annual contenders in the foreseeable future.

    While Atlanta does have some solid parts, with the uncertainty surrounding Josh Smith, their future is murky.

    They have been to the playoffs six straight years, but have been unable to advance past the second round.

    The Hawks as they are currently constructed have the capabilities to make the playoffs every year, but they have a ceiling.

    With the likes of Andrew Bynum and Atlanta-native Dwight Howard potentially available in free agency this offseason, Atlanta has a chance to alter the fortunes of the franchise and finally join the elite of the Eastern Conference and the NBA.