While the Atlanta Hawks have handily won Game Four of their best-of-seven series, tying the contest at two games apiece, the young and talented Hawks (my Hawks) are currently in danger of becoming a footnote in a great player's history.
That great player is, of course, Dwyane Wade. D-Wade is a special player, the type that can will his team, if they are moderately talented enough, to win playoff series.
I believe it was Danny Ainge who once said, as a commentator, that he didn't believe Michael Jordan could be beaten in a playoff series. This was in the middle of a run of six championships in the '90s, in my view even more impressive than the run the Celtics had in the '60s.
Why? The pure level of talent on great teams that Michael Jordan dismantled.
Early in his career, Jordan was beat in a playoff series. By championship-caliber teams. Bird's Celtics. Thomas' Pistons. Once he got past those great teams, personally ending the careers of both amazing players in Bird and Thomas, he did the same to Magic's Lakers. Then other amazing teams like the Trail Blazers, the Suns, the Sonics, and the Jazz twice.
Some of the greatest players in basketball never hoisted a championship trophy because of a great player: Michael Jordan.
Jordan's favorite punching bag for a couple years was a great contender coached by Lenny Wilkens, the Cavs. The historic shot over Craig Ehlo. They still show it all the time, Ehlo hanging his head in shame and disgust. Classic.
But the Cavs were a great team. They had amazing talent and top-notch coaching. They could just never get past the ceiling of Michael Jordan.
Other players have been transcendent enough to send good—even great—teams back to the drawing board and further toward mediocrity. Bird. Magic. Thomas. Hakeem Olajuwon. Tim Duncan. Jordan is just the best example.
Is Wade that good? Not yet, but as I stated earlier, he's proven he can will an above-average team to beat amazing teams in a playoff series, forever ending their progress. What have the Mavs done since Wade humiliated them over two or three games to win a championship? Underachieved.
The Hawks are a great young team. They have some amazing talent. They are progressing nicely. They are a couple players and a savvy coach away from championship caliber. In Atlanta, we have a little hope for our NBA future.
But will they get there? Will they be able to ride the storm of D-Wade? Or will they be another version of the Cavs for a transcendent player?
The Hawks have won the two games where Wade has not shot well. Can they win a game where he goes off by containing the rest of the team?
This is what the Hawks have to prove. Getting past Wade in the first round buys them more than respect and a ticket to at least another four games with another great player; it buys them the validity to continue to progress, to add players and talent to what they already have.
Game Five is at home for the Hawks. This is a must-win game. The other option is possibly pulling the plug on a successful team before it is necessary after a disappointing postseason.