The Hawks are in the playoffs for the sixth straight season. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/NBAE/Getty Images
By Jon Cooper
The expression "There's no place like home" has never been truer than in the 2013 NBA Playoffs.
Through the first 20 games of the First Round (heading into games of Friday, April 26), the home team had won 17 times — an almost unheard of 85.0 percent of the time. Included in those 17 L's for visiting squads was a pair of losses by the Atlanta Hawks to the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Hawks were determined to continue that trend and equalize when they got back home to Philips Arena to host Games 3 and 4.
"Teams just play well at home. They play, as my young guy said, 'with a different swagger at home,'" Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "Veteran teams have the ability to go on the road and carry that swagger. But thus far, looking around at the different series, home court has been very important. We're coming home, and I know our guys are happy about it and feeling good about it, and hopefully it'll continue."
The Hawks, like the Pacers, had a very good home record during the regular season, going 25-16, and twice knocking off the Pacers (89-86 on Nov. 11, 2012 and 109-100 on Dec. 29, 2012). While it's been a while since the teams hooked up at Philips Arena, the Hawks recognize how important being back in front of the home crowd is.
"It definitely is," forward Josh Smith, who averaged 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in Games 1 and 2, said. "We definitely have to be able to ride the momentum of the building, definitely have to have the fans into it and have that be beneficial for us."
"It's going to be big," guard Jeff Teague, the Hawks leading scorer through the first two games at 18.5 ppg, said. "That's what they were doing. They were getting on their runs, they were pumping the crowd up. We have to do the same thing. I think we play really well here at Philips. When we come out and play hard with a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, we're really good."
The Hawks have played hard, exciting, energetic basketball and have been really good at Philips over the last five postseasons, and it has made a profound difference. It's part of the reason that heading into Saturday Atlanta was 14-3 in first-round home games since 2008.
"Fans really come out, they really support," center Al Horford, who is 13.5, 8.0 and 4.0 in this years playoffs, said. It's enjoyable to play with that type of atmosphere."
Horford was a rookie in 2007-08, the year Atlanta ended a nine-year playoff absence and took Boston, the eventual NBA Champion, to seven games, winning all three games at Philips.
That series is still one of the most memorable as far as the influence the Philips Arena crowd can have.
"Nobody can forget the first time we made the playoffs and that Boston series, Smith said. "That was probably the loudest I've ever heard Philips. We definitely are going to need the support of the fans. I understand that everybody has jobs, and they've got to work, but hopefully as soon as work is over they're headed to the Highlight Factory so we can have that momentum that we need in order to win games at home."
While Atlanta lost both games in Indiana by double-digits, there is a firm belief that home cooking and the home crowd can turn the series around.
"I think anytime you play a home game in the playoffs it gives you an edge," guard Devin Harris, whose first playoff games in The Highlight Factory come in Games 3 and 4, said. "The playoffs bring everybody up. I've seen it on TV, where they had epic battles with Boston and the one year where they played Milwaukee, it was a pretty big advantage for them."
Guard DeShawn Stevenson, also making his Philips Arena playoff debut this weekend, expects an obvious advantage for the Hawks.
"I think our crowd is going to be ready, we'll be ready," he said. "It's going to be rocking. And if it's not rocking we have to make it rocking."
Jon Cooper is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.
Second photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images