This game tonight might be the biggest game in Atlanta Hawks history. This team has never been to the Eastern Conference Finals. Not just the 2015 Hawks, but every other team before has never been able to accomplish that feat. Tonight, this team has a chance to make history. They will be playing Washington at the Verizon Center tonight in Game 6. Tip-off is at 7 ET on ESPN. There have been people who have hopped on the Hawks bandwagon this year. I don’t blame them. I predicted before this series started that Atlanta would win in six games. Can they go to Washington to win with so much pressure? Here are three different things to look out for while watching Game 6.
1. John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Paul Pierce won’t go down without a fight
Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce have given it their all this series. Anticipating that John Wall will be back in the lineup, expect him to play like his life is on the line. In an elimination game at home, these three players will feed off their crowd. With Wall playing for the first time in front of his home crowd, expect the Wizards fans to go ballistic after every notable play he makes. When Wall wasn’t playing, Bradley Beal showed some of his true potential. In the four games without Wall, Beal averaged 24.8 points per game. The other man, Paul Pierce, is someone Hawks fans are familiar with. The dislike for Pierce started in 2008 when Atlanta took Pierce’s former team, the Boston Celtics, to seven games. Ever since, Pierce and Hawks fans have never seen eye-to-eye. In Game 5, Pierce hit a three-point shot that put his team 81-80 with 8.3 seconds left. After he made it, he stared down Atlanta fans, yelled “series” (and probably some obscenities with it). “The Truth” doesn’t like to lose, and expect him to motivate his team with his veteran experience in tonight’s battle.
2. If Atlanta’s starters do not show up, expect bench players to get extended minutes
Everyone remembers Game 3, right? The starters never were “there” mentally. It seemed like they just showed up and forgot how basketball was played at times. Coach Budenholzer had seen enough, and he unloaded his bench players early in the fourth quarter. In a miracle comeback, the role players did everything they could, just to watch Paul Pierce hit a buzzer-beater to take the game 103-101. Atlanta’s coach has started to stick with the players that are playing well during games, rather then sticking to his normal rotation. Backup center, Mike Muscala, has seen extended minutes in the past three games over Pero Antic. Even Kent Bazemore has seen extended minutes, as his hustle in Game 5 was enlightening to watch. Then you have backup point guard, Dennis Schröder. The second-year player has already exceeded expectations by many and is essential to Atlanta’s success. Jeff Teague pulled himself out of Game 5 in favor of Schröder. If Teague somehow struggles again tonight, do not be surprised if Hawks fans see Schröder getting extended minutes.
3. It’s time to see the Hawks as Road Warriors
The Washington Wizards do not want to go home, including their fans. The fans will be loud and proud for their home team. During the regular season, the Hawks went 25-16 on the road, which was the best record in the Eastern Conference. The regular season does not mean much anymore, but there are some notable parts from it for Atlanta. These Hawks in the regular season beat the Clippers, Rockets, Cavaliers, and Bulls on the road. If that does not give them confidence in themselves, I don’t know what will. The Hawks have the blueprint of beating talented teams on the road, and they already have beaten the Wizards at the Verizon Center in Game 4 and during the regular season. This will be a team effort tonight. They are playing for their coaches, teammates, and fans. Atlanta has never seen the Eastern Conference Finals, and this is the game where they can finally see the light.