This one featured a slew of wannabes.
A slew of inconsistent wannabes.
That's why they're wannabes.
You had the Atlanta Hawks and the Miami Heat, wannabes in search of having folks take them seriously beyond a tease. Then you had Joe Johnson and Dwyane Wade, wannabes in search of becoming known for more than just their splendid talent, but Johnson and Wade have such a desire for different reasons.
For the moment, consider this: Nothing changed regarding that wannabe thing following the Hawks' 91-78 victory on Sunday at Philips Arena. Even so, the Hawks and Johnson remain works in progress to escape their wannabe things after they earned the right to get slaughtered by LeBron and gang in the second round of the NBA playoffs. That's because the Hawks continued the blowout pattern for each winner during this awful series. They did so in their home building, where the only thing more wretched than the play at times of both teams was the sight of all those empty blue seats.
Did anybody deep in the heart of Dixie get the message that the Hawks were hosting their first Game 7 within these city limits? Guess not. As a result, there was much less (much, much less) than the announced crowd of 18,864 watching the Hawks advance this far in the postseason for the first time in more than a decade. Those present were loud and appreciative. But those who gathered to see the victorious Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden were loud, appreciative and plentiful.
Nobody ever will confuse Celtic Pride with whatever you describe the frequently lethargic environments around the Hawks and the Heat in recent years. Still, if you're associated with either of these young teams, and if you have a desire to improve, your renaissance has to begin somewhere. So, during this other Game 7, you had the Hawks sort of getting it. They hammered sloppy Miami and the surprisingly erratic Wade with sustained energy. They also used the combination of Josh Smith (21 points, nine rebounds) inside and Johnson everywhere else.
It was about time for Johnson.
Then again, you know what I said about wannabes.
Prior to Sunday, Johnson was what he has been during his eight NBA seasons, and that is, he barely was a good player after 28 postseason games. This time, he did what great players often do, which is he exploded when his team needed him most.
Sounds like Johnson was inspired by Wade across the way. He responded with wide eyes, saying, "You mean was the entire team inspired?" before he was told the question referred to his inspiration. "Well, I'm always up for the challenge. It's always great to compete against one of the best players in the game right now, and I just wanted to make the best of it."
It took a while. After Johnson averaged six points below his regular-season average of 21 points during the first six games of the series, he had 27 on Sunday. He sank most of his six three-point shots in eight attempts from the west side of Alabama. He also added five steals, five rebounds and four assists. Said Hawks coach Mike Woodson, "Everybody seems to count Joe Johnson out. Coach Woodson, his staff and his teammates, they're not counting him out. He's the foundation of our team. I mean, we're built around Joe Johnson. He's in his fourth year with us, and we're going to the second round of the playoffs. That speaks volumes for Joe Johnson."
Yes and no. Ask Wade, who already has been where Johnson is now -- and significantly further, as a matter of a fact. Along with Wade's five All-Star game trips in six NBA seasons, he just won the NBA's scoring title after spending the summer helping Team USA win Olympic gold. He has a world championship ring, too, which brings me back to that wannabe thing regarding Wade. You know what's coming: Despite Wade's extraordinary May and June during the 2006 postseason along the way to MVP honors in the NBA Finals, he did it with the big guy.
So can Wade ever win it all without Shaquille O'Neal? Maybe, but this was Wade's first full season in this situation since Miami's world championship, and the Heat are heading back to South Beach before Mother's Day. And, yes, I know. This isn't a great Heat team. This is only a decent Heat team, but Wade will join Kobe Bryant as only a wannabe when it comes to operating as clearly THE GUY for a world championship team until he gets the job done. Against the Hawks on Sunday, Wade was clearly THE OTHER GUY compared to Johnson despite a game-high 31 points. Wade missed 15 of his 25 attempts from the floor, and he was underwhelming in general, with an airball, an eight-second violation and four turnovers.
In fact, despite Wade's 41 points during Miami's Game 6 rout, he wasn't much the entire series, partly because of the Hawks constantly throwing different folks in his face and partly because he just wasn't there.
Johnson was there -- at least this time.
Terence Moore is a national columnist and commentator for FanHouse. He is a frequent panelist on "Rome Is Burning", an ESPN show hosted by Jim Rome, that is seen Monday through Friday at 4:30 PM ET. Moore spent more than three decades working for major newspapers, including 26 years as an award-winning sports columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He resides in