Bibby Points To End Of Hawks' Misery
He hit the court wearing a silly little headband and some leg-warmer thingies around his calves that made him look like a reject from an '80s workout video, but Atlanta Hawks point guard Mike Bibby was no joke on Monday, as he knocked down five three-pointers and scored 23 points in that 105-96 win against the Washington Wizards.
The real joke is the laughable way the Hawks tried to address their point guard troubles before acquiring Bibby from Sacramento on Feb. 16.
It's well known how they passed on Chris Paul and Deron Williams in 2005, but the craziest thing was the next summer, when they decided to sign injury-prone Speedy Claxton - Paul's backup with the Hornets. Claxton has been hurt his entire stint in Atlanta, and his career might be over because of chronic knee problems. The other so-called answers have been Royal Ivey, Tyronn Lue and Anthony Johnson. In a league where a quality point guard is the key to success or failure this season, that wasn't getting it done.
To end the league's longest playoff drought - they haven't been to the postseason since 1999, when Mookie Blaylock ran the show - the Hawks needed a floor general. Not necessarily Bibby, who is more shooter than set up man, but he'll do.
"He's more of a true point guard than I've had since I've been here. And I'm not taking anything away from Lue and Anthony Johnson," Coach Mike Woodson said about two of the four players the Hawks used to pluck Bibby from the Kings, "but Bibby is a different kind of point guard. He's unique in his own way. He can score and make plays for other people."
The Hawks (29-38) got off to a rocky start after making the deal, losing 10 of their first 14 games with Bibby. "In Mike's defense, I didn't want to put any added pressure on him. When you make a trade halfway through, it's a lot of pressure, especially on a point guard where you say, 'Hey, run our basketball team and get them in the playoffs.' " Woodson said. "I don't think it's fair to Mike. It's been not so much a struggle, but our players love playing with him."
It's finally starting to come together, as the Hawks have won three games in a row and sit alone in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference heading into their showdown with the New Jersey Nets. The Hawks have a one-game lead over the Nets.
Bibby is averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 assists since joining the Hawks. He's had two of his best performances with the team during the three-game streak - the shot the lights out against Washington and dished out a season-high 14 points against the Los Angeles Clippers. But Bibby said he is still learning to adjust to his new teammates.
"It's still tough, but I mean, I haven't had much time for practice," Bibby said. "I'm still trying to get in the flow of the game. I'm still trying to figure out where my teammates like the ball. They are still trying to figure out where I'm going to pass it to them. There are a couple of passes where guys didn't know I was going to pass it and some other times I don't know where they were going to be. It is tough, but we are going to get through it."
"The guys are listening," he said. "You can have a team of hardheads, but they listen. I'm a pretty smart player and I see a lot of things on the court."
After making the deal to get Bibby, the Hawks became the league's youngest team. Bibby (51 games) and Joe Johnson (15) are the only players on the roster with playoff experience, so Woodson knows that earning the right to get smashed by Boston in the first round.
"I think our chances are good. It's in our hands," Bibby said. "You never really want to leave it up to anybody else to try to get into the playoffs. I've been there before to where I've waited to see how other teams finish to see if you're going to make it not, so I want to impress upon these guys that it's there for us to take and we've got to go do it."
Joe Johnson, a two-time all-star, is relieved that he doesn't have to carry the Hawks alone anymore. Since Johnson came from Phoenix in 2005, the Hawks haven't won more than 30 games in a season. They could top that total before the end of the month. "It's been fun having a guy who's played in big games and is a clutch player. He came in and gave us tremendous help," Johnson said.
He and Bibby have both been in the conference finals, but Bibby has more solid playoff reputation. In Game 5 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the eventual champion Lakers, Bibby curled around a Chris Webber screen and buried a jumper that gave Sacramento a 3-2 lead in that series - and may have been the last big-time shot for the franchise which has been moving backward since.
"It was time for a fresh start," said Bibby, who spent 6 Â½ seasons in Sacramento and three more with Vancouver. "Sometimes a trade will rejuvenate something. I had great times in Sacramento. It was time to move on."
Bibby missed the first 36 games this season after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb. Woodson hinted that Bibby has been playing hurt while with the Hawks (which might explain his odd getup on Monday). "That means he's a tough cookie," Woodson said. "I'm happy we got Bibby. I wish we had him a lot sooner."
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