ATLANTA - "If you believe, Atlanta, make some noise!"
Those were the words of the Hawks' PA announcer as the home team took the floor for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals with the Milwaukee Bucks. Based on the noise level inside of State Farm Arena throughout the game, these fans believe.
The first quarter itself was the perfect formula to get a crowd going. Two dunks from Clint Capela got the night started, followed by a pull-up triple from Kevin Huerter, then a 36-footer (!) from Trae Young.
And we're off‼️ pic.twitter.com/D8oeCe9gC4- Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) June 28, 2021
Pullin' up from the logo already 🥶 pic.twitter.com/kasitZx4pp- Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) June 28, 2021
It was all a part of a 17-4 run to get the game underway.
As much as Young and the Hawks have come to embrace the road villain role this postseason - they're 6-3 on the road up to this point - there's no place like home, and the Hawks have a home court advantage that a television broadcast doesn't completely do justice.
When Young has the ball in his hands, you can feel the collective anticipation for him to do something special. Whether it's taking advantage of a mismatch, making a flashy pass or launching a 3 from the logo, the crowd is ready to erupt right away.
That 3 from the first quarter? It was almost as if it was the crowd's encouragement that got him to let it fly. And when it went in… mayhem. The same applies to his next triple from way deep.
Range is limitless. pic.twitter.com/CADeVj0oH5- Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) June 28, 2021
Young clearly resonates with this fanbase. Take just one quick walk around the arena's concourse and you'll see more No. 11 jerseys than you can count, and if it isn't a Young jersey, it's surely a shirt that reads "Ice Trae," or something of the likes.
It's Hawks culture, but it's become one with Atlanta culture.
From Grammy Award-winning artist 2 Chainz and former NFL MVP Cam Newton sitting courtside, to a performance of "Knuck if You Buck" by Crime Mob during a timeout late in the first half, this is Atlanta's team, and the energy is reflected throughout the near-16,000 fans that poured into the building for the biggest game this franchise has played since moving to the city in 1968.
If you believe say truuuuuuu 😄 pic.twitter.com/H1a1wgK9bH- Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) June 28, 2021
Crime Mob pulled up to perform Knuck If You Buck 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/qjo0ChWnbF- Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) June 28, 2021
The 10-second "count" from Hawks fans each time that Giannis Antetokounmpo stepped to the free throw line was something you would think to only see - and hear - at a college game, but it fit.
Maybe it's because I hadn't been to an NBA game in over a year, or perhaps it's because it's been nine years since I last attended a playoff game, but the noise reached insane levels at times during Game 3, a fitting atmosphere for the occasion.
Only it didn't result in a win.
As strong of a start that Atlanta got out to, Milwaukee's finish was twice as strong.
On Sunday, it was Khris Middleton that played the role of road villain, scoring 20 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter to help give his team a 2-1 series advantage and regain home court advantage ahead of Game 4.
It may have been a letdown for this Atlanta team and its fans, but they've been here before; quite recently, no less. Not only did the Hawks lose two straight after stealing home court in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but they also faced an 18-point first-half deficit in the ensuing Game 4, pitting them against even greater odds.
But Hawks fans believed enough to continue to make noise, fuelling a comeback victory for the ages. Once staring a 3-1 deficit in the eyes, the Hawks rallied to tie the series at two games apiece before ultimately taking it in seven games.
As they gear up for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Atlanta faces a new set of challenges. For one, the Bucks are undoubtedly a better team than the Hawks' last opponent but complicating matters is the bone bruise to Young's right foot that has the superstar listed as "questionable" for the game.
So can the collective belief carry this franchise once again?
The Hawks have now reached the point of the season in which their biggest game will always the next one on their schedule. Given the fact that Game 3 was the biggest game in franchise history, Game 4 is even more momentous, and we've learned that this team is up for the challenge.
Had a few more things gone in the Hawks favour in Game 3, I could be looking at this from an entirely different perspective.
But they didn't, and now the focus shifts to what will go in their favour in Game 4.
X's and O's - and health - aside for one moment, you can be assured that the energy of the State Farm Arena is one thing that will again work in Atlanta's favour on Tuesday night. If the Hawks get over the hump to tie the series, who knows? We know how good this team has been on the road this postseason.
So long as the Hawks and their fans believe, there's no telling how far things could go.
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