Bill Simmons says Stephen Curry and the Warriors didn’t revolutionize small ball: “It was Pero Antic and that weird Hawks team”

Simmons says the small-ball strategy really took flight in 2014 when the Hawks used it to neutralize former Pacers big man Roy Hibbert.

In recent seasons, the NBA has seen a resurgence of the big men. Some of the league’s best players today play the five position.

That is a far cry from how it was several years ago after Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors appeared to have run the elite centers out of the league.

Bill Simmons refuses to credit or blame the Warriors dynasty, though, for creating small ball. Instead, he thinks the movement really began when the Atlanta Hawks fielded a lineup of five players who could spread the floor and made one of the most feared big men of his generation ineffective.

“Made me think of the Pero Antic series for some reason,” Simmons told Ryen Russillo on his podcast after discussing the Atlanta Hawks. “One of the great series…when Pero Antic ruined Roy Hibbert’s career in the Atlanta-Indiana series and created small ball.”

“Everyone thinks Steph Curry created it. It was Pero Antic and that weird Hawks team, remember? They pulled the center out 25 feet from the basket, and people were like, ‘What are they doing?’ And he made like two threes. We’re like, ‘Oh my God, what is this?’ Now, that’s how everyone plays it.”

How the Hawks almost slayed a giant

Simmons is presumably referring to the matchup between the Hawks and Indiana Pacers in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. That series saw Atlanta face a giant, figuratively and literally.

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Entering the postseason as the No. 8 seed, the Hawks took on an opponent that finished the regular season with 18 more wins and was tabbed as the East’s strongest bet to dethrone the Miami Heat as the conference king.

What made it more difficult was the Hawks had to play that round without star Al Horford. So, Atlanta didn’t seem like it had the personnel to take on Hibbert, a two-time All-Star and one of the most daunting defensive centers then.

Mike Budenholzer, who was a rookie head coach that season, proved why he would eventually earn two Coach of the Year awards and a championship. Instead of looking for ways to attack Hibbert, he plotted a tactic to take the 7-foot-2 big man away from his comfort zone and out of the floor.

Atlanta used a starting lineup consisting of Antic, Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Korver, and Jeff Teague. All five could hit outside shots, which negated the Pacers’ usual defensive game plan of funneling the offense into the paint and letting Hibbert do his thing.

But because the king of verticality couldn’t patrol the shaded area, he was rendered nearly useless and played just 21.8 minutes per game in the round.

While Indiana was able to eliminate the Hawks, albeit in seven games, that series catalyzed the downfall of Hibbert’s career.

The Hawks’ green light to make it rain

Of course, the small-ball strategy has been employed by several other teams before ATL did it in 2014.

However, that may have been one of the first times the NBA world saw it extensively used for an entire playoff series. Teague once looked back with fondness on that Hawks squad, recalling how it had the green light to “just shoot as many threes” as they could.

While it didn’t work against the Pacers, the league eventually caught onto the gimmick. Perhaps no other team mastered it better than the Warriors did, although they proved that having the right personnel, namely Curry and Draymond Green, is necessary to make it work.

Having Klay Thompson, who can keep defenses honest with his 3-point shooting skills, also helped.

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