Hawks Fans, Don’t Allow This Series To Drag You Down

As Dan Aykroyd’s Bob Dole character said on Saturday Night Live decades ago, “You know it, I know it, and the American people know it.”

The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to sweep the Atlanta Hawks out of the Eastern Conference finals, barring a piano falling on LeBron James before Game 3.

After a Game 2 in which Kyrie Irving joined Kevin Love as a non-player for all 48 minutes; Iman Shumpert continued to grimace at times when on the court; and Matthew Dellavedova had to play 37 minutes, the Hawks — a 60-win regular-season team, playing at home — could not come remotely close to the Cavs.

It gives one pause.

Just imagine how fully Cleveland would have been able to brutalize Atlanta with a healthy Kyrie in a world without Kelly Olynyk’s incompetence.

One supposes that Atlanta has to be given a bread crumb of a chance to make a series of the East finals in Game 3 on Sunday. Perhaps total desperation, combined with playing on the road — where the Hawks played their best in the previous round against the Washington Wizards — will bring out a better version of this team, which has played only two luminously elegant offensive games in the playoffs: Game 6 at Brooklyn, and Game 4 at Washington.

Yet, to quote the Houston Rockets’ Twitter account from a few weeks ago, the likelihood is that “it will all be over soon” for the Hawks. They’re going to go to a city starved for a professional sports championship. They’ll be playing in LeBron James’s house, against a team that stared down a moment of truth in Game 4 of the East semifinals against Chicago, trailing 2-1 in the series and by 11 points late in the third quarter. Cleveland escaped from that Game 4 cauldron, and David Blatt escaped from being flagged for a technical foul for calling a timeout he didn’t have.

The Cavs survived a Game 5 scare and a Jimmy Butler go-ahead three-point attempt in the final minute. They haven’t looked back ever since, and they’re going to return to the NBA Finals.


(Aykroyd, as you might recall, loved to run those words together later on in the skits he performed as Bob Dole.)

So, while the series isn’t officially over, it’s unofficially over. We’re left to realize that the Atlanta Hawks, having made their first Eastern Conference finals — the product of winning two series in the same postseason for the first time while in Atlanta, a period of nearly 50 years — probably won’t win a single East finals game.

Atlanta fans don’t need to be reminded about what a gut punch this is. So many hopes and expectations were carried into this series, and while Cleveland was clearly the favorite, the consensus was that the Cavs — in their diminished, Love-free and hurt-Kyrie state — would need at least six games to seal the deal. Getting obliterated does hurt, and it should hurt. Feeling pain — for a sports fan — is the price of caring, of falling in love.

Atlantans fell in love with this team, for every good reason. The 2015 Hawks played an aesthetically pleasing form of basketball in the regular season. They weren’t selfish. There are no runaway egos on this team. (These statements are not meant as indirect comparisons or reflections on any other team in the league, by the way; they’re meant to be taken on their own terms.) In the midst of profound turmoil in the realms of both the ownership group and the front office (the mess involving general manager Danny Ferry), Mike Budenholzer and his players created a special story.

Moreover — and this is the money line — for all of the team’s struggles in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Atlanta did become the first Hawks team since the St. Louis version in 1958 to win a pair of series in the same playoff run. This is, without any question or debate, the most successful Atlanta Hawk team which has ever existed. (Maybe not the best team — that might be the 1988 group — but certainly the most successful.) This team, even with a sweep loss to the Cavs, has unquestionably — yes, unquestionably — forged the greatest season in Atlanta’s scarred professional basketball history.

The key point to emerge from those fundamental truths is that the pain of being an Atlanta sports fan lies not so much in this likely sweep, but in the fact that nearly 50 years of history were so barren that they make this season the best in franchise history by comparison. It bears mentioning that the 2015 Hawks did not fail to clear the bar they needed to clear.

This was a postseason in which making a first East finals series became the reasonable goal — not in early March, when everything was fine, but weeks later, when Thabo Sefolosha was injured at the hands of the New York Police Department and Paul Millsap endured a shoulder injury he clearly has not recovered from. All things considered — allowing for an adjustment of expectations relative to circumstances — the 2015 Atlanta Hawks met their most attainable goals.

Yes, it has to hurt to get dominated twice at home by an opponent that’s missing Kevin Love twice and doesn’t have a healthy Kyrie Irving. Yet, in the law of the NBA jungle, we know that teams generally don’t solve the championship puzzle in one season. Absorbing a loss such as this one is a typically necessary step in making the leap to the NBA Finals (and perhaps a world title) the following year.


Atlantans, it’s perfectly okay to feel pain this weekend. The great and eternal lesson about pain, though, is that it needs to be expressed in a healthy way. You can be very disappointed about the way this series has gone. You can lament the extent to which postseason pressure and that LeBron fellow have shown how far your team needs to go in order to make its first NBA Finals in Georgia. Yet, at the same time, you can still appreciate the Hawks for producing Altanta’s most successful NBA season to date.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and NBA championships generally aren’t built one year after a 38-win season.

The 2015 season — likely to end Tuesday night in Cleveland — will always remain an unquestioned success for the Atlanta Hawks. Don’t allow this series to change or erode that reality.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |