When the Hawks exited the 2014 playoffs after a 7 game series versus the top seeded Indiana Pacers, they could hold their heads high. As the 8 seed without their best player, very few thought the Hawks would compete with the Pacers. Fans tipped their caps to the Hawks and recognized that there could be a bright future ahead. Heading into the 2014-2015 season, the Hawks added Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha, but the most important offseason task was getting Al Horford back on the court healthy. Al returned to the floor for opening night in a 109-102 loss to the Toronto Raptors. The next 12 games were full of ups and downs for the Hawks, as they started the season 7-6. Then something magical happened, that not even the most delusional Hawks fan could have imagined.
The Hawks won 14 out of their next 16 games and caught the NBA by surprise. All of the sudden basketball experts everywhere were asking the question, “Are the Hawks for real?” Most people shut them down and laughed at the concept of the Hawks competing in the playoffs. Their play was impressive, but not enough to change the stubborn minds of the people outside of Atlanta. However, the people lucky enough to watch this team night in and night out saw something special. They saw effortless ball movement, endless hustle, and hard nose defense. The Hawks were competing on both sides of the ball every night and the results were just beginning to show. After a 107-77 blowout loss at home to the Bucks, the Hawks’ miraculous run began. The Hawks went on a franchise record 19 game winning streak and became the first team to ever go 17-0 in a single month. January’s Player of the Month award went to the whole Atlanta Hawks starting five. Now everybody was starting to take notice of the juggernaut the Hawks had become. At the time, it became hard to look away from the TV. Their confidence was soaring, and it seemed like the Hawks were destined for something great.
The crazy streak of winning put the Hawks well in front of the whole Eastern Conference in the standings. Because of that, Coach Budenholzer opted to rest players regularly. The Hawks clinched the top seed in the East on March 27th. The starters played sparingly the rest of the season, but the Hawks core group still found a way to get injured. Thabo Sefolosha suffered a broken ankle in a brawl with police outside of a New York City night club. Then Paul Millsap suffered a shoulder injury late in the season, which he continued playing through, even though it is now rumored he could require surgery. The Hawks headed into the playoffs as the top seed, but still had a lot to prove to their critics.
In round one the Hawks played the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets were under matched, but gave the Hawks a scare after winning their first two games at the Barclays Center. The Hawks were able to respond in Games 5 and 6 and move on to the second round, but it was clear this was not the same rhythm the Hawks played with in January. The second round, the Hawks caught a break of their own. The Hawks lost Game 1 of the series at home, but John Wall suffered a broken hand for the Wizards. The Hawks were able to win 2 out of the next 3 games without Wall on the floor and even the series. Wall returned for the Wizards in Game 5, only to watch his team fall on an Al Horford put back with a second remaining. The Hawks finished the series off in Game 6 at the Verizon Center in Washington. The Hawks had finally given the city of Atlanta a reason to cheer. For the first time in 45 years, the Hawks reached the Eastern Conference Finals. The city was ecstatic for a chance to reach the Finals, but Lebron James stood in their way.
The Hawks were swept by the Cavs after several more key injuries. In Game 1, Demarre Carroll came down awkwardly after a layup and missed the rest of the game. He was able to return for Game 2, but was clearly a shell of himself on both offense and defense. Game 2 featured Mathew Dellavedova rolling over Kyle Korver’s ankle. The result was devastating, as Korver was diagnosed with a severe high ankle sprain. The injury forced Korver out for remainder of the playoffs. The Hawks showed a valiant effort in Game 3 after Al Horford’s controversial ejection, but it was to no avail. The Hawks were clearly not up for the challenge of beating Lebron James. Many fans called it embarrassing, but that is nonsense. The Hawks were decimated by injuries and still competed. The Hawks whole season was defined by team basketball. Take one piece out of the team and it becomes a lot harder to win and a lot easier to get exposed. The Hawks took on the Cavs with 4 total players and 3 starters hurt. They got exposed, but that was not the same healthy team we drooled over in January. It is easy to say blow it up and let Millsap and Carroll walk because they do not deserve the money, but I disagree. This season will prove to be an invaluable experience for all of these guys, including Coach Budenholzer. Nobody on the Hawks had ever experienced this kind of team success. The Hawks need to keep this core group together for the next years to come. A healthy and more experienced Hawks team will be a serious threat in the 2016 playoffs, and although getting swept is a tough pill to swallow, it is not time to jump ship. This is just the beginning Hawks fans and the future is very bright.