Since moving to the city of Atlanta, the Hawks have never made an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. The Hawks have become one of the few laughing stocks of the league. The reputation of fans not showing and the team not being able to get it done precedes itself. Sure Wilkins brought the highlights to the Highlight Factory with his spectacular dunks and ridiculous ability to score, but not even Wilkins could get passed Bird and the Celtics. Coming into the series with Washington, I believed this series to be the most important in Atlanta Hawks history. The Hawks won a franchise record 60 games this season and cruised to the East’s number one seed. Critics, basketball fanatics and nearly everyone around the game scoffed at the Hawks’ 60 wins. They claimed the playoffs, like they always have, would expose the Hawks for what they are. The Hawks are now one game from the ECF, and while it has been far from pretty, the Hawks will shut up all their critics with one more victory. A victory could be the difference between something special and the “same old Hawks”.
For argument’s sake we have to explore the possibility that the Hawks blow this 3-2 series lead. The city goes back to believing this Hawks team was no different. The excitement about basketball and the new “Spurs of the East” style of basketball goes to waste. People do not buy into losing, and frankly the Hawks have been in this spot and failed too many times. Demarre Carroll and Paul Millsap become hot free agents on the market. Other teams will be throwing large sums of money at these two, and the players will be forced to make some tough decisions. Do they lose faith in the system as well? Selling the team to these guys and big name free agents like Lamarcus Aldridge becomes a lot harder when your best season in franchise history results in a semi-final loss to a young Wizards team. A loss could set this franchise back for years to come, but what could a win do?
A win solidifies this Hawks team as the best since moving to Atlanta. The whole city of Atlanta would buy into this team now and for years to come. The Hawks versus Cavs series would be a circus in Atlanta. It would truly be like nothing this city has seen from a basketball experience. It would catch the eyes of not just the basketball fanatics that have watched them since they were a 50 loss team, but casual fans that just want to represent the city. The Hawks will have, for once, represented this city well. No matter what the result of the Cavs series, the Hawks would be able to build off an ECF appearance. The experience that the guys would gain would be invaluable. A good comparison would be the Pistons of the early 2000’s. The Pistons entered the 2002-2003 season as a young team with little playoff experience. They were a lot like the Hawks and had no player that averaged 20 points per game. They fought their way to the ECF for the first time since the Bad Boys were in Detroit. The result was a 4-0 loss to the New Jersey Nets. The very next season, this same team acquired Rasheed Wallace in a trade and won a championship. Their leading scorer, Richard Hamilton, averaged 17.6 points per game over 2003-2004 season. Their success continued and the Pistons became a force in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
This one victory could be the difference in establishing not just a dynasty, but a basketball culture in Atlanta. Before the Spurs started dominating the league in the late 90’s, San Antonio was not a basketball town. Winning changes things, and the Spurs changed the basketball culture in the city of San Antonio. Coach Budenholzer and the Atlanta Hawks have the ability to start something special in Atlanta, and that something special starts tonight with a WIN over the Wizards in the Verizon center.