If the Hawks win their next two games against Milwaukee, they can avoid two things: 1) Playoff extinction; 2) A special place in Atlanta pro sports’ infamy.
This hasn’t been Utopia, as you know. Atlanta has celebrated only one pro sports championship — the Braves’ World Series in 1995 (not counting obscure acronyms like NASL and IHL).
Pain? Oh, there’s plenty of that. It was difficult to choose. But I’m listing eight postseason collapses (including the Hawks’ current plight), with a synopsis of each. I’ve also included two polls, with a simple question: If the Hawks lose this series to the Bucks – be it tonight in Milwaukee or game seven back at Philips Arena Sunday – would it rank as Atlanta’s biggest post-season disappointment? (The second poll gives you a chance to vote for the runner-up.)
For the record, I still think the Braves’ blowing a 2-0 World Series lead and coming back home in 1996 ranks as the all-timer. But this could rank second.
Here are the eight, listed chronologically:
♦ 1980 Falcons: Steve Bartkowski threw for a career high 3,544 yards and 31 touchdowns and the Falcons won their first division title. But in their first playoff game at Fulton County Stadium, they blew a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead to Dallas and lost 30-27. Danny White’s touchdown pass to Drew Pearson in the final minute decided it. But at least the Cowboys were of far greater stature that year
than the Bucks were entering this postseason.
♦ 1987-88 Hawks: They won over 50 games for the third straight season and defeated Milwaukee in the first round. Then they dropped the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals to Boston before winning the next three games, including game five at Boston Garden. In game six at The Omni, Dominique Wilkins (47 points) and Larry Bird (34) put on a head-to-head scoring clinic in the fourth quarter, but the Celtics won 102-100 to even the series, then took game seven back in Boston, 118-116.
♦ 1991 Braves: I almost didn’t include this because the euphoria of the Braves’ leap from worst to first overshadowed the ending. But yes, Atlanta almost won its first World Series in 1991. The magical run to the division title and through the playoffs ended in Minnesota. The problem was nobody lost a home game. The Braves were up 3-2 going back to Minnesota. But the Twins won game six 4-3 in 11 innings on a homer by Kirby Puckett off of Charlie Liebrandt. They won game seven in 10 innings 1-0 on a complete game shutout by Jack Morris.
♦ 1996 Braves: They were favored to win their second straight World Series and looked the part. After eliminating Los Angeles and St. Louis, the Braves won the first two games at Yankees Stadium 12-1 and 4-0. Over? Not exactly. New York won game three at Fulton County Stadium. The Braves took a 6-0 lead in game four, but the Yankees scored three runs in the sixth and three more in the eighth on a home run by Jim Leyritz off closer Mark Wohlers, a crusher. Then they won it in 10 innings. The Braves were forever numbed. They lost the next two games 1-0 and 3-2. They scored three runs in the final 23 innings.
♦ 1998 Braves: This season isn’t talked about as much. But the Braves won a franchise record 106 games, only to lose to San Diego in the NLCS in six games. The elimination game came at Turner Field, 5-0. Five San Diego pitchers combined to throw a two-hit shuout and struck out 12 Braves.
♦ 2006-07 Thrashers: Hey, I have to throw this in the mix. The Thrashers won the Southeast Division and made the playoffs for the first (and only) time in franchise history. But they lost the first two games at home and were swept in four straight games by the New York Rangers. They scored only six goals in the series.
♦ 2008 Falcons: A case could be made this doesn’t deserve to be on the list. The Falcons exceeded all expectations in the collective rookie seasons for quarterback Matt Ryan, coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, finishing 11-5. But they lost their divisional playoff game at Arizona, 30-24. Ryan committed three turnovers and was tackled in the end zone for a safety.
♦ 2009-10 Hawks: They won 53 games, entered the playoffs as a No. 3 seed and won the first two games over the Bucks at Philips Arena. Everything pointed to a second-round series against Orlando. Then the roof caved in. Two losses in Milwaukee, one at home. Tonight, they face elimination. And humiliation.