Beating the Lakers in 2008 helped light the Hawks’ fuse

Feb. 6, 2008: Al Horford gets forceful. (AJC photo by Rich Addicks)

Feb. 6, 2008: Al Horford gets forceful. (AJC photo by Rich Addicks)

Even before the Hawks took Boston to a Game 7, it was a Laker game that served subtle notice. The date was Feb. 6, 2008 — National Signing Day in football, which meant Hawks-Lakers at Philips Arena that night wasn’t the local story of the moment. And it wasn’t exactly a clash of titans: The Hawks entered at 21-24.

But they showed something that night, something that made you sit up and say, “Hmmm.” They showedthey could outduel Kobe Bryant and his mates in a tight game. (The final was 98-95.) They showed their rookie center was more than a match for the Lakers’ just-acquired Pau Gasol. (Al Horford had 15 points and 20 rebounds to Gasol’s 12 and seven.)

Afterward Ed Peskowitz, one of the Hawks’ several owners, said to Sekou Smith, then of the ol’ AJC and now of NBA.com: “We have arrived.”

True confession: Sekou and I giggled over that one. These being the Hawks, they lost their next six games.

But that victory over the Lakers helped convince Peskowitz and his many partners and even the Hawks themselves that they weren’t as bad as we’d come to regard them. Ten days later, Billy Knight traded four players — Tyronn Lue, Shelden Williams, Anthony Johnson and Lorenzen Wright, plus a second-round draft pick — to Sacramento for Mike Bibby.

The new point guard’s debut was a dud: An egregious 122-93 loss to the Lakers in L.A., in which the visitors trailed by 41 points in the first half. But the Hawks would go 14-13 over their final 27 games and slip into the playoffs for the first time since 1999. They were a No. 8 seed, but they took the champion-to-be Celtics to the limit before losing. And that playoff series was, to borrow from Mr. Peskowitz, the actual time of arrival.

The Laker game, however, was the first hint. Those Lakers would go on to win the Western Conference and lose to the aforementioned Celtics in the NBA finals. Over a decade of losing we’d gotten used to the Hawks being overwhelmed by whatever big-name visitor entered their building. That night they weren’t.

The two meet again tonight, and this time it’s a match of near-equals: The Hawks have won 47 games, the Lakers 54. If the Hawks win again — they beat the Lakers at Philips last season as well — it won’t be a surprise at all.

28 comments Add your comment

UGA Slobberknocker

March 31st, 2010
9:33 am

30 years ago, the Hawks lost to the Lakers in the Western Conf Finals. It was at Tech and I was there. Tonight we can see if we have a chance to go back to the conf finals this yr. Did anyone besides me hear M. Gearon, Jr.s very faint praise for Woody on 680 yesterday? After hearing him, I believe that unless get to the finals this yr..he is gone.

Mark Bradley

March 31st, 2010
9:36 am

The late Tom McCollister, my esteemed former colleague, used to tell me about that series, Slobberknocker. He said there was one game — Game 3, I think — where L.A. got every single call.

UGA Slobberknocker

March 31st, 2010
9:37 am

Dang, Im older than I thought..that 1970 game was 40 yrs ago, not 30 as I stated I better call up some of my Tech buds for some math tips.

Mark Bradley

March 31st, 2010
9:39 am

I just looked it up. It must have been Game 1 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum: The Lakers had 60 free throws to the Hawks’ 32.

Tony G

March 31st, 2010
9:41 am

Funny thing Slober, 30 years ago was 1980, the Omni had been open for 8 plus years.

UGA Slobberknocker

March 31st, 2010
9:46 am

Yeah, Tony G, my math is bad but my mermory good. I believe in1980 we lost to the Bullets who ended up winning the titlwe. and yes, it was the Omni, where 20oz. Tuborgs were $1 until 1978. AH, those were the days.

O'Brien

March 31st, 2010
10:05 am

Mark,

That Boston playoff series is what really got them going. And that carried over this year, into sweeping the Celtics. And beating Miami in last year’s playoffs helped them take another step.

The question is, are they up to the challenge of slaying Orlando or Cleveland? If they can do that, then they will have taken another step towards competing for a championship.

Geemack

March 31st, 2010
10:22 am

Mark

Will the Hawks ever be better than a 2nd round playoff?

They are considered an elite team now, but what does that mean?

Barry

March 31st, 2010
10:24 am

I think the Hawks and Lakers were 40 years ago, 1970. The Hawks and Bullets were in 1979. I went to game 6 in the Omni and drove up to D.C. for game 7. That was a great series. John Drew, Dan Roundfield, Eddie Johnson, Tom McMillian, Armond Hill. Terry Furlow had a great series. Tree Rollins was a rookie. That was very, very fun.

Marcus

March 31st, 2010
10:44 am

MB,
I just hope we get an even temperament as a team and evolve from our Jekyll-Hyde persona: Beat teams we are supposed to beat (NYK, GS, PHI) instead of thinking they are Ws just by shoiwng up and stop giving up double-digit 4Q leads (too many to name, going back to last Nov.), we are even with the Lakers in W/L record and 2nd in the East.

EW

March 31st, 2010
10:52 am

Maybe we’ve arrived as you stated, but we won’t get seated at the table until we make a run in the playoffs. I think we need to do very well in the postseason to entice JJ to hang around.

Mark Bradley

March 31st, 2010
10:54 am

The Hawks and Bullets were indeed in 1979.

JSS

March 31st, 2010
10:57 am

Yep, 40 years ago at Alexander and the Fabulous Forum… Bill Bridges and Walt Bellemy were literally being slaughtered by Mel Counts and WIlt. Anytime Lou, Bill Bridges, Caldwell, and Walt Hazzard touched the ball were clubbed like a baby seals… The two Atlanta games were lost by a total of 5 points. This total includes the 1 point overtime classic (bloodbath) in game 3.

todd grantham

March 31st, 2010
10:58 am

Mark, long time no talk. Been working too hard. Spring practice and all that, you know.

barneystrickland

March 31st, 2010
12:54 pm

I bet Schultz takes a buy-out. Needs to….. after all that whiny, leftist, political crap he interjected into his coulumns….. This is SPORTS !! If he wants to talk politics… let him go wherever they exiled Cynthia Tucker to…!!

Reality Check

March 31st, 2010
1:22 pm

MB, you should look it up, the Atlanta Hawks have never made it past the Eastern Conference finals. In 1979 or any other year. The Sonics and Bullets were 1979 finals I think with the Sonics winning. No Atlanta Hawks team has ever played for the title.

Mark Bradley

March 31st, 2010
1:26 pm

I have looked it up. The Hawks have never reached the Eastern Conference finals. They did reach the Western Conference finals.

Reality Check

March 31st, 2010
1:34 pm

MB, I admit to being part wrong. I posted before I saw the next e-mail from the poster saying 1970. The Hawks were in the Eastern Conference in 1980 with the original post saying 30 years so they could not have played the Lakers in 1980 playoffs. The Hawks were in the West in 1970, I guess from the Minneapolis/St Louis days.

Mark Bradley

March 31st, 2010
1:39 pm

Understood, Reality C.

bigeasy830

March 31st, 2010
2:07 pm

I was at that game in 2008. I took my wife and my brother and his wife came up from out of town. My brothers wife is a Lakers famn and I was able to get the tickets online for a very good price at the last minute. The game was a sellout. I was amazed at the number of Lakers fan and specifically Kobe Bryant fans at the game. It was only a couple of years from the rape allegations, but win and you will win back the fans(MV7). Kobe had injured a finger the game before. Joe played Kobe tough. Kobe was limited to around 10 points in that game. That finger may have bothered him but the next game after the Hawks Kobe scored about 40, so I must give more credit to the Hawks defense that night. The Hawks showed that when they play with intensity they can play with anyone. I agree they may not have arrived in that game but it had to give them confidence going into the series with the Celts in the play-offs, by the time the play-off came around the Hawks had to know that they were a better team after the trade.

Jumpin' Joe

March 31st, 2010
2:28 pm

I was 14 in 1970 and well remember the Hawks-Lakers playoff games (western conference final) at Alexander. Joe Caldwell had a great year, and the Hawks had their best pre-Dominique team with Hazzard, Hudson, Bridges, Bellamy, etc. I believe, the Hawks were #1 seed in the west, while the Lakers struggled due to Wilt the Stilt being out much of the year with a knee injury. But he was back for the playoffs, and the Lakers with Wilt, West, Baylor et al, swept us. Remember special TV lights being hung from Alexander’s ceiling for the series to brighten the notoriously dimly-lit arena. Next year, Hawks drafted Maravich, lost Caldwell to the ABA, and slowly slid into the abyss until the Roundfield/Drew/Hubie Brown yrs.

Big B CH 99

March 31st, 2010
2:49 pm

Sometimes officials determine the outcome of a game. I’m way too young (only 21) to remember a Hawks/Lakers game from that long ago, but 60-32 FT’s is attrocious. When a team shoots more FT’s than minutes in the game, that means that the refs are screwing the other team bad. They must have had a halo rule against the Hawks (w/ in 2 ft of a Laker) & it’s a foul.

We’ve seen Stern determine the outcome of a playoff series before when he screwed the Suns against the Spurs a few yrs ago. W

We all know that the league has always hated the Hawks.

Big B CH 99

March 31st, 2010
2:52 pm

I hate to say it guys, but it doesn’t matter what happens JJ is gone if he wanted to stay he would have accepted the Hawks generous offer before the season.

I think that they need to bring Woody back, he’s actually done a good job the last 3 yrs, the first few, he was in an un-winnable situation w/ almost no talent, & any one they did have was extremely young.

All I'm Saying Is...

March 31st, 2010
2:59 pm

Look, I’m a big Hawks fan but obviously someone is using the phrase “…near equals..” very loosely. This year Hawks have 47 wins thus far to Lakers 54. Two years ago, Hawks had a losing record and lost in the first round while Lakers went to the NBA Finals. Last year, Hawks won a first round playoff series while Lakers went to and won the NBA Finals. So, past two years, Lakers have played in the NBA Finals whereas Hawks have yet to play in the Eastern Conference SEMI-Finals.

Lakers lose games like everybody else and sometimes at home but let’s not confuse Hawks beating them in Philips with the Hawks being near equals.

Right now, there’s Lakers and Cavs and then a step down you have Magic. Take another step down and you have Nuggets (due to making Western Conference Finals last year), Celtics, Spurs (with a healthy Parker and Ginobli) and Mavs. Take another step down and then you have Hawks along with Jazz, Suns, Thunder, and Trailblazers. And, close on their heels are Bucks, Memphis, Miami, Charlotte, and Houston.

So, let’s have the Hawks advance to the Eastern Conference Finals a few times and win a title and then we can realistically mention our team in the same breath as the Lakers.

LET’S GO HAWKS!

JeJe

March 31st, 2010
4:23 pm

“The two meet again tonight, and this time it’s a match of near-equal”

LOL!

Also, if ASG sells the team, what does Gearon do? He’s the one owner with connections to the Hawks

Mr. B

March 31st, 2010
4:48 pm

Come on Mark, that comment about the Hawks being near equeals to the Lakers have everyong accross the nation laughing at you. You don’t come accross as a honest and smart men. How can your really tell. Bet your house, wife, mistress ( like that lying Woods ) and all the money you have on a seven game series between the Lakers and Atlanta. Who would win? I will match you penny for penny if they ever do.

Pi$$onaDAWG

March 31st, 2010
6:10 pm

MB do you think the HAWKS have a shot at winning? Do you think the Hawks can get past the first round? I can hope, but I am not as crazy as I was when the Braves were making their first World Series Run. I get the same felling I get when the Falcons play. “We don’t Have A Shot”. I hope I am wrong, but I don’t thing we have the Coach!!! That Knife to a gun fight thing comes to mind.

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