The Hawks beat the Celtics on Friday, and it was a night of pugnacity. Zaza Pachulia reprised his “Rocky” act of spring 2008, and his rebounding told the tale. But much earlier, all one inquiring mind wanted to know was:
Had Doc Rivers, the former Hawk who coaches Boston, ever been punched in the face by Dominique Wilkins?
“No, I have not,” Rivers said, deadpan. “I told him yesterday I was considering hiring him for security. I had no idea he had that skill-set.”
As you might have heard: Wilkins, the Hall of Famer who’s a Hawks’ TV broadcaster, was confronted after Wednesday’s game by Rashan Michel, a former NBA referee who claims Wilkins owes him money for clothing. Fisticuffs ensued. Michel was charged with two counts of simple battery.
The celebrity site TMZ unearthed video of the melee’s end, which showed Wilkins landing punches. Be advised that Rivers, even on short rest, took time to click on TMZ.
“I told ‘Nique I was real impressed,” Rivers said. “You know how he is: ‘I didn’t mean to do anything, I didn’t throw any punches.’ Then I saw the video and I thought, ‘Wait a minute’ ”
Wilkins couldn’t be found at Philips Arena before Friday’s game. (ESPN was broadcast, as opposed to the Hawks’ regular TV crew.) Speaking via phone early Thursday morning, Wilkins told this correspondent, “Everything’s all right.” Then, at the Hawks’ apparent request, he started ducking the media.
It will, however, be hard to duck his ex-teammate for long, and Rivers will be certain to bring up the incident. “Now that it’s all over and everybody’s all right,” Rivers said, “what I’m thinking is: I can use this to roast him.”
OK, back to basketball. (We were talking about basketball, weren’t we?) Beyond the postgame brawl, something else newsworthy happened Wednesday: The Hawks beat a good team. This hadn’t happened in a while. Then they went out Friday and beat another, which, if not yet a trend, certainly represents a favorable-looking blip.
March opened with the Hawks surging from 19 points down to beat the Chicago Bulls on a night when Josh Smith didn’t play, and there could have been no better start to a fairly significant month. Matters deteriorated forthwith. The Hawks wound up losing six home games in March — they lost only seven at Philips all last season — by greater and greater margins.
On March 18 they trailed the Miami Heat by 29 points after two quarters; four days later they trailed the Bulls — yep, them again — by 29 after two quarters. “This is starting to get embarrassing,” Smith told reporters after the latter game, and to that we could only ask: Starting to get embarrassing?
March concluded with the Hawks beating Orlando, the team that annihilated them in Round 2 of last season’s playoffs and the team they’re sure to face in Round 1 this time. After a series of retreats, the Hawks finally made some sort of stand.
Said coach Larry Drew, speaking before Friday’s game: “I thought we needed to have it a lot. It was good to really beat a team with a plus-.500 record. If we’re going to be mentioned in the same breath as those teams, we have to be able to beat them. That should be a confidence-booster for us.”
The Hawks caught a break in scheduling, getting the aged Celtics one night after the Green People played (and won) in San Antonio. “We got in a 4 o’clock,” said Rivers, who looked as if sleep had come grudgingly if at all.
The game was no classic. The Hawks fell behind by eight at the half, by 12 in the third quarter. And here you thought, “They’re doing it again.” But they didn’t. They rode the will of Zaza and a cluster of misses by the Celtics’ Glen Davis to a five-point victory. It was a game that meant far more to the Hawks, and to their credit they grabbed it.
And if you’re thinking these two wins could suggest that the Hawks, who we’d all but written off 10 days ago, might have a puncher’s chance come the postseason … well, punching is suddenly he rage, is it not?
By Mark Bradley