The Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968. While based here, they’ve never won two playoff series in a single season. They may never have a better chance than they do now.
They hold the homecourt edge over Boston in Round 1. (Never mind that the Celtics are favored to win.) Should the Hawks beat the C’s, their Round 2 opponent will be Philadelphia, which has the worst record of any postseason qualifier, or Chicago, which just lost its best player for the duration.
Yes, the Bulls have had ample opportunity to get used to being without Derrick Rose this season, but always before they believed he’d be back for the playoffs. In Game 1 against Philly, with Chicago leading by 12 points with 1:20 remaining, Rose tore his ACL. With him, the Bulls might have won the NBA championship. Without him, they might lose to the 76ers. (Though probably not.)
If you’re the Hawks, you can’t put the cart before its equine puller. Beating Boston won’t be easy. But whoever wins this series should reach the Eastern Conference finals, somewhere the Atlanta Hawks have never been. (They twice made the Western finals, but back then you only needed one series victory to get there.)
These playoffs weren’t three hours old before the molecules got rearranged, and for once in their existence we can say the Hawks have caught a break. Heck, they might even get Al Horford back for the conference semis. That’s provided they reach the conference semis.
And that’s a major caveat. We learned in 1988 that getting close wasn’t the same as getting there. The Hawks took a 3-2 lead over Boston in Round 2 and faced a close-out game at the old Omni. They lost by two on a Friday night that ended with Cliff Levingston’s no-chance running lefty hook, and they lost the epic Game 7 in the old Garden. There is, however, one difference.
Those Celtics were old. These Celtics are older.
By Mark Bradley