Thirty-eight years ago, the Atlanta Hawks were playing Washington in the NBA playoffs. Washington’s team was called the Bullets back then, and along the way that title became too offensive, and the team’s name was changed to the Wizards.
It was a good Hawks team in the 1978-79 season. Eddie Johnson, Armond Hill, Tree Rollins, John Drew and Dan Roundfield were the starters, with Charlie Criss, Goose Givens, Steve Hawes and Tom McMillen coming off the bench.
Hubie Brown, only 45 years old at the time, was the head coach. Ted Turner had owned the team for a couple of years and put the Hawks on cable television.
The Bullets were really good, with Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld, two future Hall of Famers. They were the defending NBA champions, with Dick Motta as the head coach.
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I remember when the Bullets won the series. Motta walked over and shook the hands of the Atlanta players right before the buzzer sounded. I wasn’t sure, as a 9-year-old kid at the time, if it was a classy move or Motta was being a bully. Washington lost to Seattle in a rematch of the NBA Finals just weeks later.
Here we are decades later, and Atlanta and Washington are again locked in a NBA playoff series. With the Hawks’ win Monday, it’s now tied at two with the series headed back to Washington for Game 5 on Wednesday night.
Neither team this season is as good as they were in the late-1970s, but it has been a good series. It’s been good basketball, even with the Wizards as the fourth seed and the Hawks the fifth seed.
The Wizards have John Wall and Bradley Beal, two stars. They’ve combined to average more than 50 points per game in the first four games of the series. Obviously, the Hawks must contain these two as the series is now a best-of-three situation.
Atlanta has its own duo scoring a lot of points, as Paul Millsap and Dennis Schroder have both averaged 23 points per game. But how about Taurean Prince and Tim Hardaway Jr., who have combined for 25 points per game as starters. They’ve been great complementary players.
Prince is becoming a star. The Hawks selected him 12th in the first round in June with the pick they got from the Indiana Pacers in the trade for Jeff Teague. With more playing time, Prince is blossoming into a solid small forward for this team. He’s an athletic player who attacks the basket, and Prince’s shot is getting better the more he plays.
Prince and Schroder are both 23, giving the Hawks a great young duo. Schroder, who at times is still out of control, is too good a talent to give up on. Plus, Hardaway is only 25. So, there is a core here for the Hawks to build on regardless of what happens in the playoffs this year.
The Hawks have a chance to win this series. They obviously will have to win at least one game in Washington. That’s not impossible. What would be great for this team is if it wins round one, it likely will play Boston in round two. The Celtics are always a great matchup for the Hawks, as it has developed into a great rivalry through the years.
Atlanta played well at the end of the regular season, and the past two playoff wins have been impressive. This is not a team that will win the Eastern Conference, but maybe this time around the Hawks can beat Washington in the playoffs.
Maybe Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer will walk over to shake the Washington players’ hands at the end of the series, like Motta did so long ago.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.