Top 10 Plays and Moments from Atlanta Hawks' 2014-15 Season
The Atlanta Hawks enjoyed a season full of memorable moments in 2014-15.
Although the campaign ended with a disappointing Eastern Conference Finals sweep courtesy of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Hawks set several records this year, many of which you'll soon read about.
But which plays and moments from this season were the very best? It's tough to narrow down all the excitement and properly order it, but let's attempt to rank the 10 most memorable events from the Hawks' historic 2014-15 campaign.
Are there any plays or moments missing? Do you have a problem with the order? After perusing the entire list, feel free to voice your opinion in the comment section.
10. Hawks Wear Throwback Jerseys, Take Down Revamped Cavaliers
A few weeks after the All-Star break, the Hawks were no longer the talk of the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta had won eight of its last 12 games heading into its March 6 matchup against the Cavaliers. But the team wasn't nearly as dominant as it was during its undefeated month of January.
Who had taken the Hawks' place? None other than LeBron James' Cavaliers.
Cleveland had acquired Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in early January, and the trio was starting to mesh with James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Following the squad's 19-20 start, the Cavs walked into Philips Arena with 20 wins in their last 24 contests and the distinction of East favorite.
But when Atlanta donned its Dominique Wilkins-era throwbacks and stepped onto the court, it displayed why it was the No. 1 seed. The Hawks forced James into 5-of-13 shooting and nine turnovers in a 106-97 win, proving to the league they were still a strong title contender.
DeMarre Carroll, the primary defender on LeBron, also gave us a memorable quote after the game.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore, The Junkyard Dog said, "I just want to be a gnat. When you are outside the summer and you just can’t get that gnat away from you."
Unfortunately, the knee injury Carroll suffered in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals prevented him from unleashing all of his gnat-like characteristics on James in the postseason.
But thanks to this Hawks-Cavs matchup on March 6, we all know what a healthy Carroll can do against LeBron.
9. Mike Scott Dunks All over Bradley Beal
Mike Scott has never been known for his leaping ability. DraftExpress' Walter Beeken called him "just an average athlete" before the stretch 4's final season at Virginia. NBADraft.net's Jorrye Nixon echoed Beeken's statement, albeit with slightly different wording, saying, "Athletically, Scott is also average."
Scouting reports, schmouting reports.
The Threegional Manager proved he has the requisite bunnies to deliver the NBA's eighth-best dunk of the season against the Washington Wizards Feb. 4. After contesting Kris Humphries' miss from mid-range, the 6'8" forward leaked out, caught Kyle Korver's outlet pass in stride and elevated to slam over Bradley Beal.
Yes, Beal is just a 6'5" guard, but the jam was still sweet. Scott cocked his arm back for extra power and lifted the ball just above the athletic Beal's outstretched hand.
The play came at an opportune time, too—the Hawks held a slim lead over the Wizards in the fourth quarter, and Scott's dunk helped give Atlanta the momentum it needed to secure a 105-96 victory.
8. The Human Highlight Film Gets Immortalized
Dominique Wilkins is arguably the best player in Hawks history (along with Bob Pettit), so it was fitting for his former team to build a statue of the retired superstar outside of Philips Arena.
The franchise unveiled the Human Highlight Film's likeness March 5, rewarding the legend for his 12-season tenure in Atlanta. While playing for the Hawks between 1982 and 1994, Wilkins averaged 26.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game and played in nine All-Star games. He never quite had a championship roster around him, but Atlanta only missed the playoffs three times with him.
According to the Associated Press' Charles Odum, via Yahoo Sports, Wilkins said the following at the unveiling ceremony: "Nobody loves this organization more than I love it. I bleed and breathe Hawks. Even when I played for other teams I felt funny, because I was a Hawk."
Naturally, Dominique is back with the franchise as its vice president of basketball. He's also Fox Sports South's color commentator for Hawks games.
And if you've never gotten a chance to catch the Human Highlight Film's work on the court, do yourself a favor and admire some of his exploits right now.
7. Hawks Best Warriors in Clash of Titans
There was no shortage of hype for the Hawks' Feb. 6 showdown against the Golden State Warriors. The two No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences came into the contest with similarly gaudy records (41-9 for Atlanta, 39-8 for Golden State), and both teams had reached their marks with beautiful passing and deadly outside shooting.
Many saw the contest as a chance for the Hawks or Warriors to separate themselves as the league's best squad.
Without question, the contest delivered on the hype.
In the Hawks' 124-116 victory, the teams combined for 59 assists and 27-of-59 shooting (45.8 percent) from three-point range. The contest was close throughout, as neither squad led by more than 11 points at any point in the game.
Jeff Teague paced Atlanta with 23 points and seven assists. But, just like all season, the Hawks received significant contributions from several players. Paul Millsap scored 21 points, and Korver drained five threes for 17 points. Plus, Scott came off the bench for 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Unfortunately, between the two teams, only the NBA Finals-bound Warriors could sustain their regular-season excellence in the playoffs. With another year of experience in head coach Mike Budenholzer's system under their belt and (hopefully) better injury luck, maybe the Hawks can attain more postseason success in 2015-16.
6. Budenholzer Wins Coach of the Year
The Hawks won 38 regular-season games in 2013-14. This year, they won 60. That improvement alone was enough to warrant Coach of the Year consideration for Budenholzer.
But when you consider his roster was almost identical in the two campaigns, his case was even stronger.
Admittedly, Al Horford was much healthier in 2014-15, playing in 76 games compared to 29 last season. Other than that, the only significant player turnover was swapping sixth man Louis Williams out for bench wings Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore.
All five Hawks starters (Teague, Korver, Carroll, Millsap and Horford) had better seasons than last year, which speaks both to their personal commitment to improve and the coach's system starting to reap benefits. Atlanta also could have won more than 60 games, but Budenholzer rested the starters frequently over the regular season's final month or two.
Overall, Coach Bud had a strong enough narrative to narrowly win the award over the Warriors' Steve Kerr. He was the first Hawks coach to achieve the honor since Lenny Wilkens in 1993-94.
5. Four Hawks Play in All-Star Game
The 2015 NBA All-Star Game wasn't the most ideal setting for Atlanta's players to show off their abilities. After all, the league's midseason classic is a hotbed for one-on-one play, flashy dunks and little to no defensive effort—three concepts foreign to the Hawks' brand of basketball.
But it was still cool to see four players representing Atlanta Feb. 15 at Barclays Center.
Horford, Teague and Millsap all made the initial Eastern Conference All-Star squad as reserves, and Korver later joined them as Dwyane Wade's injury replacement. With the shooting guard's inclusion, Atlanta tied the NBA record for the most All-Stars on a single team, according to the Hawks' official website.
The accomplishment wasn't surprising since the Hawks entered All-Star weekend with a 43-11 record without one dominant superstar.
Atlanta's quartet took the floor together with 3:12 remaining in the first quarter and was involved in a 13-8 run to cut the Western Conference's lead to nine. Korver had the best night of any Hawks player (21 points on 7-of-12 three-point shooting), and none of his teammates looked overmatched, either.
4. Hawks Complete 19-Game Win Streak with Perfect January
The Hawks tied a record in mid-February with their All-Star exploits, but they set their own mark a couple of weeks earlier with their perfect January.
Atlanta won all 17 of its games in the year's first month, clinching the best such span in NBA history, according to ESPN Stats and Info. The Hawks' point differential in January was an impressive plus-12.7, and they defeated eight playoff squads in the 31-day span.
Also, the team's two wins to close December meant Atlanta carried a 19-game win streak into February. The Hawks would lose to the New Orleans Pelicans 115-100 Feb. 2 to end their undefeated run, but their streak still tied for the fifth-longest in history, according to Land of Basketball.
The Atlanta machine of ball movement, stifling defense and efficient long-range shooting was easily at its best in January.
3. All Five Hawks Starters Win Player of the Month Award
The NBA doesn't give out "Team of the Month" awards. If it did, its decision would have been painfully easy in January, considering the Hawks had a record-breaking 17-0 month.
But the league found an unconventional way to honor Atlanta for its dominance to open 2015.
The Hawks' entire starting five received the co-Eastern Conference Players of the Month award in January. According to the team's official website, it was the first time in NBA history that more than three players from the same team received the honor.
Teague, Korver, Carroll, Millsap and Horford combined for 79.8 points, 27.3 rebounds and 19.8 assists per game during the month with a shooting slash of .514/.445/.807. When on the court together in January, the quintet outscored its opponents by a staggering 17.3 points per 100 possessions. The award perfectly encapsulated the Hawks' yearlong emphasis on balance and team-first basketball.
I mean, you know your team is in good shape when Carroll is your No. 5 scoring option.
2. Hawks March into Eastern Conference Finals on Paul Pierce's Too-Late Three
Until this point in the list, all of the Hawks' best moments from their 2014-15 campaign have come from the regular season. Because let's be honest—Atlanta's best basketball came before the postseason rolled around.
However, the Hawks still got their fair share of excitement in the playoffs.
Atlanta slogged through the first two rounds of the second season, warding off cold shooting, defensive inconsistency and minor injuries to defeat the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards. Neither series was easy, with the top-seeded Hawks winning both matchups in six games.
For a few short moments, however, the Washington series looked like it might go the distance.
The Hawks led the Wizards for almost all of Game 6, but Washington wouldn't quit. Beal's 13-point fourth quarter helped his squad close the gap, and the Wizards had a chance to tie the game down three points on the contest's final possession.
Washington drew up a play to get Paul Pierce (who else?) a shot behind the arc, and the maneuvers worked. The Truth received the ball with less than two seconds on the clock, dribbled once toward the left corner, stepped back and threw up a fadeaway jumper.
Buckets. The game was going to overtime.
But, after review, the referees correctly determined the ball had left Pierce's fingertips after the buzzer sounded, taking away the basket. Atlanta won the game 94-91 and closed out the series.
This victory pushed the Hawks into the third round of the postseason for the first time since 1958.
1. Horford's Magic Stymies Wizards
It's Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Hawks and Wizards at Philips Arena. The series is knotted at two games apiece, and Atlanta is down 73-64 with 5:48 remaining in the game. The Hawks had scored a measly one point in the period at the time, and their nine-point deficit felt more like 30.
Surely, the Wizards were going to take the contest and seize control of the series going back the Verizon Center for Game 6, right?
Horford led the Hawks with nine points, three rebounds, an assist and a block in the game's final 5:48, leading his team to a huge 82-81 victory. But it was two clutch plays in the final seconds of the game that made this the top moment of the Hawks' season.
Atlanta was down by one point with eight ticks remaining, following Pierce's three-pointer and infamous "series" call. The Hawks drew up a drive for Dennis Schroder, who sneaked into the paint for a layup attempt.
John Wall blocked it, but that's where Horford took over.
The All-Star center snatched the rebound away from Nene, found his footing and deftly dropped the ball into the basket with 1.9 seconds to go in the game. Wall's desperation heave at the buzzer was off the mark, and the Hawks were heading to Washington to close out the series.
Why is this moment ranked ahead of the play that actually got Atlanta to the conference finals, you ask?
First, this one was about something amazing a Hawks player (Horford) did rather than something amazing a Wizards player (Pierce) failed to do. Second, Atlanta's fourth-quarter deficit in Game 5 made the win even more unexpected and exciting than Game 6, when the Hawks led for most of the final period.