It was the summer of 2007 when the Boston Celtics rose to prominence again before our very eyes. That was when the basketball gods smiled upon Danny Ainge and the city of Boston by giving them Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. We knew that Boston had immediately risen to the top and we knew they would be great. Every NBA city braced themselves for every time Boston would come into town. As KG, Jesus Shuttlesworth and “The Truth” all posed for the press with their green jerseys in hand, we all watched in excitement, terror and shock. It was the birth of The Big Three.
During the same summer, further south, the Atlanta Hawks were doing their best to rise from the ruins. Atlanta had the third pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and they badly needed a center. The best available option at No. 3 was 2x NCAA Champion Al Horford. In the middle of the season, the Hawks acquired Mike Bibby from Sacramento. This was still a very young team, but the Hawks were starting to put some respectable pieces together. With their rookie starting center nearly averaging a double-double and earning the runner-up title for the Rookie of the Year award against Kevin Durant, the Hawks found themselves with a decent shot at the 8th seed. Then they messed around and clinched it. The streamers came down and the city rejoiced because for the first time in 9 long years, the Hawks were back in the playoffs.
Those poor Atlanta Hawks. As soon as they earned their way back into the playoffs, they would inevitably face the mighty Boston Celtics and get swept in four games. That’s what everyone was saying. Everyone except us diehard Hawks fans. We didn’t realize how young our team actually was until we saw them at center court in the TD Banknorth Garden. The audience went insane as Kevin Garnett let out a wild and spine-tingling roar on the jumbotron before tip-off. As Hawks fans painfully watched their team get ripped apart not only by the Celtics but also by the announcers on TNT, we couldn’t wait for our team to come back home. We weren’t used to seeing our team on national television. It’s okay for US to [constructively] criticize our team, but when the rest of the world is doing it?! Not okay.
Game 1: 104-81 Celtics.
Game 2: 96-77 Celtics.
Two more games left in the series. That’s what they said. But we showed up, didn’t we Hawks fans? We flocked to Philips Arena and cheered on our boys.
Game 3: 102-83 Hawks!
Game 4: 97-92 Hawks!
Suddenly, the series is back to where it started off – all tied up. Only this time, it was a competition.
Game 5: 110-85 Celtics.
Game 6: 103-100 Hawks!
GAME SEVEN?! The 37-45 Hawks pushed the 66-16 Celtics to SEVEN games?? They sure did. Our boys had grown into men right before our very eyes. All the pressure in the world was on Boston. Could they do it? Had the Hawks gotten into their heads? Zaza Pachulia had literally tried to get into Kevin Garnett’s head by headbutting him. What was supposed to be a quick and painless series had turned into a heated rivalry. The only thing standing in the way of the Hawks and the second round was the daunting TD Banknorth Garden.
Game 7: Well, it wasn’t as competitive as Hawks fans wanted it to be. But if you must know…99-65 Celtics.
Since then, it’s been a marquee matchup whenever the Hawks and Celtics suit up against each other and here we are yet again. This time, the Hawks are without Al Horford for the entire series. They are also without Zaza Pachulia, for the time being, to the delight of Bostonians everywhere. But the Celtics aren’t exactly the picture of health right now either. Celtics rookie center Greg Stiemsma is battling injuries. Rajon Rondo is expected to play despite missing the last few regular season games with a sore back. Ray Allen, who has sat out since April 10th with ankle pain, is a gametime decision.
It’s going to be interesting for sure but I’m sure if you ask Zaza Pachulia, it won’t be easy.