The Atlanta Hawks started the season a very disappointing 14-20. The defense was bad, the team was dealing with some key injuries, and the Hawks could not hold a fourth quarter lead to save their lives.
It was frustrating to watch coming off an eventful off-season that saw the Hawks sign the likes of Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Solomon Hill, and Rajon Rondo. It was exciting to see the team go out and get some high-caliber players. For some reason though, the team did not mesh well together, and Lloyd Pierce was quickly proving that he was not the right guy.
In comes Nate McMillan.
Behind the leadership of McMillan, the Hawks become a different team.
The Hawks fired Pierce on March 1. It was a much needed change that lit a fire in the Hawks organization. The team went on an 8-game winning streak and looked like a completely different team. It was exciting to see the team return some guys from injury and begin to close out games, rather than choke. The craziest thing about this stretch is it wasn't a fluke. The Hawks have looked like one of the best teams in the NBA since McMillan took over, going 27-11 under his coaching tenure.
The Hawks recently wrapped up the regular season 10 games over .500, finishing 41-31 and winning the southeast division for the first time since the magical 60-22 season in 2014-15. Nobody saw this remarkable turnaround coming. The Hawks piled up massive wins against some of the best teams in the NBA in the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, and continued to take care of business against teams below .500 en route to clinching the fifth seed in the east.
Newcomers Clint Capela, Bogdanovic, and Lou Williams, who the Hawks traded for in a deal including Rondo in March, made a huge impact this season. Capela finished the year averaging 15.2 points per game and a league-leading 14.3 rebounds per game. Bogdanovic averaged 16.7 points per game and was a big reason behind the turnaround this season upon his return from injury. Williams was a huge boost off the bench for the Hawks averaging 10 points per game.
Without these guys, this team isn't where it is right now.
The 2020-21 Hawks had a roller coaster of a season and it isn't over yet.
The Hawks get a week off thanks to the play-in tournament, which comes at a great time for them. The Hawks can go into the playoffs well rested and confident, ending the season winning seven out of their last eight games.
The New York Knicks will welcome Atlanta to Madison Square Garden for games one and two of the series. The Knicks and Hawks were both excellent at home, finishing with a record of 25-11 respectively. Both teams also finished 41-31, however, the Knicks swept the Hawks in three games, winning the latest matchup 137-127 in April. Julius Randle has not been kind to the Hawks and don't expect that to change in the playoffs. The Hawks will have to find a way to slow down the guys around Randle if they want to win this series.
With that being said, it will be interesting to see how the young guys for Atlanta handle the atmosphere and pressure of a playoff series. This is an inexperienced team, so it will be vital that Trae Young and the other young guys come in prepared and level-headed. Thankfully, the Knicks don't have a whole lot of playoff experience either. It should be a very interesting and exciting series.
Regardless of the outcome of the season, it won't take away from an impressive turnaround. The Hawks only won 20 games last season, and only won 73 games in total from 2017-18 to 2019-20. Years of mostly great draft choices and free agent signings helped transform this team into division champions, and a much needed coaching change helped propel the team to its first playoff appearance since the 2016-17 season.