For just the fourth time since their move to Georgia in 1968, the Atlanta Hawks find themselves in the final four of the NBA playoffs as Trae Young & Co. disposed of the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals and will now take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks for the right to play in the NBA Finals.
Those three previous appearances in the division/conference finals didn’t go so well as the Hawks were soundly defeated each time, which obviously means the Hawks have never won an NBA championship or even appeared in an NBA Finals since moving to Atlanta.
However, when located in St. Louis, the Hawks made four NBA Finals appearances in a five-year span, one of which resulted in the franchise’s lone championship.
The Hawks made four NBA Finals appearances in a five-year span while in St. Louis
After making zero appearances in the NBA Finals while known as the Buffalo Bisons, Tri-Cities Blackhawks, or Milwaukee Hawks, the franchise became a powerhouse when it relocated to St. Louis ahead of the 1955-56 season, mainly due to the play of Bob Pettit, who was named 1955 NBA Rookie of the Year and went on to become an 11-time All-Star and a two-time NBA MVP.
In the 11 seasons in which Pettit suited up for the franchise, the final 10 of which were in St. Louis, the Hawks appeared in the Western Division (now known as the Western Conference) Finals eight times and made four NBA Finals appearances, all of them coming in a five-year span from 1957 to 1961.
In each of those four instances, the Hawks matched up with the Boston Celtics, who won 11 titles in 13 years from 1957 to 1969. In 1967, Boston lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals, meaning the Hawks were the only team to defeat the Celtics during their historic run, which occurred in 1958.
The Hawks won their only NBA title in 1958
After losing to the Celtics in the 1957 NBA Finals, the Hawks came back the following season and went 41-31 en route to the second of five consecutive Western Division regular-season titles. They then easily disposed of the Detroit Pistons in the Western Division Finals, winning the series in five games to set up a rematch with Boston in the NBA Finals.
Behind the strong play of Pettit, who averaged 29.3 points and 17 rebounds in the series, and All-Star forward Cliff Hagan, who averaged 25.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, the Hawks defeated the Celtics in six games, winning their four games by a combined eight points. Pettit was absolutely magnificent in the series-ending Game 6, posting 50 points and 19 rebounds in the Hawks’ 110-109 victory.
It certainly needs to be noted that Bill Russell appeared in just four of the six games as he suffered a serious ankle injury in Game 3. But a title is a title and the ’58 Finals victory by the Hawks remains the lone championship in franchise history.
The team has appeared in four conference finals since moving to Atlanta
Following Pettit’s retirement following the 1964-65 season, the Hawks still made the Western Division Finals in each of the next two seasons, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Warriors, respectively.
After a loss to the Warriors in the Western semis in 1968, the franchise moved to Atlanta but still remained in the West for two seasons, both of which resulted in Division Finals appearances. But they failed to get to the NBA Finals each time, losing to the Lakers on both occasions.
The Hawks made the jump to the Eastern Conference in 1970 and it took 45 years for the Hawks to make it past the conference semifinals. They finally made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015 but were swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Hawks are now set to take their second shot at reaching the NBA Finals as the East representative as they battle the Bucks in the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference