These Atlanta Hawks demand your attention again

Hawks fans celebrate at the end of the fourth quarter in a NBA basketball game at State Farm Arena on Thursday, October 21, 2021. The Hawks won 113-87 over Dallas Mavericks. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Hawks fans celebrate at the end of the fourth quarter in a NBA basketball game at State Farm Arena on Thursday, October 21, 2021. The Hawks won 113-87 over Dallas Mavericks. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A night during which the Braves were attempting – and so robustly failing – to nail down an invitation to the World Series may not be the best time to try to draw a huge crowd to the gym. After all, Atlanta’s capacity for winning is sorely strained these days. Is it possible that success has to take a number in this town?

Still, the Hawks’ first for-real appearance in State Farm Arena since the inspiring playoff run of only four months ago drew pretty well. Not quite so full nor raucous as their last game here – a conference finals loss to Milwaukee. But worry not, this team is going to create plenty of sizzle, in its own time. Meanwhile, you had every right to stay home on a weeknight – feet up, the draw string on your sweatpants dangling – to enjoy the gentler strains of playoff baseball.

Hawks forward John Collins even issued you a hall pass for Thursday. “We got to share the love in Atlanta. As long as they were staying home to watch the Braves, I’m all good,” he said.

For those who may have been looking elsewhere, don’t wander too far from these Hawks. They have returned with sense of purpose fully intact, evidenced by the start-to-finish, 26-point whuppin’ of the Dallas Mavericks.

“A really good start for us,” said Nate McMillan, which for this steady, one-game-at-a-time coach is like turning verbal somersaults.

“Not only have we tried to show the city of Atlanta that we’re dedicated to winning, it’s also a fun brand of basketball to watch. The combination of the two is lethal in the modern game,” Collins said.

With their first impression of 2021-22, the Hawks chose to forcefully demonstrate just how formidable they can be at full strength – a condition that eluded them last season. When Trae Young doesn’t step on the land mine of a ref’s foot, when Bogdan Bogdanovic is running without a hitch and when De’Andre Hunter isn’t lost to knee surgery, these guys are deeply dangerous.

Thursday was a time to show off a defense that was relentless and as tightly interwoven as a chain-link fence. With Hunter taking the starring role in that duty, the Hawks held Luka Doncic to 18 points and the Mavs to 87 total. Dallas shot a constantly harassed 33% from the field. It has been suggested that the Hawks loan Hunter to the Braves for the weekend, seeing how he might be the only one capable of stopping the Dodgers’ Chris Taylor.

It also was a night to boast of depth, multiple other Hawks pitching in while Young was fairly ordinary (between them, Young and Doncic were 12-of-33 – 36% from the field). They currently have Options B through H (Bogdonavic to Huerter, and many other letters as well).

“If we continue to play that way, which I expect, we’ll be able to play 10 or 11 guys,” McMillan said. “We should be able to keep pressure on our opponents.”

In advance of the Hawks romp, their owner, Tony Ressler, stopped by to talk of many things, all hopeful.

Of how this roster is very capable of taking the next step and competing for an NBA title. And he may even have a legit point.

How Young has only begun a transcendent journey, and how he’s quite happy the Hawks switched out Doncic for him on draft night of 2018 (and the Cam Reddish part of that transaction is looking better by the minute).

How an NBA town’s rising tide of interest in the local NBA team gladdens his heart. With their cotton-candy-haired point guard and a coach that brims with legitimacy, the Hawks became cool again last season. And they remain a very hip diversion now.

“This is why you do it,” said Ressler, putting passion on par with profit. “This is why you invest in or run or own or be a part of a basketball franchise in the NBA. You’re in this to win. You’re in this to have a rabid fan base.

“You’re in it to win it. And we are.”

And how a bi-coastal billionaire, with strong ties to the Los Angeles area (in 2012 he even tried to buy a big share of the Dodgers), is now, and we quote, “a Braves fan, man; I’m a big believer.” A savvy business position, certainly.

The Hawks find themselves part of an unusually colorful Atlanta mosaic. The No. 1-ranked college football team in the nation displays its name, image and likeness only 60 miles away. The Braves remain one, very hard to realize win away from the World Series. And the local NBA team has opened the vault to keep together the innards of a very exciting product, extending deals for Young, John Collins, Clint Capela and Kevin Huerter.

Ressler, for one, doesn’t seem to mind scrambling for headlines, welcoming all comers into the suddenly crowded Atlanta sports VIP room.

“I think the Braves frankly set that bar higher for local sports in the community, and I think that’s a good thing. A really good thing,” he said. “Not just what they did at The Battery (Atlanta), but how they’ve committed to their roster. That creates an even more competitive environment in the sports world here, and to me that’s a great thing. This year having the University of Georgia football team, having the Braves and having us, I think it gets everybody more excited, and it raises the bar.”

Changing out of his work clothes at the end of the night, Young slipped into a Tee with a message that read, “Atlanta Georgia Changed My Life.” The feeling’s mutual, seeing how he is one of multiple key ingredients to changing the sporting life of Atlanta, Ga., for the better.

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