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Historic season comes to an ugly end for Hawks

17-0 January run was NBA's best month ever

POSTED: May 27, 2015 7:50 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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The Hawks know they didn't shoot well during the Eastern Conference finals.

Mike Budenholzer, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague talk to the media after Tuesday's Game 4 loss.

— The Atlanta Hawks will always have January.

It was the first 17-0 month in NBA history, part of an extended 33-2 stretch that took the Hawks to the top of the Eastern Conference, where they stayed until the conference finals. They finished with a franchise-record 60 wins, a 21-12 mark against the other 13 teams that finished with winning records, and top-10 marks in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

They brought life to an arena that hadn't seen much in recent history. They quickly got past a messy offseason incident that forced general manager Danny Ferry to take a leave of absence. When they were at their best, they were a joy to watch, for both fans of the team and fans of unselfish basketball.

Within the context of recent franchise history, it was a fantastic season for the Hawks. Ultimately, Atlanta came up short, and it went out in brutal fashion, becoming the first 60-win team to be swept in the playoffs since the 1998 Los Angeles Lakers.

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Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday was over in the third quarter. The Hawks' only lead was after the first possession of the game. A 12-2 Cleveland run put Atlanta in a hole that they never dug out of.

They had their opportunities, but they missed countless open shots that could have made the game somewhat interesting. What was their strength in the regular season was ultimately their undoing in the playoffs.

"We had some open looks that we would take again and we need to make," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "We need to shoot the ball well to be a team that opens up other things. I don't think we shot it particularly well in this series."

This team has done a lot, and we have a lot of confidence in this team. We'll look to improve, but bringing back this team would excite us, excite me. It's a hell of a group.

– Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer

Losing Kyle Korver for the final two games really hurt. And he wasn't the only player missing or banged up. Paul Millsap never seemed to regain his shot or his confidence after spraining his right shoulder in early April. DeMarre Carroll was hobbled by a knee injury suffered in Game 1. And Thabo Sefolosha, who suffered a broken leg in an early-April incident with New York police, was obviously missed in a series where the Hawks needed multiple guys to slow down LeBron James.

From the start of the playoffs, the Hawks never looked like themselves for more than a quarter or a half here or there. They lost two games to the 38-win Brooklyn Nets. They lost to the Washington Wizards without John Wall. They survived those series, because the Eastern Conference is what it is. But they couldn't manage a win against the best player in the world and Cleveland's role players.

So close or so far? Are the real Hawks the team that went 60-22 (and 3-1 against the Cavs) or the team that got swept?

It's a matter of perspective. And Hawks' brass will have some evaluating to do as they approach the Draft and free agency. But don't expect major changes, either with personnel or with the way they play.

Gone Fishin' - Hawks

Ernie takes the guys fishing with the Atlanta Hawks after being eliminated from the Eastern Conference Finals.

Point guard Jeff Teague doesn't believe that the Hawks' system can only succeed in the regular season.

"We have a similar system as the Spurs, and you've seen them win championships," Teague said. "So it's possible. You just got to be able to play well all the time, and we didn't in this series."

Shortly after having being eliminated in unceremonious fashion, Budenholzer wasn't ready to put the entire season into context.

"In the locker room, we just kind of talked about the playoffs," he said. "You focus on the playoffs and the growth and the experience."

If they look at this as a step in the process and take the injuries into account, the Hawks can bring back the same group and believe that they can be better.

"It's early for our team," Teague said, "It's only our second year together."

To stay together, the Hawks will have to re-sign Carroll and Millsap, who are both unrestricted free agents this summer. Both have earned bigger paychecks than the ones they got this year.

"This team has done a lot, and we have a lot of confidence in this team," Budenholzer said. "We'll look to improve, but bringing back this team would excite us, excite me.

"It's a hell of a group."

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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