Sixers History: 76ers, Hawks Set to Rekindle Playoff Rivalry
Despite being original NBA franchises, the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks haven’t had much playoff action against one another. In over seven decades, the teams have only met twice before in the postseason.
For the league’s first two decades this factor was one of geography. The Hawks franchise was often on the move (Tri-Cities to Milwaukee to St. Louis to Atlanta), but always in the West until 1971. Meanwhile, the Syracuse Nationals and 76ers were always in the East.
Finally, the Atlanta Hawks came over to the East in ‘71, but it still took another decade for them to finally meet the Sixers in the playoffs.
THE FIRST SHOWDOWN
The first Sixers-Hawks postseason showdown occurred in the 1980 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Atlanta finished first in the Central Division with 50 wins, their best win total since moving to Georgia from St. Louis in the late 1960s. The Sixers received home court advantage by virtue of having 59 wins.
Despite winning the series, 4-1, the Sixers had a harder time than the final tally indicates.
In Game 1, the bench salvaged victory for the entire team. The potent trio of Bobby Jones, Steve Mix, and Henry Bibby combined for 41 points. And it was a lean and mean 41 points, especially compared to the starters’ efficiency.
Here’s the shooting discrepancy in Game 1:
12-17 FG (71%)
16-18 FT (89%)
22-61 FG (36%)
22-30 FT (73%)
The starters certainly played hard and contributed, but their poor shooting was no accident. Atlanta had a vicious defense led by Tree Rollins and Dan Roundfield in the frontcourt and speed merchant Eddie Johnson in the backcourt.
Nonetheless, a starter and a bench player combined to make the decisive play in the game for the Sixers. With about 20 seconds remaining, Julius Erving was inbounding the ball. Bobby Jones broke away from Atlanta’s defense like a receiver launching off the starting line in football. Erving tossed a rainbow pass that found the sprinting Jones who ran it in for a slam dunk giving the Sixers the final 107-104 margin of victory.
Game 2 was another gritty contest, and the Hawks held a 78-71 lead with 11:14 left in the game. Darryl Dawkins and Bibby soon erased that problem. Together they ran off a 10-0 run that gave the Sixers an 81-78 lead. In total, Dawkins scored 11 of his 22 points in the period and the Sixers won 99-92.
In Atlanta for Game 3, the Hawks ground the Sixers to dust (105-93) behind the mammoth Rollins, who scored 18 points, grabbed 17 boards, and swatted six shots. The Sixers returned the favor in Game 4 with an easy 107-83 win.
In the series finale, Atlanta jumped out to a 53-43 halftime lead. However, Rollins sprained an ankle and was hobbled in the second half. Given this opening, the Sixers used a 35-20 burst in the third quarter to seize control of the game. Dawkins led the way again with 11 of his 30 points in that period. As a team the Sixers grabbed 13 of the first 14 rebounds in the quarter as the Hawks were manhandled.
Atlanta finally composed themselves in the final period, but were unable to recapture the lead. With Erving also scoring 30 points to match Dawkins, the Sixers closed out the game, 105-100, to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
ANOTHER CLASH IN '82
The 76ers and Hawks met again in the 1982 postseason, this time in the first round. At this point in NBA history, the first round was a best-of-three series. The Sixers had again amassed an impressive regular season record (58 wins), while the Hawks had 42 wins.
Game 1 was an unmitigated disaster for Atlanta, and Dawkins was the principal reason. Chocolate Thunder rumbled his way to 27 points, nine rebounds, and eight blocks in the contest as the Sixers won handily, 111-76.
Game 2 was the complete opposite of the opener. Perhaps embarrassed at their Game 1 showing, the Hawks gave the Sixers hell. The contest was nip-and-tuck the whole way through.
Erving and Roundfield were the two stars of this grimy affair. Erving squeezed out 28 points on 9-16 FGs while Roundfield had 29 points, 11 boards, and four blocks.
With the game in overtime, tied 90-90, Erving attacked the basket for one of his surefire dunks. Except Roundfield, an expert shotblocker stood in the way. Doctor J’s attempted tomahawk was thwarted by Roundfield with 3:35 remaining in OT.
Over the next three minutes, the Sixers were able to push slightly ahead, 95-93, but the game was clearly far from over.
With 17 seconds remaining, Roundfield received the ball, split a Sixers double team, and made his way to the basket. Erving reversed the roles from earlier as he now smothered Roundfield’s shot attempt that could have sent the game to a second overtime.
An exchange of free throws in the final seconds gave the game its final score of 98-95. Once again the Sixers advanced at Atlanta’s expense.
And that’s it for 76ers-Hawks playoff history.
After 39 long years, it’s finally time to add some new stories to the lore.
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