Could the series between the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics, from 1988 rather than 2008, be the most underrated playoff series of all time? Peachtree Hoops thinks so, and despite the overwhelming adoration the Internet hands over to the final game of that conference semifinal, one has to wonder if we're giving short shrift to the first six games of this brilliantly played second-round tilt.
When it comes to major events that were poorly reviewed and/or poorly viewed at the time, you'll get a lot of revisionist viewers that swear up and down that they were there when it originally happened. Whether it's Wilt's 100-point game or the Beatles in the Cavern Club, you can never be too sure when it comes to types who swear that they were around for something that they probably weren't. Although you can trust me when I tell you that I did see, knowing every song off of his first album by heart at the time, Jeff Buckley open up for Juliana Hatfield. God, how insufferable.
I also saw every game of this Hawks/Celtics series, back when the NBA playoffs bounced back and forth between TBS (TNT was born a year later), USA Network and CBS. Even Game 3, which took place on my eighth birthday. There weren't any buzzer-beaters or classic game-winners in this back and forth, and four of the seven games finished with double-digit deficits, but those contests were far from one-sided. It was just fantastic basketball between two loaded teams that sometimes ended with comfortable margins. But don't let me tell you about it.
Something important at stake? The apex of a young, exciting Hawks team against a dynasty, a clash of two of the top 5 PER players of that season (Larry Bird-2nd, Dominique Wilkins-5th), in a classically tough Eastern Conference in the 1980's. Plus, the Hawks had never been past the second round of the playoffs since their 1968 move to Atlanta and were at the crossroad of greatness as a team.
Both the Hawks and Celtics won over 50 games and were in the top 4 in the NBA in Basketball Reference's in their Simple Rating System. These were regarded as two of the top teams in the league, even if it was a second round game.
And after that? Let's let the video proof take it away:
And after that, and that? Larry Bird, Doc Rivers, Randy Wittman and Kevin McHale. All linked. Dominque Wilkins. Dennis Johnson and Spud Webb. Robert Parish and Jon Koncak. Both Chris Washburn and Ennis Whatley were on the Hawks, and if you know your NBA history, you can guess that they were rooming together. Danny Ainge and Tree Rollins, y'all. Scott Hastings, meh, but Greg Kite? Awright.
And, yes. Bird versus Dominique. Cue the Spaghetti Western score: