Not who you might think.
The SB Nation NBA Summer Series continues with a discussion and look at who is the Atlanta Hawks Biggest Rival -- and it may not be who most of us would assume it to be.
Rivalry is an interesting word and for the purposes of stating who we believe to be our biggest rival let's parse things out a little bit.
The Boston Celtics have engaged the Atlanta Hawks over the years that the team has been in Atlanta and has dealt some of the mightiest and most memorable blows to the franchise.
Games 6 and 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals still burns a hole in the Celtics current coach and then Hawks point guard Doc Rivers. The Celtics ended Mike Fratello's Dominique Wilkins-led teams two seasons out of three, crushing the Hawks' best chances to advance past the hard playoff ceiling that has been the second round.
In 2007, the upstart Hawks took on the Celtics and their Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and took them to a surprising seven games, marking the Hawks' return to relevancy even in losing.
Last season came to an unceremonious halt when the C's stopped the Hawks before even getting to the second round, as Garnett pulled it together in the face of what he considered to be a chatty owner's diss and bounced the Hawks out of the playoffs.
Now, let's let EvilDallas bring some research to the proceedings:
Since the Hawks moved to Atlanta they've had their playoff lives ended 28 times. Here is the list by team:
As EvilDallas' research points out -- it's awful hard to have a rivalry when the pain is all on one side. They may be the most hated team for Hawks fans, especially considering when their fan base makes Philips Arena a home away from home, but they cannot be considered a rival. It's just too one-sided.
So who else then?
Geographically, the Charlotte Bobcats would make a lot of sense --- except for their ineptitude for keeping something of a winning product on the floor. Oh sure, it was annoying when Stephen Jackson rolled back into the arena and buried the Hawks with a buzzer beater, but playing Charlotte hardly conjures the must-see, must-win feelings a rivalry possesses, right?
We've had good series and back and forth with Detroit -- and it's been a bear to win up there over the years and the Pacers series, especially with Reggie Miller, carried a lot of weight. Also, let's not discount a couple of classic 1980's series with the Bucks, who also took the Hawks to the limit in their first round matchup a few years back. The Miami Heat series has been angry and contentious as well, from the fights in the mid 90's to the "I'm Dwyane Wade!" Steve Holman mockery and seven game classic in 2008.
But when you blend the geography, current divisional aspects and recent events, the Orlando Magic has been the closest thing to an actual rival the Hawks have had.
The games have been intense and exciting -- remember Josh Smith's tip-in dunk at the buzzer a few seasons back? They've matched up in the playoffs the two seasons prior to this one, one resulted in Mike Woodson losing his job, the other might have blown up the Dwight Howard era in Orlando.
Orlando looks down on Atlanta and can't understand why they could lose to the Hawks. When Otis Smith made the trades that sent Hawk Hater Vince Carter away with Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus, I declared that the Hawks were a better team right then and there. Magic fans came on board to tell me I was crazy, but the results have proven that out. The Hawks have won 9 of 11 games against the Magic since that deal, including the 4-2 series win in 2011.
The Magic emerged behind some lotto luck and zipped past the Hawks historically, having been to two NBA Finals compared to the Hawks previously stated playoff mediocrity. Dominique Wilkins didn't get as far as Shaquille O'Neal or Dwight Howard, and both teams lost all those guys to L.A. in one form or another.
Because the Hawks have been somewhat toothless in the postseason, it's likely that NOBODY considers the Hawks to be their rival and that includes Orlando, given their battles against some of the other teams that may carry more weight, but the Hawks have probably given the Magic more headaches than they have any other team, Orlando resides inside their own division now and have dealt the most recent critical blow to Orlando.
Exit Question: What do you think makes a most bitter rival and who would you choose?