We continue our countdown of the Atlanta Hawks' Top 10 stories of 2015 with a look at the top 5.
5. Pero Antic and Thabo Sefolosha arrested in New York nightclub incident
Atlanta's exceptional 2015 run hit a speed bump in April when Thabo Sefolosha and Pero Antic were arrested in a nightclub incident after a tussle with the NYPD. The disgusting incident left Sefolosha with a broken fibula that included some nerve damage in his lower leg. It also left Atlanta without its top wing defender off the bench and dealt a crushing blow to the team's title hopes.
Sefolosha declined a plea deal and was later found not guilty of all charges in a jury trial. He later announced plans to sue the New York Police Department for damages totaling $50 million.
Sefolosha's spent the entire offseason recovering from surgery but was ready to go on opening night and has once again been a key player for the Atlanta Hawks.
4. Hawks officially part ways with Danny Ferry, elevate Mike Budenholzer to President of Basketball Operations
While the Atlanta Hawks were enjoying a banner season, the man responsible for assembling that team was on the outside looking in. The writing was on the wall from the beginning that there probably would be no outlet for a return by Danny Ferry as the team's General Manager. However, the details of this story go beyond Danny Ferry and center on a fractured ownership group that once again brought a black eye to the franchise.
ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst brought the situation into focus and detailed much of the friction that existed primarily between Ferry and the Atlanta-based part of the ownership group led by Michael Gearon Jr. While Ferry's insensitive remarks about Luol Deng were of bad judgment they were used as a tool in a power play to oust him as the team's president. In many ways, it wasn't necessarily about Ferry but rather how Gearon Jr and many of his friends had been pushed out of the forefront with no say so in how the Hawks were run. A shining example given in the Arnovitz story was Ferry's desire to replace longtime Hawks trainer Wally Blase which was met with swift opposition by Gearon.
Ferry was ultimately cleared of any racial bias in the Luol Deng incident in an investigation by an independent law firm. The Hawks announced a buyout with Ferry shortly before the sale of the franchise was completed.
Once new ownership was in place, the Hawks officially promoted Budenholzer to President of Basketball Operations and Wes Wilcox as the team's GM. In a strange twist, one of Budenholzer's first acts as team president was to part ways with Blase.
3. Tony Ressler group approved as new owners of the Atlanta Hawks
If there was a silver lining in the controversy that engulfed the Atlanta Hawks for much of the last year it was that it eventually led to the ouster of the former Atlanta Spirit Group. The Hawks officially announced in April that the franchise had been sold to a group led by Tony Ressler. The price tag was for a reported $800 million. Ressler's group was approved by the NBA's Board of Governors soon after making the deal official.
Time will tell if this was a pivotal point in the history of the Atlanta Hawks. Ressler's group has already made their desires known for upgrades to Philips Arena and has also begun exploring the addition of a new practice facility along with its own D-League franchise. They moved quickly retaining Steve Koonin and locked up Budenholzer to a long term deal. Things are moving in the right direction but the fact remains that the bar was set pretty low by the previous ownership.
2. Hawks set franchise record with remarkable regular season
The 2015 season began in controversy but the players and the coaching staff quickly put the focus back to the on-court product. By the time the dust had settled, Atlanta had a franchise record for wins and finished on top of the Eastern Conference standings. That came after many predicted that the team would struggle to even qualify for the postseason.
Perhaps the most memorable feat of Atlanta's regular season run was the 19-game winning streak that begin on December 27 and lasted through January 31. The Hawks extended their franchise-record winning streak to 19 with a win over Philadelphia and capped off an undefeated January where they went 17-0. Atlanta was recognized for that remarkable run when all five of its starting unit were named NBA Player of the Month for January in an unprecedented move by the league.
Atlanta's big regular season run also resulted in four representatives on the East's All-Star team along with head coach Mike Budenholzer. Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Al Horford were all elected to the team as reserves. Sharpshooter Kyle Korver was added as an injury replacement for Dwyane Wade before the game.
The streak came to an end in New Orleans on Feb 2 but the Hawks weren't finished breaking records. Atlanta tied the franchise mark with their 57th win in a blowout of the Brooklyn Nets on April 4. They set a new record with their 60th win of the season with a home victory over Charlotte a few nights later.
1. Hawks make run to Eastern Conference Finals
Atlanta's playoff run began with a matchup against the eight seeded Brooklyn Nets. In many ways, the Nets had been tied to the Hawks for much of the season due to a provision in the Joe Johnson trade that allowed Atlanta to swap draft positions. Atlanta jumped out to a 2-0 lead in a pair of hard-fought games at Philips Arena. Injuries continued to pile up for the Hawks as Al Horford suffered a dislocated finger in Game 1 but didn't miss any action although it affected his play. Paul Millsap continued to recover from a shoulder injury that he suffered against the Nets at the end of the regular season.
Brooklyn threatened to pull the upset by taking games 3 and 4 in Brooklyn to even the series at 2-2. Atlanta came back with an emphatic win in Game 5 and closed out the series on the road in Game 6.
Throughout their history in Atlanta, the Hawks had never made it past the second round. That put an added focus on their second round matchup against the Washington Wizards. Atlanta fell into an immediate hole as the Wizards stunned them in Game 1. Injuries would play a major part in this series as well as John Wall suffered a fractured hand that would sideline him for Games 2, 3 and 4. Atlanta rallied to even the series with a 106-90 victory in Game 2 but the series shifted to Washington with the Wizards now holding homecourt advantage.
Atlanta dug themselves a big hole in Game 3 but a furious fourth-quarter rally enabled them to tie the game in the final moments. However, Paul Pierce's game-winner at the buzzer put the Hawks into a 2-1 hole. The Hawks came out determined in Game 4 and jumped to an early lead before holding on for dear life down the stretch to even the series at 2-2 and reclaim home court advantage. Atlanta grabbed the lead in the series for the first time thanks to a putback at the buzzer by Al Horford in Game 5 despite the return of John Wall for the Wizards.
That set the stage for Game 6 in Washington where the Hawks held on for a 94-91 series-clinching win only after a game-tying attempt from Paul Pierce was ruled to have come after the buzzer.
Atlanta's trip to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers would end in disappointing fashion. The Hawks fought hard in Game 1 but a knee injury to DeMarre Carroll combined with a scoring explosion from J.R. Smith sent them to a 97-89 loss.
Carroll would play in Game 2 but was visibly slowed by the injury. That was just the beginning of Atlanta's problems however as Kyle Korver suffered a broken ankle after getting tangled up with Cleveland's Matthew Dellavedova while chasing a loose ball. Korver would miss the remainder of the series and the Hawks would fall in Game 2 94-82.
Controversy reigned supreme in Game 3 as the Hawks put up their best effort of the series despite losing Al Horford who was ejected in the first half after it was ruled that he threw an elbow at Dellavedova during a battle for a loose ball. Atlanta battled to the end but fell 114-111 to go down 3-0 in the series. Emotionally spent, the Hawks suffered a blowout loss in Game 4 to end a historic season.