Which Atlanta Hawk player declared that Washington’s basketball team is a bunch of “…crybabies. They b*tch and moan all game. They have no class,” then added, “They've got nobody who can stop me. I am going to dominate their guards physically and psychologically”?
What if, throughout this whole Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Hawks and Wizards, now reaching a pivotal Game 5 in the District (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, CSN Mid-Atlantic in D.C., TNT), Markieff Morris is merely being a basketball historian, trying to stay in touch with his spirit animal… the late, coulda-been-great, Terry Furlow?
Not long after wearing high school star Magic Johnson ragged on the blacktops of Lansing, the ex-Spartan Furlow was in his third NBA season in 1979, when he fell out with coach/GM Bill Fitch in Cleveland and was traded to Atlanta in mid-season, for Butch Lee and a future 1st-rounder.
The newest Hawk arrived just in time to spark a mad dash by coach Hubie Brown’s team into the playoffs. And it was against the defending World Champion Bullets, in the conference semis, that Furlow, a backup guard, took the initiative to become the self-styled Mouth of the South. A sampling:
“(Elvin) Hayes is a cheap-shot artist. Write that.”
“(Wes) Unseld is a bully. He has bullied his way through this league all his life.”
(To top-scoring Bullet guard Kevin Grevey, during a game, as reported by Sports Illustrated): “Hello? You're in trouble now. Every time I get it, I'm looking for you. It's gonna be in your face.”
“The Bullet guards haven't done a thing, except (Larry) Wright - and he can be handled. We just haven't seen him enough yet. (Tom) Henderson can do only so much, and Grevey is lucky to be playing on this team. All he can do is shoot. He can't assist and rebound. When he's cold, he's no good to anybody.”
Almost exactly 28 years ago to this day, it was Washington’s calm, cool, collected, and playoff battle-tested team who were getting increasingly unnerved by the “cheap shots and unnecessary on-court celebrations” (quote attributed to an unnamed Bullet player by the Washington Post) by the upstarts with upside from Down South, led by their carnival barker off the bench.
Furlow not only sold the 1979 series to capacity crowds in both Landover and Atlanta (invited by Abe Pollin, even President Carter made it to the decisive Game 7), he was backing up his incessant yap with his offensive play as well. Terry tag-teamed with Eddie Johnson and Armond Hill to dominate the backcourt matchups versus Grevey and ex-Hawk assist-man Henderson, helping to offset powerful performances by Bullet stars Bobby Dandridge and Hayes and turning that series into a toss-up with the top-seeded reigning champs.
Washington thought they had the series in hand after besting the Hawks in Atlanta, in Games 3 and 4, to go up 3-1 in the series. But unlike the Capital Centre clocks, which began malfunctioning just as the Bullets began to race away at the outset of Game 5, it was Furlow, an already gray-haired Tom McMillen, and Johnson who proved unstoppable, their 59 combined points pacing the Hawks to a 107-103 victory.
A resounding Game 6 win by the Hawks in front of an enlivened Omni crowd suddenly had the Bullets, who spent way too much time wrangling with the refs, on the ropes, and Atlanta as close as ever before to chasing championship dreams. “The team that (wins Game 7) is prepared for anything,” suggested Bullets coach (Richard) Motta. “It’s ready to go all the way.”
Even after escaping with a 100-94 win back home in Game 7, despite 21 points by Furlow in what turned out to be the villain’s final NBA playoff contest, a triumphant Hayes remarked that Atlanta, “would have beaten any other team in the league today, except for us.”
In 2017, it’s the Hawks that are the calmer, cooler team, its veterans better steeled by playoff series victories than Washington’s. It’s the favored Wizards’ backcourt, led by John Wall and Bradley Beal, that has the superior edge but now finds themselves struggling to offset a frontline beleaguered by Atlanta’s Paul Millsap (team-high 23.5 PPG and 1.3 SPG) and Dwight Howard. And in 2017, it is playoff-virgin Morris who is trying to infuse some Furlow-style swagger into this postseason matchup with the Hawks.
As a distinction, though, Washington’s 2017 team pales in comparison to the ’79 Bullets, and the current-day Hawks are tied in this series rather than playing games with their season on the line. Also, Markieff, unlike Furlow, is earning DJ Khaled-style congratulations, for playing himself right out of this series.
Aside from the early-arriving Verizon Center crowd, it will be Wall who will do all he can to reinvigorate Morris and Marcin Gortat from the outset of Game 5. Morris knows he must stay scrappy but steer clear of foul trouble, which plagued him during the games in Atlanta. Gortat (27 boards in past two games, but just eight FGAs), back in front of his home crowd, must demonstrate he can rediscover his offensive gear.
To steer this series back in the Wizards’ favor, Wall must be more respectful of Dennis Schröder, at least on the court. Schröder has done about everything Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has asked of him in this series, and the best defense Wall (1.3 SPG this series) has put up against him is to try to coax the young point guard into early foul problems himself. Wall has gone under screens repeatedly, and Dennis has been making the Wizards pay for their All-Star’s insouciance.
To this point in the series, Schröder is benefitting from better-balanced contributions by his teammates than Wall. While Morris (10.5 PPG, 34.8 FG%) is the only Wizard not named Wall or Beal averaging double-figures, Atlanta is now up to five double-figure scorers, a number which could rise to six with more dump-ins directed Howard’s way. The Hawks can certainly steal this series so long as Schröder is not expected to out-John-Wall John Wall.
Aside from Wall (10.0 APG), only Brandon Jennings in limited minutes is averaging at least three assists per game for coach Brooks’ club. By comparison, Schröder (6.3 APG) is joined by Millsap (4.3 APG), and Kent Bazemore, and that doesn’t count the mastery exhibited by Jose Calderon in Game 4 with Schröder riding the pine due to early foul issues.
While Gortat matches Dwight’s 11.8 RPG, the only other players averaging more than five rebounds are all Hawks, including Millsap, Ersan Ilyasova, and Taurean Prince. The latter would be in the lead for the Playoffs Rookie of the Year award if there were such a thing.
Both the Hawks and Wizards are awaiting big games from players who were integral to many successes the teams had during the regular season. For Otto Porter (27.3 3FG% this series; 4th in NBA for 3FG% during regular season), his jumpshot thawed in Game 4 (5-for-10 3FGs), but he has yet to sort out Prince’s defensive riddles and put together a complete effort. After being elevated to the starting lineup as the playoffs neared, Tim Hardaway, Jr. (34.8 FG% this series) is only beginning to come around (3-for-5 3FGs and two steals in Game 4). A pair of solid two-way efforts from either player could tilt this series decisively in their team’s favor.
A Game 5 win on the road in 1979 significantly altered Atlanta’s series-winning and title-contending prospects. In 2017, Coach Bud, 4-0 in Game 5s of playoff series as a Hawks coach, is drawing up the plays in hopes of a similar impact. One difference from the Hawks team that entered Game 1 is that Atlanta enters today’s action with the echoes of rabid fans back home still in their ears. From this point forward, the Hawks, unlike the Wizards, need no rabble-rousing teammates to motivate them to victory.
Let’s Go Hawks!