For the first time in years, the opponent an Atlanta team was facing in a playoff scenario blew a monumental lead.
Wednesday night, the Atlanta Hawks played one of the worst first halves of professional basketball against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.
The scene: over 18,000 fans screaming, hooping and hollering as their Sixers were in the process of rolling the Hawks out of the building in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
How bad was it? Atlanta trailed Philadelphia by 22 at halftime. The Hawks were down by 26 in the third quarter and down 18 after three quarters of play.
And somehow, someway, the Hawks pulled off the improbable, incomprehensible comeback to defeat the 76ers 109-106, stun the home crowd and take a 3-2 series lead.
The Hawks outscored Philly 40-19 in the final 12 minutes.
The 76ers pulled an Atlanta.
There are so many words that can describe what happened in Philly from the hometown perspective.
For Atlanta/Georgia sports fans, we know this pain. All too well.
In recent years, the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia have become a sort of “punching bag” in the sports world.
Super Bowl LI, the 2018 college football championship game (from a UGA fan perspective), the 2020 National League Championship Series. And that’s just in recent years.
It’s been one blown lead after another.
On Monday night, the Sixers held an 18-point lead over the Hawks in Game 4 in Atlanta. It appeared the Hawks were heading toward being down 3-1 heading back to Pennsylvania for Game 5.
The Hawks fought back and the Sixers lost that one 103-100, which evened the series 2-2.
Wednesday night, it seemed almost guaranteed the Hawks were heading for a big road playoff loss and heading back home trailing 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
The 76ers squandered it twice in a row, but the Hawks battled back twice.
How did the Hawks engineer back-to-back double-digit comebacks?
You can point to they played better defense and got some stops, you can point to John Collins getting the team fired up in Game 4 with some adrenaline-inducing dunks, you can point to Lou Williams coming in off the bench and stepping up big in Game 5.
But it boils down to one thing. This team refuses to quit.
Remember, this team had a losing record on March 1. They were heading toward missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year. They have completely turned it around.
Since Nate McMillan took over, the team is gelling under him. When someone is struggling on the floor, the Hawks are able to substitute someone in for an energy boost, ignite a spark and, as has happened in the last two games, get on a run.
While last night was a roller-coaster ride that ended in favor of an Atlanta team, now comes the big test. Can they close out?
Going into the playoffs, many probably did not think the Hawks would get to this point. I certainly did not. They have continued to prove the doubters wrong.
Now is the time to start burying the “choke” moniker. The Hawks have a chance to close out at home on a Friday night. The stage is set for a Georgia-based team to prove to the sports world the teams in this state do not just squander leads away all the time.
If the Hawks close out Philadelphia in Game 6, will that completely dash the moniker?
No. Far from it.
This situation does not even remotely carry the same stakes or ramifications as a Game 7 league championship or especially a Super Bowl.
But, that being said, a Game 6 Hawks win would put a dent in it.
The opportunity is there; now they just have to take it.