Hawks 74, Cavaliers 68
ATLANTA (AP) _ One thousand wins might seem sort of puny by the time Lenny Wilkens stops coaching.
Already the winningest coach in NBA history, Wilkens reached another milestone Friday night when the Atlanta Hawks defeated Cleveland 74-68 for the 1,000th victory of his career.
But for those believe a rocking chair and a retirement home in Florida are just around the corner, think again.
``As long as it’s still fun and I can be fiercely competitive, I’ll coach,″ said the 58-year-old Wilkens, who looks at least 10 years younger.
Wilkens said he already accomplished two of the goals he had when he came to Atlanta in 1993 _ break Red Auerbach’s record for career wins, accomplished last season, and win 1,000 games. The only thing left is another NBA championship.
Since that seems at least several years away since the Hawks are playing in the same league as the Chicago Bulls, Wilkens will have to be content piling on the wins.
``That’s why I say 1,000 is nothing,″ said Craig Ehlo, who hit a 3-pointer in the final minute to seal the victory over Cleveland. ``He’ll probably win 1,200 or so. Probably more than that.″
Wilkens’ latest victory was accomplished with his usual understatement. For most of the game, he stood in front of the bench, arms folded, face stoic, not even a hint of emotion.
Finally, though, it bubbled to the surface.
When Ehlo hit his 3-pointer with 42 seconds remaining to give Atlanta a 71-62 lead, Wilkens allowed himself a slight grin. Then, when the crowd started chanting ``Lenny, Lenny, Lenny,″ he began smiling broadly and waved to the fans.
In the waning seconds, cheerleaders handed out placards that showed Wilkens’ face inside a heart, accompanied by the words ``Sweet 1000.″ When the horn sounded, Hawks general manager Pete Babcock came out to present Wilkens with the game ball.
As Wilkens was heading off to the locker room, a fan yelled, ``Hey, Lenny, we want to shake your hand.″ Wilkens obliged, strolling over to acknowledge the adulation of fans lining the court.
Wilkens became the winningest coach in NBA history last season with his 939th victory. On that night, Wilkens, a non-smoker, fired up a cigar and took a couple of puffs to honor Auerbach’s traditional victory routine.
``I choked on that thing the last time,″ Wilkens quipped when asked if he planned to fire up again.
Not that there was any need to acknowledge Auerbach on this night. Wilkens, with a record of 1,000-838, is in a league by himself.
The victory itself was ugly, but it was a thing of beauty to Wilkens, who has seven 50-win seasons and one championship even though he has never coached a team with a true superstar. His forte is pushing mediocre players and teams to victories.
Just look at the Hawks, who without any big-name players have somehow managed a 32-24 record _ tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference and just one game behind Cleveland for the fourth spot.
The Hawks took over in the third quarter, limiting Cleveland to 3-of-17 shooting from the field and just eight points, tying a Hawks record for fewest points by an opponent in a 12-minute period.
The Cavaliers finished just 26-of-74 for 35 percent, and without Chris Mills, they might have approached a record for scoring futility. Mills had 26 points, the only player in double figures for Cleveland.
The Hawks, who shot only 36 percent, were led by Mookie Blaylock with 18 points and Steve Smith with 15. But it was Ehlo, appropriately, who had the biggest basket; he played seven seasons under Wilkens at Cleveland and followed him to Atlanta in 1993.
``In 23 years, lots of players and lots of egos and have come and gone, but Lenny’s been there _ constantly,″ Ehlo said. ``I believe he’s looking for more milestones.″