The 2014-15 regular season is over.
Just last year, the Hawks were fighting until the end of the season to secure a playoff berth and sneak into the postseason as the 8-seed in the East.
How things have changed in 365 days. The Hawks — having already secured the 1-seed in the East with 60 wins — have been taking things lightly for a while now, prepping their stars for rest in hopes of a deep playoff run. That rest included Wednesday night’s game against the Bulls, even though all five regular Hawks starters played at least 20 minutes. But when the fourth quarter started and no Atlanta starter was to be found on the court, the message from the team was clear:
The Hawks have bigger battles to fight soon and a 91-85 loss to the Bulls at the end of the regular season will have very little meaning in May and June.
Despite the resting tactics and the loss, there is still a lot to be taken away from this game. Paul Millsap started for the first time since he injured his shoulder against the Nets. Millsap was wearing some extra gear to protect that shoulder, but he had already mentioned before the game that it was something he was going to have to get used to. It showed a bit in his offensive game, going 2-for-9 from the field, but Millsap’s enormous presence elsewhere was still felt, as he had six rebounds, four steals, four assists, and two blocks in 27 minutes. Even if he is not 100% for the first round, 85%-90% of Paul Millsap is still much better than 0% of Paul Millsap.
Overall, the Hawks’ starters performed well and maintained a lead on Chicago for most of the game. It was when the bench unit was in that A Jimmy Butler, Aaron Brooks, and the Bulls were able to key together a run to take the lead and the game in the final period. It was slightly reminiscent of the Hawks-Bulls preseason game where the Hawks punted, but the Bulls — in true Thibodeau fashion — continued marching forward in the same pattern that they’ve become accustomed.
Because of the staggered lineups, little popped out for the Hawks in terms of importance. If anything, there was an impressive 14 points, seven rebounds, and four assist performance from Al Horford in 22 minutes. There was also Dennis Schröder’s high-usage 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting in 17 minutes. Otherwise, there was a lot of Shelvin Mack and Pero Antic, which led to a unsurprising 39% shooting for the game for the Hawks.
The Bulls will go on to fight the Bucks in the first round while the Hawks take on the lowly Nets, who sneaked into the playoffs after the Pacers lost to the Grizzlies. Luckily for the Hawks and Paul Millsap, they will have plenty of time to rest, as the first game of their series does not start until Sunday.