It is amazing how times have changed.
On November 7, the Hawks fell to 1-3 on the season in a loss to the Hornets in overtime. You may remember that Lance Stephenson hit a banked, buzzer-beating 3-pointer to win that game for Charlotte. That loss certainly left a bad taste in the mouth of many Hawks fans and left some wondering if this team’s playoff hopes were not as good as previously perceived
Fast-forward five months and the Hawks are the 1-seed in the East, raising banners for their Southeast Division title, and have 60 wins under their belt after controlling the Hornets in a 104-80 win on Friday night.
Once again, the star of the game for the Hawks was Mike Muscala filling in for the injured Paul Millsap. Muscala was 8-for-9 from the field with 17 points, good enough for the third game of 15 or more points over his last seven contests. The development of Muscala over the past several weeks has been a revelation for the Hawks, as Muscala gives Atlanta yet another capable rotation big to fall back on. Whether he gets playoff minutes or not is still yet to be seen, but he is certainly making the case that if the Hawks need him, he will be there and ready to contribute. The Hawks announced before the game that Millsap would miss Sunday’s game at least, necessitating that Muscala be ready just in case for a big role in the playoffs.
This game was actually close for a while, with the Hornets actually taking a one point lead into halftime. However, the Hawks’ defense turned up in the third quarter, holding Charlotte to just 12 points in the 12 minute period. The Hawks scored only 23 in the quarter, led by Horford’s nine points that included a couple of dunks. The run was enough to give the Hawks the coveted double-digit lead that has nearly always led to a victory.
In the fourth, the Hawks absolutely ran away with the game, even when the deep bench players were out there on the court. John Jenkins hit a couple of 3-pointers and even Shelvin Mack got a 3 to fall at the end of the game to extend the Hawks’ lead over 20 in the final minutes of the game.
Pero Antic played for the first time since his and Thabo Sefolosha’s arrest in New York. Antic scored five points in 13 minutes. Sefolosha, of course, is out for the season after suffering a broken fibula during the arrest.
Of other notes, Dennis Schröder had 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting. This was Schröder’s best outing since he suffered a toe injury against the Bucks on March 30. Mike Scott, who also suffered a toe injury a few weeks ago, had eight points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals in 24 minutes.
The Hawks play next on Sunday at 6PM against the Wizards. They will then return home and play their final home game of the season on Monday against the Knicks.