The Atlanta Hawks shrugged off disappointing losses against the Chicago Bulls and the Brooklyn Nets with a huge home win against the Boston Celtics on Thursday night in a game that held huge playoff implications for both teams. Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 35 while Jae Crowder added 24 points. For the Hawks, they were led by Paul Millsap’s 26 points while Tim Hardaway Jr. added 23 points.
The Hawks moved back into the fifth seed following the Milwaukee Bucks’ loss against the Indiana Pacers. The Hawks hold the tiebreaker over the Bucks should the two teams finish with equal records. Behind the Hawks, the Bulls and the Pacers sit just 1.5 games back while the Miami Heat sit half a game behind them.
For the Hawks going forward, these next two games against the Cleveland Cavaliers could be make-or-break for their playoff seeding.
Offensive first half carries Hawks to huge win
The Hawks are not a good offensive team. You only need to watch a few of their games this season to figure that out and the numbers would support that belief. They rank 21st in points per game and 28th in offensive rating…you can put two-and-two together.
Last night, however, was one of the Hawks’ best offensive nights in a long time and their 71 point first half arguably one of the best halves the Hawks have put together this season: 71 points on 54% shooting from the field, 50% from behind the arc, 12-of-14 from the free throw line, 15 assists, four turnovers and an offensive rating of 144.4 on a true shooting percentage of 65%.
A pretty decent half, you might say.
The Hawks built a 20 point lead in the second half and though the Celtics did mount a comeback, the Hawks’ first half advantage they created was enough of a safety net to take them home in this game.
The Hawks played a very good game. The defense was very good (active hands), the offense was clicking and the ball movement was quite tidy. This is an example from the second quarter:
The Hawks also took care of the miscellaneous stats. They outscored the Celtics 25-19 in second chance scoring and it wasn’t Dwight Howard who dominated on the glass (he only had eight rebounds in 21 minutes) but everyone chipped in. Paul Millsap had 12 rebounds, Ersan Ilyasova had seven rebounds, Taurean Prince had seven rebounds… The Celtics just had all sorts of trouble securing rebounds.
That’s Dwight Howard feasting with three Celtic players around him. The Hawks won the rebounding battle 52-38.
The Hawks also looked good in transition, 17 fastbreak points compared to Boston’s 10. The Hawks did a good job turning defense into offense — whether it was securing the defensive rebound following a good defensive possession or creating a turnover. An example from the second quarter:
Great block from Mike Muscala and it creates an opportunity for the Hawks in transition and THJ tucks this layup away.
17 turnovers (and eight in the final period) isn’t ideal but, generally speaking, the Hawks put together a very good game as they needed to.
“It was a really good win for us twofold, One in the standings and how we need to play. I think that’s the most important part.”
— Paul Millsap
Following an eight game layoff, Paul Millsap made his return from a knee injury against the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday night. Millsap struggled and shot 4-of-14 from the field. The rust was evident but last night Paul was back to his best — 26 points on 8-of-15 shooting and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes of play.
Though some (including myself) thought it would just be better for Millsap to have not played on Sunday and just gotten that extra rest without playing, Paul was glad to have played against the Nets in order to shake off some of that rust as well some solid days practice.
“I think it was good that coach was able to play me in Brooklyn and knock a little rust off. Then we had two good days of practice. I was able to get in a rhythm.”
— Paul Millsap
However, Millsap came off the bench in this game, a very odd thing to Paul to have to go through.
“When they called the starters out there, I was still on the bench. It was a habit. I’m used to being out there. The first few possessions, it took me awhile to get in the groove.”
— Paul Millsap
Postgame coach Bud gave his reasoning as to why Millsap came off the bench for the second straight game.
“A lot of it was to have Paul available. We want to build him up as we play these last four or five games. I think we want to stay disciplined about it. Keeping Paul healthy is our number one priority. If you are going to keep his minutes in a reasonable area, if you start them, lots of times they end up sitting on the bench for a long time or you may not have them at the end of the game if you are going to stick to your plan.”
— Coach Mike Budenholzer
The Hawks are 2-9 without Millsap. His importance has been discussed everywhere. Everyone knows what he means to this team and how bad the Hawks are without him. It’s great to have him back.
TP’s big night
Taurean Prince is blossoming into a fine NBA player before everyone’s eyes. TP scored a career-high 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field in 41 minutes. 18 of those points came in a fabulous first half where he really impressed TNT commentators Kevin Harlan and Hall of Famer Kevin McHale.
The Hawks are worse without Sefolosha, don’t get that twisted, but with TP they’re not as bad off as they could be and that’s a huge testament to how well Prince has played in the absence of Sefolosha.
“Taurean as a young player is learning and growing before our eyes.”
— Coach Mike Budenholzer
It doesn’t seem as though Sefolosha is close to returning at this current time and with the regular season winding down next Wednesday, it seems we’re set to see lots of Taurean Prince in the playoffs.
Al Horford’s rough night
Al Horford’s first trip to Philips Arena was one to remember — his team got a win. This visit, however, was one to forget. Horford’s team not only lost but he had a very tough game — four points on 1-of-8 shooting while picking up five fouls, limiting him to 26 minutes.
The home crowd let Horford have it once again, providing a chorus of boos.
Horford’s struggles played a huge part in his team falling short and had he reached his season average of 14 points per game, the Celtics would’ve won this game. Horford missed some open looks but Dwight Howard also did his part and contested a few of Al’s shots and was effective in his defense of Horford, unlike the last meeting at Philips Arena.
The Hawks (40-38) are back in action tonight in Cleveland, taking on the NBA champion the Cavaliers.