Paul Millsap Pushing Hawks to Playoffs

Monday, April 14, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Paul Millsap Pushing Hawks to Playoffs

Heading into the playoffs the Hawks, who clinched their berth Saturday night, are playing some of their best basketball of the second half of the season, led by All-Star power forward Paul Millsap. Over the last eight games — where the Hawks are 6-2 — Millsap has led the way averaging 19.9 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.0 blocks.

Millsap offered a simple explanation for his play of late. “Just being aggressive and going after it, man. That’s it.”

That aggressive mindset can be seen in his shot distribution.

Millsap is taking 12.9% more shots within eight feet of the rim over the last eight games than he was in the first 66 of the season, and as such the number of long two-point attempts and three-point attempts has dropped. Long twos accounted for 11.3% of his shot attempts, but that percentage has dropped to 7.8% in the last eight games. His three-point attempts have dropped, going from 20.9% of all of his attempts to now being 13.8% of his shots.

Millsap’s ability to shoot the outside shot, particularly from three-point range, has been an important part of the Hawks offense this year, but he is being more judicious about when he takes those jump shots and when he tries to take defenders off the dribble to get a shot near the rim.

Along with being more aggressive, Millsap — and the team as a whole — have been able to return to a sense of normalcy and have gotten comfortable with each other on the court again. After going through a difficult stretch after the All-Star break where the Hawks dealt with numerous injuries, Atlanta has gotten healthier of late, and as their chemistry on the floor comes back they’ve begun to regain the form that had them in the third seed earlier in the season.

“It does ,” Millsap said. “Most everybody’s pretty much healthy. We’ve still got a few knick-knacks, but that’s going to happen. Our lineups have been pretty consistent over the course of the last couple of weeks, and that’s been really good for us.”

The on-court chemistry between Millsap and Jeff Teague is vitally important for the Hawks’ offense, because it operates through them a lot in the pick-and-roll/pop game. Teague had that chemistry with Al Horford after playing together for so many years, and when Horford went down it had a clear effect on Teague’s effectiveness and the team as a whole. Teague had to learn to work with a new primary pick-and-roll partner and without consistent lineups, the process of developing their chemistry has taken time, but they have been excellent of late and Millsap expects them to continue getting better together.

“Never satisfied, you know,” Millsap said. “It’s a work in progress. We’re still getting better at some things. He’s still learning. I’m still learning him, but it takes time. Hopefully over time we’ll get great at it. Not just good at it, but great at it.”

While Millsap’s scoring has been a huge part of the Hawks’ recent success in their playoff push, it’s all the other things Millsap can do that makes him special. His defensive presence has been huge considering the injuries in the frontcourt and the group as a whole being a bit undersized in the paint. He is very adept at being active in passing lanes to get deflections and is in the top 10 in the NBA in steals per game, which helps jump start the Hawks’ transition offense. For Coach Bud, it’s been this defensive impact that has been the most impressive.

“I think where he stood out to me is in second halves or when we need a defensive rebound or we need a stop how he’s really just kind of elevated himself and went and got a big board. Went up in a crowd and came down with the ball or got a deflection and got a steal or a blocked shot. He just does so many little things defensively, and when the game is on the line and you need a stop he’s just got that feeling and that instinct and he’s been able to make some big plays for us especially defensively.”

Offensively, Millsap is more than just a scoring threat, and the Hawks will often run their offense through Millsap in crucial situations because of his good decision-making.

“He’s unique and maybe makes us a little bit different by having a guy who’s a good decision maker,” Coach Bud said. “Sometimes it’s the pass that leads to the pass, or sometimes it’s a pick-and-roll situation where he receives it from a guard and then can find another shooter. As good as teams are defensively, to get them into second and third and fourth rotations, ultimately against good teams that’s what you have to do. Sometimes Paul is the kind of guy that can read the rotation or force a rotation and make the right decision. We’re fortunate to have him. He does a lot of it himself, it’s no credit to anybody else and he’s just a special player for us.”

Millsap’s presence has been a major reason why the Hawks were able to make the playoffs while missing Horford in the middle. Millsap has a unique offensive skill-set that makes him a match-up problem for most any team because he can stretch the floor and is also a strong, physical player in the post. Having him playing at a high level at both ends of the floor is important for the Hawks’ chances in the playoffs.

Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

Pacers On Brink of #1 Seed After Win

Monday, April 14, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson
Pacers On Brink of #1 Seed After Win

The Indiana Pacers got a big win on Sunday, beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-97 to move a half game ahead of the Miami Heat in the race for the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Atlanta Hawks are locked into the #8 spot and are waiting to see which team they’ll face in the first round.

The Pacers own the tiebreaker over the Heat because of a better record against Eastern Conference opponents, meaning Indiana’s magic number to clinch the top spot is just one.  If the Pacers beat the Magic in Orlando on Wednesday, they’ll clinch home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference bracket.

Indiana could clinch sooner though.  One Miami loss would also give the Pacers the top spot, and the Heat have a tough matchup Monday night against the Wizards in Washington D.C.  Atlanta could know its opponent as early as then, but a Heat win would mean the Hawks won’t find out until Wednesday.

The Hawks split their four games with both the Heat and Pacers this season.  They’re 2-0 against Miami and 2-2 against Indiana since Al Horford’s injury.

Atlanta has two games remaining, hosting Charlotte Monday and closing the regular season with a trip to Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images

Hawks Fans React To Clinching Playoff Spot

Sunday, April 13, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson

Here are some of our favorite tweets from last night’s playoff-clinching win over the Miami Heat:

Hawks In, But Who Will Be Their Opponent?

Sunday, April 13, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson
Hawks In, But Who Will Be Their Opponent?

The Atlanta Hawks clinched a playoff spot with a convincing 98-85 win over the Miami Heat Saturday night at Philips Arena.  They are now locked in as the #8 seed in the East and will face either the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers.

But which one?

Both teams have identical 54-26 records with two games left apiece.  The Pacers, who own the tiebreaker should the teams finish even, close by hosting Oklahoma City on Sunday and visiting Orlando on Wednesday.  The Heat finish in Washington Monday and back home against Philadelphia Wednesday.

While there’s still a lot on the line for both teams, both Frank Vogel and Erik Spoelstra are going to be facing tough decisions when it comes to going for home court vs. giving players rest before the playoffs start next weekend.

Oklahoma City (Indiana’s next opponent) is locked into the #2 seed out West.  How they will handle Sunday’s game from a rest standpoint is to be determined, but that decision could play into the East home court race.  Miami faces a playoff opponent next as well, and the Wizards have plenty to play for as they look to stay in the sixth spot.

The earliest Atanta could know their opponent is Monday night, but it very well could be Wednesday, the final day of the regular season, before we know for sure.

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

Hawks Clinch Playoff Berth With Win Over Heat

Saturday, April 12, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Hawks Clinch Playoff Berth With Win Over Heat

The Hawks (37-43) clinched their seventh consecutive playoff berth — longest active streak in the Eastern Conference — with a 98-85 win over the Heat (54-26) at Philips Arena. The Hawks followed Jeff Teague‘s lead through the first three quarters as Teague posted a team-high 25 points, four steals, four rebounds, and three assists. In the fourth quarter, the Chicken Man took over as Lou Williams had 18 of his 23 points in the fourth, and shot a perfect 5-for-5 (3-for-3 from three) in the final period.

Hawks vs. Heat

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Highlights

The game was tight throughout the first half and neither team could find any separation at the half as they game was tied at 49. Teague came out of the gates with an aggressive mentality, and had nine of his 25 in the first quarter. Dwyane Wade sparked the Heat early on as he made all seven of his field goal attempts in the first half in his return from a hamstring injury for 16 of his 24 points for the game.

The Hawks defense locked down in the third quarter, holding the Heat to just 13 points on 6-of-18 shooting and 0-of-6 from three. The Hawks took a seven point lead into the fourth quarter, and never let the Heat get within six points in the final period before Williams exploded at the end. Williams scored 10 consecutive points on four straight possessions in the final 1:46 of the game as the Hawks emphatically stamped their ticket to the playoffs.

“The defense in the second half tonight is something we can hopefully build on,” said Coach Bud. “I’m happy for our guys. They’ve been a resilient group all year — the way they’ve played and the way they’ve competed. Tonight, I feel great for them. A lot of guys contributed up and down. Defensively, a lot of things go unnoticed. There were times the ball movement was really good and the pace was good…We managed to find a way to get just enough buckets. I’m just happy for our group and we want to just keep improving, keep getting better.”

LeBron James tried to bring the Heat back, putting up a game-high 27 points (10-of-22) with eight rebounds and five assists, but the rest of the Heat aside from James and Wade were unable to get themselves going. Chris Bosh was kept quiet with 11 points and four rebounds while Miami’s bench unit had just eight points on the game between the five of them.

Guarding James for much of the game was DeMarre Carroll who stepped up to the challenge of going against James with 17 points, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Carroll shot 50% from the field and made a pair of big three-pointers during the Hawks’ third quarter run that gave them the lead for good. Mike Scott was also big off the bench with 12 points, seven rebounds, and two steals. Scott had a positive defensive impact down the stretch, with three boards and a steal in the final 5:45 of the game.

Getting into the playoffs looked like it was all but assured early in the season, as the Hawks sat solidly in third place in the East with Al Horford and Paul Millsap giving opponents fits as they proved to be a tremendous frontcourt pairing. The middle of the season was nothing short of disastrous, as Horford was lost for the season and the Hawks endured numerous injuries forcing others out for extended periods of time and at one point lost 14 of 15 after the All-Star break.

Atlanta plummeted from the third seed into a fight for the eighth seed with the Knicks, and with just eight games to go were in a tie for the final playoff spot. The Hawks showed their resiliency as they have won six of their last eight games, with three wins over teams in the top five of the Eastern Conference — at Indiana, at Brooklyn, and vs Miami — to clinch their playoff berth.

“It says a lot ,” said Millsap. “It’s been a tough year with injuries, knick-knacks. It’s been tough. This group of guys in this locker room have stayed together and continued to fight, and put ourselves in a situation to get in the playoffs.”

“I’m happy that we get to play more games…” said Coach Budenholzer. “We want to build something here. Miami has been in the Finals for three years in a row. There are a lot of teams that have had a lot of success. It takes time to build your habits. habits are outstanding. We want to continue to build our habits and continue to improve. Our group has really fought hard and competed hard this year. I think they got what they deserved.”

The Hawks stayed the course, trusted each other, and, with the team getting healthier, have gotten closer to playing with the form that had them in the top half of the conference at the beginning of the season. Beating a Heat team that had it’s Big Three intact for the first time in weeks — and who could be a potential first round matchup — is a confidence boost for the team, but they continue to preach taking it one game at a time and not taking too much away from this win.

“It doesn’t make a difference this year. We gave them an overtime run earlier this year. It’s a team we’ve played well against this season. It was just satisfying to get a win and be in the groove that we’re in.”

“We’re not thinking about ,” said Teague. “We’re just happy to be in the playoffs. That’s all you can really say. I’m just happy for all the guys. We’ve worked hard all year. Injuries, everything that can happen to a team happened, and we were able to still make it to the playoffs.”

The Hawks will have two more games left to fine tune themselves for the playoffs, starting with their final regular season home game Monday night against the Bobcats and finish their season in Milwaukee against the Bucks.

Tweet of the Night

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Scouting Report: Miami Heat

Saturday, April 12, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Scouting Report: Miami Heat

With their magic number down to one, the Hawks (36-43) have three games left, beginning with a match-up tonight against the Heat, who currently are the top seed in the Eastern Conference — which would make them the Hawks’ first round opponent. The Heat easily disposed of the Pacers last night to reclaim their place atop the East in a 98-86 rout at home. LeBron James led the way with 36 points and six rebounds as he took over with Dwyane Wade sitting out.

The Heat dominated the game in transition by forcing 16 turnovers — 10 live-ball — that led to 20 Miami points. Miami’s transition attack is led by James, who is nearly unstoppable in the open court, so ball security has to be the top priority offensively to keep James and the Heat away from easy buckets. Against Miami’s ball pressure and activity in passing lanes, it is easier said than done as the Heat are second in the league in forcing turnovers at 16.7 per game.

While the Miami defense is proficient at turning opponents over, their weakness has been against teams that can spread the floor and knock down threes. Miami allows the 6th most three-point makes in the NBA at 8.4 per game and the 5th most three-point attempts per game at 23.3.

When the Hawks have had success against the Heat this season, three-point shooting has played a big role. In their win over Miami at home in January, the Hawks shot 12-for-31 (38.7%) from three, which really opened up the floor to allow Paul Millsap to operate in pick-and-rolls and in the post. In their 121-119 overtime loss to the Heat on the road, the Hawks were 17-of-34 from three-point range with Millsap hitting seven of those.

After a season-worst 1-for-19 three-point shooting game in their win over the Nets last night, the Hawks will need to regain their shooting stroke from deep if they are going to be able to beat the Heat. The Hawks ability to space the court not only with guards and wing players but also their bigs is a significant matchup advantage for the Hawks with the Heat.

The Heat offense, when not playing in transition, still applies pressure to opponents because of James’ ability to drive the ball — and Wade when healthy — applying pressure to the defense and forcing them to collapse down and opening up shots for Ray Allen and Shane Battier on the perimeter. Chris Bosh‘s ability to spread the floor and make threes and mid-range jumpers gives them an added dimension, particularly in pick-and-pop. The Hawks’ defense will be tested as they will look to close off the lane first, but will need to play on a string with their rotations to shooters on the perimeter when the drivers kick the ball outside.

The Hawks and Heat both have needs for a win in this game, with the Hawks looking to clinch their playoff berth and the Heat hoping to lock up their standing as the top seed over their final few games.

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

Magic Number Now 1 For Hawks

Saturday, April 12, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson
Magic Number Now 1 For Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks are on the brink of their seventh consecutive playoff appearance.

After a dazzling defensive performance allowed them to get a win in Brooklyn despite five percent shooting from deep, the Hawks reduced their Magic Number to one.  Both Atlanta and New York have three games remaining, meaning the Knicks would need three Hawks losses and three wins of their own to overtake them.

It doesn’t seem likely, but it doesn’t mean the Hawks can coast.  Atlanta has their fourth game in five nights Saturday against Miami, a team fighting for home court advantage in the playoffs.  A win would be extra special for the Hawks, as it would mean clinching a playoff spot in front of their home fans by beating the two-time defending champions.

A win Saturday could also be a big determining factor in who the Hawks’ first-round opponent is.  The Heat are currently one up on the Pacers in the loss column after beating Indiana Friday, but the Pacers would win the tiebreaker should the two teams finish with the same record.  So an Atlanta win Saturday would put Indiana back in control with two games remaining.

Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

Hawks Inch Closer to Playoffs By Beating Nets In Brooklyn

Friday, April 11, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Hawks Inch Closer to Playoffs By Beating Nets In Brooklyn

The Hawks (36-43) went into Brooklyn and got a much-needed 93-88 win over the Nets (43-36). Paul Millsap led the Hawks with 27 points and 10 rebounds on 10-of-19 shooting as the Hawks overcame a terrible three-point shooting night — going just 1-of-19 from three-point range — to get a huge win and get the magic number down to one to reach the playoffs.

Hawks vs. Nets

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The Nets were without Deron Williams at the point, and in his place started Jorge Gutierrez and had Marquis Teague coming off the bench and playing major minutes. Jeff Teague took advantage of the Nets’ inexperienced point guard rotation — particularly dominating his younger brother — for 22 points, three rebounds, and three assists. Teague did much of his damage in the second quarter — a large part of which he was matched up with his brother — where he scored 14 points to lead the Hawks to a 39 point quarter and a seven-point halftime lead.

The Nets led by seven after the first quarter after dominating the glass on the offensive end. Brooklyn had seven of their nine offensive rebounds in the first quarter, scoring five second-chance points. Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko combined for six of those in the first quarter, as the Nets were more active on the boards and used their length to frustrate the Hawks.

Atlanta made adjustments after the first quarter, doing a better job of keeping the Nets from penetrating where they would draw the Hawks’ bigs as help defenders, leaving the glass vulnerable to the Nets’ big on the weakside. By doing a better job at the point of attack on defense, and rotating down on the weakside, the Hawks were able to limit the Nets’ second-chance opportunities for the rest of the game.

The Hawks led by as many as 11 points in the third quarter, but the Nets fought back behind big bench performances from Marcus Thornton (14 points), Mason Plumlee (17 points), and Mirza Teletovic (8 points). The Nets came all the way back in the fourth quarter to take an 88-87 lead with just over two minutes to go, but Millsap quickly answered with a tremendous reverse layup to give the Hawks lead lead back for good.

A pivotal moment came on the next Hawks possession, where Teague was whistled for an offensive foul driving in transition, but after review the call was overturned by the officials, putting Teague at the line. Jeff hit both free throws to put the Hawks up by three, and they were able to make stops down the stretch by forcing the Nets into contested shots away from the rim and controlling the boards.

The only Nets starters to finish in double figures were Paul Pierce and Gutierrez. Pierce had 13 points, but it took him 14 shot attempts to get there and he only shot 2-for-6 from the free throw line. The Hawks defense was very solid in the paint, and held the Nets to just 42.5% shooting.

Neither team found their three-point shooting range, but the Nets did have a few timely threes late to help their run to the lead in the fourth. Brooklyn was 6-for-22 from three — just 27.3% — but it was much better than the Hawks dismal 1-for-19 (5.3%) from three.

The Hawks getting this win despite such a terrible shooting night is a testament to their defensive effort and commitment in attacking the paint, led by Teague and Millsap. DeMarre Carroll also had a good night with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and was active driving off the dribble and cutting without the ball for some easy baskets. Mike Scott came off the bench in the first half to give the Hawks an offensive lift, shooting 4-of-7 from the floor for eight points.

The Knicks also got a win facing the Raptors in Toronto, so the win by Atlanta was not enough to clinch a playoff berth, but the Hawks magic number is now just one. One more win for the Hawks, or a loss by the Knicks, will ensure the Hawks’ seventh-consecutive trip to the playoffs — which would be the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks will have a chance to clinch Saturday night in Atlanta, when the top-seeded Miami Heat come to Atlanta — who would currently be the Hawks’ first round opponent.

Tweet of the Night

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Scouting Report: Brooklyn Nets

Thursday, April 10, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson
Scouting Report: Brooklyn Nets

The Atlanta Hawks continue their playoff chase by visiting the Brooklyn Nets on Friday.

Brooklyn got off to a slow start this season but has turned things around dramatically since the calendar turned to 2014.  New head coach Jason Kidd has the veteran group playing at a much higher level, and small ball has helped them get there.

Like Atlanta, Brooklyn lost an All-Star center early in the season when Brook Lopez suffered a foot injury.  It took a while to recover, but rookie Mason Plumlee and reserve Andray Blatche have filled in nicely to tread water among the frontcourt.  Kevin Garnett has been in and out as well, but lately it appears Kidd is jut resting him before the playoffs start, knowing they’ll have to rely on him and his experience.

Where Brooklyn has really been getting it done is the backcourt.  Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have really elevated their games, and both have the ability to create their own shots.  Johnson is a matchup nightmare for opponents because he can shoot as well as drive.  Williams is also very good at creating contact, so keeping him out of the lane will be a priority.  Of course, the Nets made 16 threes when these teams last played in London, so the Nets do have multiple ways of beating opponents.

Where the Hawks have an advantage is the transition game.  The addition of Shaun Livingston to the rotation, as well as moving Paul Pierce to power forward, both make the Nets faster, but they still play slow.  Coach Bud always preaches pace, and the Hawks are at their best when playing fast.  If they can limit the Nets to one shot and push the tempo, they stand a decent chance at ending Brooklyn’s impressive 15-game home winning streak.

On the injury front, Pero Antic was listed as day-to-say with a sore right ankle.  Hopefully he’ll be able to go, which should help stretch Brooklyn’s defense.

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Hawks Reduce Magic Number To 2

Thursday, April 10, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson
Hawks Reduce Magic Number To 2

The Atlanta Hawks came back to beat the Boston Celtics in thrilling fashion Wednesday night, finishing the game on a 25-8 run to turn a nine-point deficit into an eight-point win.

In the process, they also stretched their lead over the idle New York Knicks to two games with four to play in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot.  As a reminder, the Hawks win the tiebreaker should the two finish with the same record, meaning Atlanta needs only to split its remaining four games to clinch a seventh straight postseason berth.

The Knicks have been idle since losing in Miami Sunday afternoon, and they’ll once again be off Thursday.  They return from the long layoff Friday to face the Raptors in Canada, needing a win to keep any realistic chance of catching Atlanta alive.  After the game in Toronto, they’ll finish with three games in the city of New York – first facing Chicago at Madison Square Garden before heading to their Eastern neighbors in Brooklyn, then returning home to close the season with the Raptors again.

The Hawks will be in Brooklyn Friday with a chance to clinch should they win and the Knicks lose.  Of course, that will be no easy task for Atlanta, as the Nets have won 15 straight games at Barclays Center.  Atlanta’s final three games are against the Heat and Bobcats at home, and against the Bucks in Milwaukee.

Another interesting development that interests the Hawks is what’s happened at the top of the conference this week.  After Atlanta manhandled Indiana Sunday, it appeared the Pacers were destined for the two seed.  But the Miami Heat have opened the door with back-to-back losses this week, making Friday’s game between the two teams perhaps the biggest regular season game in the NBA to date.  The teams are tied in the loss column, but the winner will control their own destiny as the one seed.  Indiana wins a tiebreaker if the two finish even, so that’s something to keep an eye on.

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