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
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.
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