Hawks win and clinch East, then act like it’s no big deal (which is good)

Paul Millsap, who had 21 points and nine rebounds against Miami, has been Hawks’ best player. (Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images)

Paul Millsap, who had 21 points and nine rebounds against Miami, has been Hawks' best player. (Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images)

Paul Millsap, who had 21 points and nine rebounds against Miami, has been Hawks’ best player. (Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images)

The Hawks clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Friday night and they acted as if they had just beaten Milwaukee on a Tuesday in November.

That’s probably a good thing.

“Maybe we’ll do a little, ‘Hip-hip, hooray’ on the plane,” Kyle Korver said.

“I mean, it’s great,” Paul Millsap said. “But we really haven’t been focusing on it. We’ve got bigger goals ahead. We haven’t been looking at the scoreboard or looking at other teams. We’ve been looking at ourselves, trying to get ourselves right.”

The Hawks (55-17), playing the best defense they had in a few weeks, led Miami by 18 points at halftime (55-37) and cruised to a 99-86 win over the remains of the Heat.

Miami isn’t the same team without LeBron James (Cleveland) and Chris Bosh (injured), and with Dwyane Wade seemingly playing on one leg. The Heat’s bandwagon fan base, which used to fill Philips Arena, also appears to have shrunk, or at least morphed into Cleveland fans). Funny how that works.

But the Hawks’ win, combined with Cleveland’s loss to Brooklyn, officially clinched the East, even if it was a bit anti-climactic. It almost seemed fitting that when coach Mike Budenholzer walked into the locker room minutes after the game to tell his players that the Cavaliers had lost, half of the team was in the showers.

“Bud found out, came in and there were only like five guys in here,” Korver said. “He was like, ‘Good accomplishment, we won the East.'”

Millsap led the Hawks with 21 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal, and he was singled out for praise afterward by Budenholzer. Millsap has been their best player of late, carrying them during a relative slump — if you want to call 5-5 for this team a slump — and picking up the offensive slack when Korver was out with a broken nose.

I’ll have a full column on Millsap in Sunday’s AJC (and online on MyAJC on Saturday).

But about the Hawks: Their response Friday night after a series of uneven performances — and a humiliating, one-sided home loss to San Antonio — was significant. That the East-clinching win should come over the franchise, Miami, which represented the conference in the finals four straight years also seemed fitting.

“Coming into the season I don’t think a lot of people thought we’d be in this position with 10 games left,” Korver said. “It really says something about our team. At the same time, this is just one of our goals along the way.”

As the top seed, the Hawks will face the No. 8 seed in the first round of the playoffs. As of today, that would be Boston (32-40). Miami is one game ahead in seventh overall at 33-39. Just behind Boston are Brooklyn (31-40), Indiana (31-41) and Charlotte (30-41). That will be the extent of the Hawks’ scoreboard watching the rest of the season.

To say this is a rare situation for this franchise would be an understatement. It’s only the second time in franchise history it will go into the playoffs as a No. 1 seed (1993-94 was the other year). With 10 games left, expect to see a lot of Kent Bazemore, Mike Muscala and Elton Brand in the next two weeks, while the regulars in the rotation rest up.

“This was just one thing on our bucket list,” Millsap said.


Some recent ramblings from the digital jukebox
— MyAJC: NBA needs to curtail resting of players
— AJC: Will Falcons, others avoid losing draft picks this year?
— MyAJC: Basketball is where Georgia State’s focus should be
— AJC: New reality at Georgia State: What Ron Hunter wants, he gets
— MyAJC: Hawks get drilled, and concerns may be growing
— MyAJC: Georgia better but still not where it needs to be
— AJC: Mark Fox returns subtle fire at Brian Gregory before tournament
— MyAJC: Gregory knows he needs to make most of his extended lifeline
— AJC: Gregory says he gave Izzo ‘everything’ he has on Georgia
— AJC: Timing is everything, as Tech keeps Gregory
— AJC: Tech expected to keep Gregory, but former coach (Hewitt) fired again
— MyAJC: Column on Quinn, Dimitroff defending moves, philosophy
— AJC: Exclusive: Q&A with Quinn, Dimitroff on Falcons’ moves
— MyAJC: Tech’s candidate pool may be thin if Gregory fired
— AJC: Tech’s decision on Brian Gregory tougher than you might think
— MyAJC: Georgia erratic but ceiling high in tournament
— AJC: NCAA tourney: Dogs should be in, Panthers must do a little more
— MyAJC: Georgia State at center of state’s hoops’ rebirth
— AJC: Jim Boeheim’s arrogance catches up to him
— AJC: Erving says Hawks should do better job embracing their history
— MyAJC: Hank Aaron knows exactly how Dominique Wilkins feels
— MyAJC: Despite loss, Fox has Georgia pointed in right direction
— AJC: Mark Fox deserved contract extension (which he finally signed)
— AJC: Falcons, Ndamukong Suh and waiting on fake noise penalty
— AJC: Falcons’ payroll slash continues — Blalock, Douglas released
— AJC: Steven Jackson expected to be missing piece, but he wasn’t
— MyAJC: Can Kevin Seitzer avoid being Braves’ next scapegoat
— AJC: Freeman on ’14 roster: Heyward leading off not well-constructed lineup
— MyAJC: By any name, Braves need a different Upton
— AJC: How long should Braves give Upton to show improvement?
— MyAJC: Braves have issues but McDowell not one of them
— AJC: I still can’t talk to Roger McDowell without thinking of ‘The Second Spitter’
— AJC: Poll: Are expectations for Braves too low, high or about right?
— MyAJC: Will Gonzalez be given some latitude during Braves’ rebuilding?
— MyAJC: Falcons’ roster gutting could have big names
— AJC: Data show Falcons got least (10-22) from most ($279.3 million)
— MyAJC: Georgia shows why we still can’t assume success
— AJC: Are Hawks getting Ray Allen? Odds site makes them favorite
— MyAJC: Private agendas still at play in Hawks’ offices

Reader Comments 0

16 comments
Pama123
Pama123

The hawks will not make it to nba finals, the hawks will be lucky to win first rd of playoffs, and if it's the celtics, that's going to be a matchup problem for the hawks.


You have to give the nba tv, espn, and all the sports talking heads credit, they were completely correct about the hawks, they are going nowhere.

Championship and very good basketball teams, do not get blown out by under .500 teams as much as the hawks have. The hawks look a absolute mess right now.

Sam Hayes
Sam Hayes

Sigh...I'm reading these comments and I feel sad. 

yeah i am one of those that believe the atlanta sports teams will always choke when it counts.(history shows this)

now i see there are many other people that feel the same way.

i don't know if these people are true fans or trolls but that doesn't really matter.

it's the karma from the ignorant stupid idiotic racist redneck fan base that dooms the atlanta sports franchises.

but...i'm pulling for the hawks...i think they play team ball and will at least make the nba finals despite their idiotic racist fans that still want to hate on michael vick and josh smith...

Wilbo
Wilbo

Hey, Jeff, why is it that you can write an article about a hometown professional sports team playing great and sitting right at the top of the standings just before the playoffs begin, and after a couple or 3 days, you'll have a 1/2 dozen comments? Mark Brat Li could write a column about a little girls' tiddly winks tournament, and he'd have 70 comments the first day. Why is that? It isn't because he's any more talented than you. Neither one of you could get hired writing the sports blog for a south Alabama girls junior high school.

BravesFan79
BravesFan79

@Wilbo Fans arent gonna get excited about the Hawks again until the playoffs start.  Its the most boring part of a long season.  Stop being a tool.  

BravesFan79
BravesFan79

The Hawks need to rest everyone, EXCEPT when playing Brooklyn!    
Who cares if we play .500 ball the rest of the way.  The Hawks will heat back up in the first round of the playoffs!  

If we somehow loose AL or Millsap to injury the Hawks have little chance at a title.  

Falcons63
Falcons63

@BravesFan79  Wait.. don't rest anyone.  You will give Schultz something else to complain about.

58Supersports
58Supersports

Great news... Go Hawks!

I don't like resting starters... whatever.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@58Supersports

Agree--especially when there are things like seeding and homecourt advantage still to be determined.

TOJacket
TOJacket

Wilbo, Maybe our sports teams are tired of half-azzed fans like yourself...............why not treat yourself and us and move.

Wilbo
Wilbo

@TOJacket OK, poohbutt, What if I promise to be just like you and grin like a 1/2 witted fool no matter what a cowardly, inept, non-compettitve performance they put on in the playoffs, just like Atlanta pro sports teams have habitually done every season they reach the playoffs for like maybe pretty much ever.


That make ya happy?

Peachtree Bart
Peachtree Bart

They need to make it to 60 wins.  That would be a significant milestone for this franchise.  

DawgNole
DawgNole

@PeachtreeBart

More importantly, they need to make it past Round 2 of the playoffs. That would be even more significant for this franchise--since they've never done so before.

HistoryofMatt
HistoryofMatt

What's really insane about this season, Jeff, is the Hawks could potentially be playing for an NBA Title as well as owning a high lottery pick in the draft if Brooklyn finishes out of the playoffs and gets some lucky ball bounces.


I knew unloading Mopey Joe was a Godsend for this organization... but this is like all the good karma they deserve after so much bad, coming back all at once.


I hope they don't blow the pick!

DawgNole
DawgNole

@HistoryofMatt

Good thing they don't have Dimitroff picking for them--or they would indeed blow the pick.

Wilbo
Wilbo

Thank you for at least moving the pic of the goofball Artie Blank down the page by putting up this article!


Looking great until it really matters is the finest and mostly religiously followed of Atlanta pro sports traditions.


You and Little Markee Brat Li think that's gonna change. I don't. We'll see.....