NEW YORK — The Hawks are about to play their sixth playoff game against the Brooklyn Nets, which is one or two games more than expected. So can they avoid this thing going the distance?
At the risk of public humiliation (again), I think there’s a good chance this series ends tonight. The Hawks are coming off their best performance of the series, a 107-97 win over the Nets at Philips Arena Wednesday night, notwithstanding that they almost blew the game, and odds are against them getting swept three straight in Brooklyn.
“They feed off the crowd and that helped them in the first two games here,” forward Paul Millsap said. “We need to do something early to take the crowd out of it.”
Millsap said the Hawks used some different defensive coverages early in the game Wednesday and the strategy worked.
Two reasons why I think the Hawks may close out this series tonight:
• Brooklyn guard Deron Williams, who poured in 35 points in Game 4, was back to his anemic self in Game 5, making two of eight shots for five points. Defense by Kent Bazemore, who had his playing time increased, helped shut down Williams early and the Nets’ guard never recovered.
• Nets center Brook Lopez, who was strong in the first three games, became “gassed” in the last two, coach Lionel Hollins admitted, perhaps from his increased minutes in the postseason. That’s not a good sign for Brooklyn going into a must-win game.
The Hawks’ play has improved each of the last two games after a dreadful Game 3 performance, but coach Mike Budenholzer isn’t one to assume anything.
“They’re getting better and the games are competitive,” he said. “We can’t think or believe or assume anything. As soon as you relax, you’re in trouble.”
A couple of ever thoughts on the game:
• Last playoff success: If the Hawks win tonight, it will clinch their first playoff series win since the first round in 2011 over Orlando (former coach Larry Drew’s first season). They’ve lost four straight series since — the second round to Chicago in 2011 and first-round series to Boston (2012) and Indiana twice (2013, 2014). The franchise hasn’t won a second-round series since being based in St. Louis in 1958 (championship round vs. Boston, when only four teams made the playoffs).
• Executive of the Year: Budenholzer (36 points/4 first-place votes) finished third in the voting behind Golden State’s Bob Myers (82/13) and Cleveland’s David Griffin (69/8). It’s kind of silly that Budenholzer was even submitted as a candidate by the Hawks, but the organization felt uncomfortable nominating general manager Danny Ferry, who put the team together but has been on a (in)voluntary leave of absence all season.
I have no doubt Budenholzer (interim head of basketball operations) and assistant GM Wes Wilcox had input in offseason moves but Ferry was the point man. As Budenholzer told the AJC’s Chris Vivlamore last month when he was nominated, “Anyone who has followed the Hawks for the last two or three years knows that Danny Ferry is the executive who is most responsible for the makeup of our team. Danny is responsible for me being here.”
None of which guarantees Ferry will be back when the dust settles after this season.
•A recent writer’s dozen from the digital jukebox — AJC: On Falcons’ draft, trading up, Bruce Irvin and Gurley question — MyAJC: Dan Quinn determined to fix pass rush after past Falcons’ whiffs — MyAJC: Hawks’ regular-season afterglow is long gone — MyAJC: Hawks being visited by ghosts of playoffs past — AJC: Short takes: Hawks seem to have lost their cool, shooting touch — MyAJC: Hawks’ Horford is coming up short against Nets’ Lopez — AJC: Short takes: Hawks off-target, lose and give Nets hope — MyAJC: Hawks know it’s playoffs and style points don’t matter — AJC: Hawks in Brooklyn knowing they need to think sweep, not split — MyAJC: Braves’ starting pitching is coming up short — AJC: Braves swept by Mets, as Teheran is latest starter to struggle — AJC: Hawks’ sale positive but does Gearon’s role ensure Ferry’s exit? — AJC: Poll: Should Falcons pursue Adrian Peterson, Randy Gregory? — MyAJC: Falcons’ risk-reward scale may tip in new direction — AJC: Budenholzer wins coaching honor, and it shouldn’t have been close — AJC: Millsap, Sefolosha, Horford — what’s going on with Hawks? — MyAJC: Hawks need a better Millsap for long playoff run — MyAJC: Budenholzer knows what playoff success is all about — MyAJC: Hawks hoping to leave Atlanta playoff wreckage behind — AJC: Hawks lose lottery pick but get better playoff match-up: Nets — MyAJC: Jordan Spieth: Perfect champion, perfect story