This was surely still a bit too close for the Atlanta Hawks. But the way Mike Budenholzer’s team played throughout the first four games of round one, a Game 5 victory is definitely encouraging.
Spurred by a stellar all-around performance from Al Horford and late game heroics from Jeff Teague, the Hawks beat the Brooklyn Nets 107-97 to take a 3-2 lead in the teams’ surprisingly competitive first-round series. True to the team’s excellent regular season, though, it was Atlanta’s five-man starting unit that ruled the day.
Horford (20 points), Teague (20 points), DeMarre Carroll (23 points), Kyle Korver (17 points), an Paul Millsap (10 points) combined for 91 points on Wednesday night. The Hawks’ starters outscored the Nets’ by a whopping 35 points, and broke Budenholzer’s normal rotation by playing 59:20 of the teams’ 60 available fourth quarter minutes.
Despite Horford’s typical impact and Atlanta splashing jumpers with ease, Brooklyn cut its 82-70 advantage to just three points with 9:18 left in the game. The clubs mostly traded buckets from there until Teague resumed the form that made him a first-time All-Star during crunch-time.
The 26 year-old scored nine points and dished two assists in the game’s final four minutes and 24 seconds, turning the Hawks’ 93-89 lead into a double-digit win. Takes like this one haven’t exactly been commonplace since the playoffs began two weekends ago.
If they will be from now on, though, Atlanta could very well live up to pre-playoff expectations of Eastern Conference favorite. Budenholzer’s first five are that good when rolling, and their presumptive competition seems that fragile. Should the Hawks prove anything more than fodder in a potential NBA Finals appearance, though, they’ll certainly need more from reserves.
As of now, however, that concern might be premature. There’s a Game 6 to worry about, after all, and Atlanta is just a few different bounces away from being down in this series. Its victory on Wednesday really was in doubt at several critical moments of crunch-time.
But this is still a reminder of how good the Hawks can be when clicking. For sake of the East, here’s hoping they do consistently for the postseason’s remainder.