Atlanta clinches in style with win over defending champs

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Teague scored 25 points to help lead the Atlanta Hawks past the Miami Heat 98-85 and back into the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

The Atlanta Hawks are headed to the playoffs for the seventh straight season thanks to Saturday's 98-85 win over the defending champion Miami Heat. The Hawks got another sterling performance from Jeff Teague who finished with 25 points and is playing as well as he has at any point this season. However, it was the team's defense that pleased head coach Mike Budenholzer the most following the victory.

"A couple of games in the last week or so, our defense has been better. It's something we've been wanting to improve. The defense in the second half tonight is something we can hope to build on. 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 that the ball movement was really good and the pace was good. Other times, Miami's defense is so good, they're so long and they're so athletic that we stalled out. 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. Tomorrow, we'll look at film. Monday, we'll try to get better, and as we move forward, that just continues to be the message. We want to improve and get better."

If you have followed this team at all this season then you have no doubt read a quote where Budenholzer was talking about improvement or his team "getting better." Atlanta will be a part of the Eastern Conference Playoffs despite a losing record but Budenholzer and his staff is thankful for the extra opportunities in what will be a competitive setting.

"I'm happy that we get to play more games and I get to talk more about improving and getting better each practice. We want to build something here. Miami has been in the Finals for 3 years in a row. There are a lot of teams that we have had a lot of success. It takes time to build their habits. Their (Miami's) 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 NBA season is a grind and injuries no doubt play a big part in every team's season. The Hawks suffered more than their fair share this season.

"It says a lot," said Paul 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."

Atlanta overcame a season-ending injury to Al Horford in December and saw a rash of injuries sweep through their frontcourt. The result was a 1-14 stretch in February that knocked the team from contention for home court advantage and put their playoff status in jeopardy.

The Hawks are going to the postseason because they finished strong. They are 5-2 in April and have won five of their last six. There magic number was two heading into a weekend back-to-back against Brookllyn and Miami. Atlanta came away with wins in both and now have the luxury of getting some guys some much needed rest before the playoffs open next weekend.

Notebook

  • Atlanta went 1-19 from three-point range in Friday's win over Brooklyn. They rebounded on Saturday against the Heat when they hit 10-22 including 4-4 from Lou Williams.
  • For the second straight game the Hawks benefited from some poor free throw shooting by their opponent. Miami finished just 9-19 from the free throw line with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combining to go 8-17. Atlanta on the other hand converted 16-19 attempts.
  • If Atlanta does draw Miami in the first round then you can expect to see both teams utilize small lineups at various points of the game. If that is the case then Mike Scott will be a key player for the Hawks. He played 32 minutes on Saturday and finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.
  • Paul Millsap had his double-double streak snapped at seven games but he still managed to stuff the box score with a line of 11 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals.
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