The Atlanta Hawks saw their season come to an end Saturday night with a 92-80 loss to the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of their first-round playoff matchup. In many ways its a bitter end for the Hawks who saw a chance to close out the Pacers at home in Game 6 slip away. Many of those same issues that plagued the team down the stretch in Game 6 were present once again in the series finale. Still Atlanta fought to the end and there are positives that can be taken away from the series.
"It goes without saying it's a tough loss but the way our group competed and the way they carried themselves in this series is something the coaches, players and organization can be very proud of," said head coach Mike Budenholzer following the loss.
Budenholzer has talked about being competitive and has stressed the word "competitiveness" since the early days of training camp. The Hawks competed to the end in Game 7 and found themselves within striking distance despite shooting at or below 30 percent for much of the game.
Indiana had everything to do with Atlanta's struggles as they finally looked like the team that stormed out of the gate and eventually captured the No. 1 seed in the East. Roy Hibbert had his best game of the series in Game 7 and his presence inside made life difficult for the Hawks.
Atlanta finished with just 30 points in the paint and missed more than half of their attempts inside (15-37). Indiana's defense was able to collapse on Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague found it difficult to find driving lanes due to the Hawks' inability to knock down shots from the perimeter.
Atlanta finished 11-44 from three-point range and became the first team ever to launch 40 three-point attempts in a regulation playoff game. Kyle Korver accounted for five of those 11 makes. Many of them were good looks and they just didn't fall when the Hawks needed them the most.
"We had a good number of very good looks, good opportunities, and that's a big part of the game," said Budenholzer. "You have to make some shots, and tonight we weren't able to do it at the rate that we needed to."
Of course offense is just one part of the equation and the Hawks had little answer for Paul George on the defensive end of the floor. When a series comes down to a Game 7 then the team with the best player usually finds a way to win. George was that player for the Pacers as he finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds.
Indiana finished the game shooting 47 percent from the field and out rebounded Atlanta 55-38. They turned the ball over 18 times but the Hawks only managed to score just nine points off of those miscues. Atlanta had to scrap just to stay within striking distance.
There were plenty of comments throughout the game about the officiating but its important to point out that the Pacers were the aggressor for most of the game. The team that is aggressive usually earns foul calls and trips to the free throw line. It was a formula that Atlanta used well early in the series. The Hawks made 13-16 free throw attempts in Game 7 while the Pacers were 23-29.
Indiana advances to the second-round to face the Washington Wizards while Atlanta shifts into offseason mode. If you look at the totality of the season it was truly a mixed bag. The team made the playoffs despite a sub .500 record for the eighth consecutive season but battled injuries non stop since December and most notably to All-Star center Al Horford.
Despite the low expectations heading into the postseason, Atlanta's performance seemed to breath some life into the Hawks' fan base. Three raucous crowds turned out to Philips Arena capped off by an unbelievable display in Game 6 as the franchise debuted an updated version of the old Pac Man logo.
The series ends in disappointment but eyes are on the future and the Hawks have never seemed to be in as good of hands as they are currently.