Games like Wednesday's 89-88 loss have been few and far between for the Atlanta Hawks this season. That doesn't alleviate the sting of watching a 14-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter all that much. The Hawks had plenty of opportunities to deliver the knockout blow Wednesday night but were unable to do so. Mike Budenholzer would credit the job the Celtics did in the second half but he and his players both know this was one they let slip away.
"A lot of credit to Boston," Budenholzer said following the game. "The second half, their defense and their overall game, we weren't able to get to a lot of things we need to get to. You give them a lot of credit. It's a 48-minute game. They played better for more of those 48 minutes than us. I think we lost some of our discipline, some of the things that we emphasize and do every day. But you always give your opponent credit. There is a reason as we weren't as disciplined as we needed to be. They are well coached. They played hard. We will be better because of tonight."
If there is a silver lining in this loss it can serve as a wake up call that despite this team's gaudy win-loss record, they still must bring it every night. The Hawks have come a long way in a season and a half under Budenholzer. They have gone from a team that was just hoping to make the playoffs into one of, if not the favorite in the conference. As long as they are at the top they will get every opponent's best effort.
Atlanta is lucky that they have a veteran roster that understands the situation. It didn't take long for guys like Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll to center on exactly what went wrong Wednesday night.
"Lack of focus," said Millsap. "Simple as that."
"Lack of focus," Carroll said. "We were up 18. We should have just put them away. We played lackadaisical with a lack of focus. Sometimes it's better to happen early than later in the season. We were just going through the motions, weren't really playing hard. So that's what happens when you take any NBA team not seriously."
There were a lot of distractions in place for the Hawks. The night before a long break with five players and the coaching staff set to travel to New York for the NBA's All-Star Weekend. The loss doesn't erase all of the good work the team did in the first half but it does put a damper on the celebration.
"It's been a good first half," Millsap said "But it's definitely not the way we wanted to end this half, going into the break with a loss against a team that we know we should've won. Especially blowing a lead like that."
This Hawks team has shown a lot of resiliency this season. This loss will serve as an event that the coaching staff can point to as an example of what complacency can lead to. The NBA season is a long marathon and losses like Wednesday's game happen from time-to-time. Its how that team responds that makes the difference.