"A win is a win."
In all fairness, that phrase was never uttered (at least within earshot) in the friendly confines of the Atlanta Hawks locker room on Friday evening, but for all intents and purposes, it should have been. The Hawks completed a wildly uneven performance in a 95-88 victory over the Orlando Magic, and while every positive result matters in the final standings, Mike Budenholzer couldn't be fully thrilled with some of the lapses on the floor, as he shared in his post-game remarks.
"We had a couple of good quarters - maybe two-and-a-half or three good quarters.... We want to have 48 minutes. We want to play better for the whole game."
From the absurd heights of a 19-0 run in the opening minutes to the shear depths of an 11-turnover second quarter, nothing was "consistent" on the particular evening. Because of Atlanta's propensity to best teams with offensive execution and strong defense, it isn't often that the opposition can cite a lack of consistency as a way to hang around on the scoreboard, but that second quarter tells the story.
"I thought we got a little loose with the ball. Besides them maybe picking up their defense and getting more aggressive, I thought maybe sometimes when it comes easy early, you don't keep the crispness, the sharpness and the discipline that you need. I think our guys would probably say that. I think we had 11 turnovers in the second quarter.... We weren't as sharp or as crisp as we needed to be with our ball movement."
There is something beautiful about Budenholzer's offense when it clicks, and while that is almost public knowledge at this point, it was on display at two different points in the game. The opening salvo of a 19-0 run included five threes from the home team (including three from Paul Millsap), but it was the ball movement and floor spacing that made the run all the more special.
Later, the Hawks put together a near-flawless third quarter on the offensive end. As usual, both head coach and player declined to comment on specifics of the halftime break, but something "clicked" from an energy standpoint in the quarter, causing the motion to pick up in terms of crispness, and the execution followed to the tune of 67% from the field and 5-of-8 (63%) from beyond the arc in the period. The 34-22 margin within the 12 minutes did not "seal" the game for Atlanta, but the home team never trailed again.
It would be irresponsible to think that the Atlanta Hawks, or any NBA team, can put together 48 minutes of quality basketball on a nightly basis. The key, as the Hawks have displayed, is doing it enough to take care of business in games where the opponent is not capable of taking full advantage.
That is a microcosm of Friday night's result, as the visiting Magic simply did not possess the firepower needed to overcome a "two-and-a-half or three good quarters" that Budenholzer referenced. Undoubtedly, the Hawks will encounter clubs that can and will beat them if subpar stretches surface at inopportune times, but on this night, Atlanta did enough to win.
Bring on Miami.