The Game 1 win by the Atlanta Hawks over the Brooklyn Nets might not have been the dominant wire-to-wire performance that many were looking for. However, in the playoffs, winning is the most important thing and the Hawks held onto homecourt with a 99-92 win.
"It's good to play a playoff game," said head coach Mike Budenholzer following the game. "A lot of credit to Brooklyn for coming back and closing it on us, and putting us in some tough spots. We struggled to score in the third quarter, and at times during the fourth. Defensively, our hands and our activity were good, creating some turnovers. We're going to have to have that same activity. We're going to have to be better limiting their offensive boards from the start of the game to the end of the game."
Brooklyn led in Game 1 for exactly 19 seconds as Joe Johnson scored on their first possession. After falling into a deep hole early, the Nets were able to find their game and for two significant stretches in the second half, outplayed Atlanta.
To the Hawks' credit they didn't blink. A 16-point lead was cut to just three during the early parts of the third quarter. A driving layup by Paul Millsap and a three-pointer by DeMarre Carroll helped unleash a 15-2 run that pushed the lead back into double digits.
The Nets pushed yet again in the fourth cutting Atlanta's lead down to just four with 1:33 remaining. This time it was Jeff Teague who had the answer as he scored six of his 17 points in the last 1:19 of the game.
"A lot of different guys stepped up and made plays," said Budenholzer. "Jeff Teague, coming back in and hitting a basket when it was cut to four, and then hitting free throws down the stretch. It was a great finish by Jeff there. DeMarre's defense is always something that, when you're playing a great player like Joe Johnson, it's great to have DeMarre out there making it as difficult as possible on him."
Atlanta did get a lot of contributions from many players on its roster but that has become the norm for this group. Paul Millsap continues to work his way back into form after missing five of the last six games of the regular season with a shoulder injury. Millsap finished with six points and seven rebounds but was just 2-11 from the field.
The Hawks covered Millsap with five players scoring in double figures led by Kyle Korver who finished with 21 points including five made three-pointers.
"This is what we've done all year," Kyle Kover said following the game. "We're not just one person on this team. We're not playing hero ball. We go out there and play as a unit. There are a lot of nights where guys don't shoot the ball well or don't play as well as they'd like to. The reality is that Paul is probably finding his rhythm a little bit, and he will. We just keep on working our system and give you the lines we always give - move the ball, play with the pass, play with space, and keep on finding someone else."
Defensively, the team seemed to be pleased with their effort in Game 1. Brooklyn shot 65 percent in the second quarter but Atlanta got some much needed stops in the second half and in particularly coming down the stretch.
Brook Lopez was a handful for the entire game finishing with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Lopez accounted for six of the Nets' 12 offensive rebounds in the game. On the other hand, Lopez finished with just seven shot attempts as the Hawks were effectively able to take him out of the half court offense. They just have to do a better job of keeping him off the offensive glass for the rest of the series.
"The defense was great," said Carroll. "We've been in that position a lot this year. I think we suceeded tonight. Everybody collectively had a big part to do with it. Paul might have had an off-night offensively, but his defense and him being active and getting steals and getting blocks really helped us. We're a unit, five guys out there on the court. If one guy is not doing what he's supposed to do, it affects the whole unit. I think everybody, one-through-five, stepped up tonight."
Carroll drew the tough assignment of guarding Joe Johnson who finished with 17 points, six rebounds and six assists but was just 6-17 from the field and an uncharacteristic 0-6 from three-point range.
"We stuck with the game plan," said Carroll when asked about limiting Johnson. "Joe, he's a great player. He's tough in the post. But at the same time, we stuck to the game plan and made things difficult for him, and made other guys-get involved and we picked up the win."
And ultimately picking up the win is all that matters. The Hawks aren't going to get style points after Game 1 from some national pundits who already looked at their 60 regular season wins with skepticism. This group honestly could care less about that sort of thing.
The playoffs are a game of adjustments and this series is just getting started. Lopez was a big factor but to Atlanta's credit was limited to just seven shots. The Hawks will take that and Brooklyn no doubt will be searching for more ways to get him involved. A lot was made of the second chance points and it is true that they enabled Brooklyn to stay close but the final margin was a 16-15 edge in favor of the Nets.
Game 2 will bring more adjustments as the chess match between these two teams is just getting started.