Paul Millsap isn't 100%.
Even with Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer matter of factly stating that there is "no concern with Paul's shoulder", there is reason to believe that the All-Star power forward is laboring a bit as a result of the ailment. Millsap missed five games before returning for the season finale in Chicago, but with less than a full workload in that outing and a shaky showing in Game 1 that featured 2 of 11 shooting and some ugly misses, the former Louisiana Tech and Utah Jazz standout was understandably prompted about his injury in the postgame.
Millsap stated that he "always has high expectations" for his play, but had this to say when asked directly about his comfort level with the shoulder:
"Rhythm, timing, shoulder. Whatever, no excuses," said Millsap. "I had a wide-open layup I missed. Can’t blame that on the shoulder.... I’ll do better, I’ll be better."
Shooting nights like this occur in the NBA, but given the pairing of perhaps Atlanta's most consistent offensive player and an injury that could easily impact his performance, it is tough to avoid jumping to conclusions. Still, Millsap was straight to the point in deflecting attention away from the injury, simply stating that he still needed to get rhythm and a "feel for the ball".
Beyond his uneven performance in the series opener, Millsap did unveil a bit of a concern when asked about what "percentage" he would place on his shoulder at this point in the playoff run:
"No percentage. I'm not sure if it will be 100 percent. Only time will tell. Right now, I can't worry about it. The game's going to come too fast. I can't stop and think about my shoulder. I've got to get out there and play."
In the midst of that answer, the 6-foot-8 forward is intentional about blaming the shoulder, but the notion that Millsap isn't sure about feeling 100 percent in the playoffs is something that some will latch on to if he continues to play at a reduced level. In the interest of fairness, most players are not "100 percent" at this point in the year, and Millsap's answer could reflect that, but until he produces a big game or two, there will be skeptics.
Make no mistake, the Atlanta Hawks cannot achieve their ultimate goals without All-Star level production from Paul Millsap. He may not be the "best" player on the team, an honor I would personally bestow on Al Horford, but Millsap's unique offensive arsenal and varied defensive abilities will be needed down the line, and using Brooklyn as a tune-up effort isn't the worst thing in the world.
"No excuses" sounds like an answer that Paul Millsap would give after having a poor game, regardless of any injury concern. Game 2 and beyond will reveal whether his poor playoff debut can be attributed to the shoulder.