The Atlanta Hawks overcame another cold shooting night to defeat the Brooklyn Nets 96-91 and take a 2-0 lead in the series. Atlanta came out of the gates quickly but once again were forced to execute down the stretch to preserve the win. Deron Williams missed a game-tying attempt with 10.9 seconds remaining and the Hawks were able to close the game out at the free throw line.
"It was what you expect in the playoffs," Mike Budenholzer told the media following the game. "They kept coming back and there were big possessions late in the game. I think we feel fortunate that we made just enough plays, just enough stops. Defensively, we got a little bit better tonight. But we need to play better going forward."
The Hawks will be the first to admit that they didn't perform at their best during the first two games of the series. However, they won't apologize for winning either and are drawing some confidence that they have been able to get defensive stops when they have needed them. Further confidence comes from having won two games in which their offense has been somewhat inconsistent.
"The defense down the stretch did it, forcing them off the three-point line and making them take tough shots," said Paul Millsap who finished with a team-high 19 points. "They're a good team. They have talented players. They're a tough team. But we were able to hold them to 91 points. That's a plus for us."
On that potential game-tying attempt, Atlanta's defense swarmed Joe Johnson on his drive. He kicked the ball out to Williams who was stationed behind the three-point arc. Kent Bazemore was able to close out and forced Williams off the three-point line and into a tougher pull up jumper. It was still a good look but a tougher shot from an analytical standpoint. Williams finished the game 1-of-7 from the field so the Hawks had to feel pretty good about getting the ball out of Johnson's hands.
"I feel like there were maybe five seconds on the shot clock," said Budenholzer. Joe Johnson is always, it seems like, a priority. They have a lot of other options around him, but we just talked about the different ways we wanted to be sure we were staying connected to Joe Johnson, and be solid in our pick-and-roll coverage."
Coming into the game there was a lot of focus put on the injury status of Millsap and center Al Horford. Both quieted those concerns in the early going. Millsap's 19 points led the team and he knocked down 4-of-4 three-point attempts while playing without a protective pad on his shoulder for the first time since suffering the injury. Horford finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. He finished 6-15 but his jumper appeared to be unaffected by the finger injury that he suffered in Game 1.
"It looked like Paul really felt comfortable shooting the ball, shooting it from range," Budenholzer said. "He's looked good the last couple of days. He's looked good for five or six days. He's more comfortable probably playing with the shirt and not the padding. I think he was focused. No matter how he came out, I knew he was going to play well."
The Hawks' bench unit had a somewhat sporadic performance but the team received a lift from backup center Pero Antic who scored all eight of his points in the third quarter.
"Pero, I thought played really well," Budenholzer said. "He gave us good minutes in stretches, plays, at the rim, defensively. He made a couple of shots. He's such a smart player."
Antic wasn't much of a factor on the boards but gave the Hawks a spark with a made three and a dunk as they regained the lead late in the third quarter.
"Pero was great for us," Millsap said. "When he's doing that. It's not just making shots. He does it on the defense end. He's a great post defender. I felt like he forced Brooklyn into some tough shots. He helps us out a lot. It's not just on the scoring, when he scores for us it is just an added bonus."
The Hawks didn't gain a lot of style points in these first two games but they did exactly what they were supposed to do which was hold serve at home. While many were looking for four straight blowouts that line of thinking is disrespectful to a Nets' team that played pretty well down the stretch. The playoffs are a different animal than the regular season. There are no tricks left for either team to deploy on their opponent. It is all about execution now and the Hawks have passed that test so far. It isn't exactly the same thing but they aren't the only No. 1 seed to find the going a bit more tough than expected against the No. 8 seed.