The Atlanta Hawks took back control of their first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets with a 107-97 win in Game 5 at Philips Arena. The Hawks jumped out to an early lead but once again watched the Nets make a charge in the fourth quarter. However, this time it was Al Horford and Jeff Teague that had the final answer coming down the stretch.
"The thing that stands out to me is the competitive nature of the group collectively, and a lot of guys individually," said head coach Mike Budenholzer following the game. "Competing in different defensive situations, on the boards, finding a way to get a basket, and then of course finishing...responding to the challenge of being up 97-95. And big plays down the stretch by different people. Stepping up and meeting that challenge. That's what we need going forward."
This series has been much more of a struggle for Atlanta than anyone imagined. The Nets have risen to the occasion and have gone toe to toe with the Hawks in the series. After falling behind early in Game 5, Brooklyn once again pushed Atlanta to the brink cutting a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter all the way down to one.
Jeff Teague scored nine of his 20 points in the fourth quarter including a big three-pointer and a pair of drives late to help seal the win for Atlanta. Al Horford had a monster game finishing with 20 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. After struggling for most of the series with his shot, Horford let it go in Game 5 and stepped up when the Hawks needed him the most.
"Al was all over the court on both ends," said Budenholzer. "I'm sure people who are here lot hear how versatile Al is and how he impacts the game in so many different ways. I think the fourth quarter was probably that at its best."
Horford did it all for the Hawks down the stretch and even found himself matched up for a stretch against his ex-teammate Joe Johnson.
"I used to have to tell DeMarre to shoot the ball, and now it's Al," Teague told reporters following the game. "When Al is aggressive and just looking at his shot, looking at the basket, it opens up the floor for everyone. So that's why I just kept telling Al'shoot the ball, shoot the ball. If you miss it, it doesn't matter.' It's the flow of the offense. Once he sees one go in, he's confident that he's going to keep making them. I was happy he made some shots."
The Hawks are going to need aggressive Horford going forward if they want to close out the Nets on the road and have a shot in the second round against Washington.
It has been the case for the entire series but forward DeMarre Carroll once again came up big for the Hawks. Carroll helped stake Atlanta to an early lead scoring 19 of his 24 points in the first half. Still his energy and all-out hustle seemed to energize his teammates in the fourth quarter.
"DeMarre has always been an x-factor for us," Teague said. "He's been playing well all year. That's nothing new. He always has big games, big moments. He's a great defender. He stretches the floor and makes big plays for us. So I'm not surprised about how he's playing right now. I'm happy for him and I'm glad he's on my team."
Carroll is averaging 17 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game in the series while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range. He's been a huge factor on offense despite being matched up against Joe Johnson on the defensive end of the floor.
"I've been his teammate for the past two seasons, and just the work he keeps putting in," Horford said when asked about Carroll. "It's good to see when people who work hard like him start getting rewarded, and the game is coming easy to him. He's making the most out of this opportunity."
The Hawks weren't able to escape Game 5 without some lingering concerns. Teague suffered an ankle injury midway through the third quarter and had to go to the locker room to have it re-taped before coming back. Normally a situation like that hasn't been a problem for the Hawks but given the struggles of their bench in this series, it is a major factor now.
Mike Budenholzer was forced to go with his starters to start the fourth quarter with Carroll, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver logging more than 40 minutes. If not for twisting his ankle, Teague likely would have been in the 40-minute club as well.
"It's the playoffs, so every game becomes more and more important," Budenholzer said. "We felt like we had to keep that group out there. There have been certain periods in games where we haven't been as good as we need to be. So having maybe a little different combination during those periods...in some ways it helped us, and in other ways, there were periods where we had very similar results to the previous two games. Our five guys played well. We just stuck with them."
The play of the bench is a major concern for Atlanta as the series shifts back to Brooklyn for Game 6 on Friday. Budenholzer shortened his rotation considerably in Game 5. Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack made cameo appearances in the first half on Wednesday but weren't called upon in the second half. Dennis Schröder played just 11 minutes while Kent Bazemore was at 13. The Hawks have struggled to hold leads of late with the Schröder/Bazemore combination on the floor. Atlanta's bench has been a strength for much of the season but once you look past Pero Antic in this series it has not been pretty.
Game 6 is set for Friday at the Barclays Center and the Hawks will need their first road win of the playoffs to close the series out and move on to the second round. Their Game 5 performance was their best of the playoffs so far, but their inability to put Brooklyn away combined with the suspect play of their bench continues to raise questions. Still they did what they had to do in Game 5 and are once again back in the driver's seat of the series.