It wasn't the easiest victory of the season, but the Atlanta Hawks reclaimed full control of the series against the Brooklyn Nets with a 10-point win on Wednesday night. That Game 5 victory set up the opportunity to end things in six games, but in order to make that ideal scenario a reality, the Hawks must win in Brooklyn for the first time in the series.
Mike Budenholzer and company have been positive about the team's recent offensive performance, and with good reason. Atlanta shot 48% from the floor and 39% from three-point range in Game 5, and while there were still some uncharacteristic lulls (see the beginning of the fourth quarter), it is tough to flatly assume better performance on that end over 48 minutes.
If there are some points of contention stemming from that game, though, they begin with the bench. Outside of another strong showing from Pero Antic (the only reserve with a positive net rating on the floor), Mike Budenholzer seemed to almost lose trust in his second unit, removing Mike Scott (he played only 2 minutes) entirely and limiting the playing time of both Dennis Schröder and Kent Bazemore. Given that Game 6 is on the road, it would be reckless to assume that the bench sees more time, but in the end, the Hawks must get the second group going in order to achieve any of their larger, long-term goals.
Beyond the bench, the Hawks could use a more emphatic showing from Paul Millsap. Millsap hasn't been bad in the series, averaging 13.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game, but the All-Star forward is shooting just 41.5% from the floor and he was less than impressive during a 4-for-11 showing in Game 5. It isn't as much about performance as it is about health for Millsap, though, as SB Nation's Mike Prada (among others) continually referenced his inability to drive hard to his right. Millsap has been vocal in dismissing any notion that he is limited by a shoulder ailment, but in the same breath, he must be able to take advantage of match-ups against smaller lineups, and he isn't doing that right now.
On a much brighter note, both Al Horford and Jeff Teague reminded the fan base of their ceilings during Game 5. Horford remains the best player on the roster in my mind, and even if that isn't a consensus at this point, the team is simply much better when he operates at maximum capacity, with the glaring example of a 20-point, 15-rebound showing on Wednesday. In the case of Teague, it hasn't been the best overall series, but the drop-off from the veteran to Dennis Schröder continues to be catastrophic, and we may see another 37+-minute performance here.
The Atlanta Hawks are a better basketball team than the Brooklyn Nets. I think that line has been included in every preview during this series, but it continues to ring true, and if the Hawks play well for 48 minutes on Friday, the home-court advantage of the Barclays Center will be neutralized in what should be a victory. With due credit to Brooklyn, the Nets have made contested shots at an unsustainable rate in this series (led by Jarrett Jack), and with any regression or uptick from the number one seed, the series could end on Friday.
The entire NBA world revolves around this game on Friday, with no other contest in its way on the national television stage. Normally, that would terrify long-time Hawks fans, but hopefully for sanity's sake, this is not a vintage "national TV Hawks" performance, and rather a strong across-the-board showing that dispatches of the Nets once and for all.