The Atlanta Hawks saw a big second half lead slip away and wasted what was a superhuman performance from Paul Millsap in a 104-95 loss to Boston Celtics in Game 4. The series has been reduced to a best two out of three situation and Atlanta returns home desperately trying to regain the momentum they lost in Boston.
"They responded to being down 2-0," Mike Budenholzer told reporters after the game. "Now we've got to go home and respond."
Atlanta hasn't won an overtime game in almost two years, but it was their play down the stretch that will haunt them the most. The Hawks looked like they were going to slam the door shut on the Celtics in the third when they pushed the lead out to as many as 16 points. Boston responded and cut the deficit to 73-70 heading to the fourth.
It was game on from there with neither team able to gain separation. Jeff Teague knocked down perhaps the biggest three-pointer of his career to put Atlanta up 92-90 with 20 seconds remaining. The next two plays will ultimately haunt the Hawks for the entire offseason should they go on to lose the series.
On the next possession, Isaiah Thomas took the inbounds pass and found little resistance on a drive to the bucket to tie the game. Atlanta still had 15 seconds to work with however and called time to advance the ball and set up the play. Teague took the inbounds and watched the clock run down. Kyle Korver came off a screen on the weak side but that was it. No further movement from Teague or any of the other players on the floor. The possession ended without a shot attempt and left those watching completely exasperated.
That sequence seemed to give the Celtics new life. Amir Johnson scored the first five points of the overtime. Teague cut the deficit to 96-95 with another three-pointer with 2:40 remaining but Atlanta wouldn't score again. Thomas iced the game scoring the final five points including a fading three-pointer along the baseline with 30 seconds remaining to put Boston up seven.
Atlanta was 1 for 11 from the field in overtime with eight of those attempts coming from three-point range. Boston, on the other hand, was 4 for 5 from the field and 3 of 4 from the free throw line. The Celtics aren't a great shooting team but they reminded Atlanta time and time again throughout the game that when the ball touches the paint it opens up things from the perimeter. That was a concept that Atlanta lost somewhere coming down the stretch and throughout overtime.
Millsap snaps out of slump in a big way
Much of the conversation surrounding the Hawks after the first three games of the series centered on the struggles of Paul Millsap who was averaging just eight points on 30 percent shooting.
He made up for lost time on Sunday knocking down 19 of 31 attempts to finish with a career-best 45 points to go along with 13 rebounds, three assists, two steals and four blocked shots.
Millsap told the AJC's Chris Vivlamore after the game that he came in with the mindset to be more aggressive in Game 4 and it showed in a big way.
"Just put an emphasis on being aggressive, I felt like I wasn’t aggressive in the first three games and especially on the road, your backs against the wall you got to be aggressive. So, I just wanted to do that tonight and set a tone that way."
As great as Millsap's night was, the Hawks aren't a team built on superhuman performances. Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver were the only other Hawks players in double figures and Millsap was held scoreless in the overtime period.
The Hawks needed those 45 points to stay in the game, but they needed solid contributions from more players to pull out a victory.
Point guard play dooms Hawks in loss
While Dennis Schröder drew most of the criticism on social media during the game, Jeff Teague wasn't much better. Schröder finished 3 for 13 from the field with two assists and three turnovers while Teague managed 4 for 18 with five assists and three turnovers. Some will point to Schröder's -20 in the box score to say he was worse but Teague's +9 was surely helped along by Millsap's third quarter explosion of which he played little part in.
Atlanta's point guard duo has been a point of contention for many since the season began. It became fashionable to hate on Teague through the first three months of the season due to a lackadaisical start and his indifference on the defensive end. Schröder slumped down the stretch just as Teague was rounding into form and the tables flipped.
This could be a pivotal offseason for the Hawks point guard position but those questions will be answered after the season.
If the Hawks are to survive this series then they are going to need both players to bounce back from sub-par performances. Schröder is fearless to a fault and plays with an edge that he doesn't understand how to control. Teague sometimes plays with no edge at all which is something that he has been criticized for his entire career.
The point guards drive this Hawks team for better or worse and they simply got outperformed in Games 3 & 4 by Isaiah Thomas. That will have to turn around at home if the Hawks are to find a way to pull out a win in this series.