The Atlanta Hawks needed to set the tone early and they did just that cruising to a 103-76 win over the Charlotte Hornets while locking up the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs in the process. No matter what happens in Wednesday’s game at Indiana, the Hawks will enter the post season with some momentum. That is important given the up and down nature of their season as a whole.
“Just a good performance. We wanted to come out and play well in the last home game in front of the fans,” Mike Budenholzer said after the game. “Appreciate everything they’ve done for us all year. Pleased with our defense, our activity. Our aggressiveness at times was really, really good. The ball movement and people sharing it... a lot of good stuff on both ends of the court.”
Charlotte had lost four straight games coming into Tuesday’s matchup and had already been eliminated from the postseason picture so they had little reason for motivation. Additionally they were without their best player in Kemba Walker.
Still it was good to see Atlanta locked in from the start and take care of business to put them in position where they will be able to rest players on Wednesday if they desire. The Hawks set the tone early racing out to a 38-26 lead at the end of the first quarter and then clamped down defensively holding Charlotte to just 50 points over the final three quarters.
“You start out with 38 points in the first quarter, just the rhythm,” Budenholzer said on the offensive performance. “People making shots, making plays, sharing it. When you come out and put up a big first quarter, it does a lot for your team, does a lot for your confidence. It gave us a cushion. Then going in at halftime, then if you just keep your focus, keep playing, keep your competitive edge....it’s not easy to do in the second half. The guys did it. A lot of guys got to play. It’s great to have Thabo back. A good night for us tonight.”
All 13 Hawks players in uniform played at least nine minutes including Thabo Sefolosha who returned from a groin injury. Sefolosha played 16 minutes and appeared to be moving well.
Dwight Howard led the way with 19 points and 12 rebounds while Paul Millsap and Ersan Ilyasova added 10 points each. Atlanta shot 52 percent for the game and racked up 30 assists on the night.
“We’re just sharing the ball, playing together on both ends of the floor,” Dennis Schröder replied when asked about the way the Hawks closed the season. “We just have to remind ourselves how we are when we play Hawks basketball. And I think we did that great the last four games.”
The Hawks close out the season in Indiana on Wednesday but will soon turn their attention to the Washington Wizards who they will meet in the first round of the playoffs.
“Obviously they’ve had a great year,” Budenholzer said about preparing for the Wizards. “A lot of respect for them. We played them in the playoffs two years ago. Wall and Beal are great players. Scott Brooks is doing a great job. We’ll dig into them starting tonight or tomorrow.”