The Atlanta Hawks season ended on Friday with a 115-99 home loss to the Washington Wizards. Atlanta dug themselves a big hole early and battled back but in the end the early deficit was just too much thanks to big performances by John Wall and Bradley Beal.
“I’d like to congratulate Washington and their players, their coaching staff, Scotty Brooks and his assistants,” Mike Budenholzer told reporters following the game. They’ve done a great job in this series. They’ve done a great job all year. A lot of credit to them and how they played.”
Atlanta trailed by as many as 22 points but were able to rally and cut the deficit to just three points with just over five minutes remaining in the fourth.
“I was proud of the effort and resiliency of the group,” Budenholzer added. “We obviously did not play very well in the first half. We dug ourselves a big hole. To find a way to get back...I think it was 100-97 at one point....I felt like we had an opportunity to maybe dig ourselves out of another big hole. A couple of plays down the stretch changed the game. they were able to make a few more plays. Wall and Beal were special obviously, so credit to them.”
Atlanta’s defense struggled early as the Wizards shot an eye popping 66 percent in the first half while taking a 19-point advantage into the intermission. The Hawks’ defensive intensity improved after the break holding Washington to 43 percent but it wasn’t quite enough.
“Defensively, we were able to kind of piece together some consecutive stops, get some turnovers, get out in transition, get to the basket,” Budenholzer said of Atlanta’s second half run. “I thought we attacked the basket a little more. A couple of three’s. If you’re going to make a run, you have to put stops back-to-back-to-back. WE did that, and that kind of fueled our offense. Thirty-six points was a big part of us being able to cut that lead under 10 going into the fourth quarter.”
In many ways the series came down to stopping or slowing down Wall and Beal and that was something the Hawks struggled to do on a consistent basis. Wall averaged 29.5 points in the series while Beal added 25.8. The duo combined for 73 of Washington’s 115 points in Game 6.
“There’s no doubt. When you have multiple pick-and-roll players, multiple ballhandlers, that can move you side-to-side or bring you off different actions, and then hit you with another pick-and-roll,” Budenholzer said of trying to defend Wall and Beal. “They’re very different too, so how you want to guard one isn’t how you want to guard the other. In the heat of the moment, sometimes that’s what makes it good. No doubt they’ve both improved and both are playing well. Those two guys were a handful.”
For Atlanta, Paul Millsap turned in another special performance playing over 46 minutes while finishing with 31 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and four steals. He was 13 of 23 from the floor and scored 17 of his 31 points after halftime. Millsap averaged just over 24 points and nine rebounds in the series.
“There were a few times this year we were able to get over the hump. We fought all the way back,” Millsap said of the second half run. “We get there and then we push it out. We got a few wins like that this year. But in this playoffs, against a good team like the Wizards, it’s tough to get back in the game and then try to get over the hump down the stretch. You wear yourself out so much that it’s tough to get over that hump.”
For Millsap, who can opt out of his current deal this summer, the focus turns to free agency and his future in Atlanta.
“It’s been great,” Millsap said of his time in Atlanta. “I’m looking to expand this and see where this franchise and this team can go. These last four years have been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Now I’m going to take some time, relax, and see what happens.”
Dennis Schröder added 26 points and 10 assists for the Hawks while Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half.
“It’s what I worked for. I came here four years ago as a rookie, just working hard,” Schröder said when asked about his first season as a starting point guard. “Paul, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, they showed me great things. I kept learning. To play a whole season as a starter, playing 30-plus minutes, was just great. I’ll try to keep getting better this summer, so we can make it further next season.”
Schröder averaged 24.7 points and 7.7 assists in the series while cutting his turnovers down to 1.7 per game. Atlanta inked him to a four-year extension back in October and he figures to remain a key piece of the Hawks for years to come.
With that a roller coaster ride of a season comes to an end for this edition of the Atlanta Hawks. It wasn’t always fun, but they deserve credit for battling to the end and making this first round series a competitive one even after falling behind 0-2 from the start.