After a quarter, I thought more than ever that series would end in four games. After three more quarters, I’d started to wonder. The Atlanta Hawks won Game 1 — the final was 99-92 — of Round 2 but didn’t look like themselves, to say nothing of the East’s No. 1 seed.
Paul Millsap had as many air balls (two) as baskets. Al Horford dislocated his right pinkie. The Hawks went a bit 3-point crazy — even for a team as clever as this, that can happen — and took 30 of their 79 shots from behind the arc. They were outscored in the lane 54-42. They were outrebounded 47-39. They made five fourth-quarter turnovers.
If not for Jeff Teague’s driving banker with 1:19 remaining, this could really have gotten hairy. And here you’re saying, “Wait a second. These are the playoffs. All that matters is winning.” And that’s undeniably true. But the Hawks went the regular season’s final month without playing a game of consequence, and in Game 1 of Round 1 they didn’t beat the 38-44 Brooklyn Nets the way they’d grown accustomed to beating them.
For the hundred-thousandth time: The Hawks aren’t a superstar-driven aggregation; they’re a collective. When a key man like Millsap is off, it has a ripple effect. Without Millsap scoring on his rolls to the goal, the Hawks wound up settling for jumpers. Some nights they hit a lot of jumpers. This wasn’t one of those. They made only 43 percent of their shots.
Afterward, the Nets’ Lionel Hollins sounded almost like the winning coach. He said his team had been given reason to believe it belonged in these playoffs, which was a subject of much doubt as late as the second quarter Sunday night. He said his players — once they stopped making turnovers — found ways “to execute and score.”
I’m not sure I’d go that far. The massive center Brook Lopez had 17 points but managed only seven shots. (He made six of those, and the one he missed he followed home.) The Nets didn’t get Lopez the ball nearly enough — nine of his first 11 points were a function of offensive rebounds — and that has to be credited to the Hawks’ defense, which is the unsung part of this happy season.
The Hawks finished seventh in the NBA in defensive efficiency, up from 12th last season. The Nets finished 24th; every team rated lower missed the playoffs. On a lesser offensive night, the Hawks’ defense was good enough for them to win. That’s why they’re a really good team. That’s why they should win this series in five games, max.
From myajc: The Hawks hold on to win a skittish Game 1.