The Hawks’ magic number was one coming into Saturday night’s game against the Heat, and what a magical night it was.
With everything on the line, the Hawks turned in arguably their best performance of the season, and they will now reap the rewards from it, as they clinched the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by beating the Miami Heat 98-85 in Atlanta on Saturday.
Jeff Teague came out aggressive, and he really set the tone early for Atlanta. They scored 28 points in the first quarter to take a five-point lead. LeBron James and the Heat made things a little easier on themselves in the second quarter, but the Hawks rallied late to tie it at 49 going into the half.
The Hawks have been labeled an offensive team, and rightly so, but the second half was all about defense. Atlanta forced the Heat to take tough, contested shots, and they forced turnovers. Overall, their impressive defense held Miami to a lousy 13 points in the third quarter. They led by seven points heading into the fourth quarter, and then it would turn into the Lou Williams show.
Teague really pushed the ball and made things easier on offense for the Hawks, and Lou Williams would carry that momentum into 18-fourth quarter points. He went 4-4 from beyond the arc in the game, including two huge three-pointers to book the playoff berth for the Hawks. When the Heat cut it to eight points late, Williams hit some clutch shots to quiet down LeBron and company. Their defense was stellar again, continuing the trend from the first three quarters, and they forced some key turnovers by Chris Bosh in consecutive possessions. The Hawks won 98-85, clinching the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Jeff Teague was the best player on the floor, scoring 25 points, grabbing 4 rebounds, dishing out 3 assists, and had 4 steals. He also didn’t have a turnover, making it a truly spectacular performance. DeMarre Carroll was outstanding with 17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals while playing great defense on LeBron James. Lou Williams finished with 23 points, and he and Mike Scott accounted for all 35 of the bench points.
The Hawks are heading to the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, which is the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. Say what you want about their sub .500 record, but this Hawks team battled valiantly after Al Horford went down in December, and they stuck to the plan. Head coach Mike Budenholzer has installed an excellent system, and we have seen guys like Mike Scott and DeMarre Carroll shine when they were once afterthoughts. Props to this team, and they will be a tough out for whatever team locks up the number one seed. Right now Indiana and Miami are tied, but the Pacers own the tiebreaker.
The Hawks are back in action on Monday against the Bobcats at home. They will look to beat their third consecutive playoff team on Monday, but right now it’s time to celebrate. The Hawks are back in the postseason.