Early Saturday evening Atlanta entered Game 3 at Philips Arena on the wrong end of a 2-0 deficit in the first round of the NBA playoffs. In the first two games a lack of energy and inability to maintain leads while containing Washington’s transition backcourt had suddenly become the tale of the tape that ultimately led to defeat. That clearly wasn’t the case over the weekend. On a night where Atlanta sustained a lead that branched out as far as 25 points with zero ties and zero lead changes, the Hawks’ win was about more than what sticks out on a typical stat sheet.
Sure Taurean Prince’s 16-point contribution on 7-for-10 shooting makes Coach Mike Budenholzer look like a mastermind considering his recently made starting lineup adjustments. To no surprise, Dennis Schroder and Paul Millsap chipped in a large majority of the Hawks’ points; a combination of 56 points on 50 percent FG shooting, 16 rebounds and 14 assists.
What made the near 20-point Hawks win so incredible? Atlanta showed that on any given night, anyone can step up to the plate and give productive minutes in the playoffs.
Despite a poor shooting night by heavily relied upon Tim Hardaway Jr, limited contributions from expected scorer Kent Bazemore, less than three minutes of action from their best perimeter defender (Thabo Sefolosha) and only a handful of points from eight-time NBA All-Star Dwight Howard, Atlanta proved that must-win playoff games are still winnable when at stake.
Speaking of Howard, one of the biggest keys to the game and series was not only how effective Howard could, be but instead the difference his early involvement would be and how available he would be psychologically.
Simply put, Howard needs to be included in the offense early and often. In the first quarter and an extremely brief six-minute stretch, Howard totaled four of his five points (including an igniting alley-oop dunk & 3-point play with a made free throw), four rebounds and one assist and steal that led to a 13-2 run to start the game. Teammates rewarded Howard’s hustle play with opportunities to see the ball on the offensive end of the floor. I like to call that the ‘Hungry Hungry Hippo’ (feed me) method.
Also, unlike Game 2 where Wizards backcourt guards John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 63 points, Atlanta displayed stifling defense in its third meeting of the postseason, holding Wall as the only Washington player in double-digit scoring figures through the first three quarters. Furthermore, Atlanta tallied 10 more assists on made baskets and nearly double the amount of paint points (60) than its opposition, thanks to a plethora of tear-dropping floaters by oft-penetrator Schroder.
Though Atlanta has never erased a 2-0 series deficit to advance to the second round of the playoffs, neither has it lost a game (in 13 outings) when holding a halftime lead of 18 points or more, and records are meant to be broken.