Atlanta has to know exactly what Brooklyn is feeling right now.
And that knowledge might be scary.
A year ago, the Hawks were the playoff upstarts, the nothing-to-lose No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs that gave No. 1 Indiana all it wanted in the first round. Atlanta surprised plenty of onlookers by taking that series to seven games before getting ousted.
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Now it’s the Nets who are flourishing in the no-pressure role. Brooklyn has Atlanta in trouble, and could put the Hawks – a team that won 19 straight games at one point this season and entered the playoffs with a 60-22 record – on the cusp of elimination if they find a way to win Game 5 on the road Wednesday night.
”To win in the playoffs is a challenge,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. ”And it’s not something that’s for the faint-hearted and it’s not something for people that don’t compete and don’t play hard.”
Atlanta hosting Brooklyn is one of two Game 5’s on Wednesday’s schedule. Memphis plays host to Portland in a West first-round series, with the Grizzlies holding a 3-1 lead there and looking to advance.
The Blazers, who rallied in the fourth quarter to win Game 4 and stave off a sweep, are still hoping to become the first team in NBA history to successfully rally from a 3-0 series deficit.
”It is game-by-game,” Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge said. ”We have to bring that same mentality to Memphis, that same intensity to their house. We have to play confident offensively and defensively. If we do that, anything is possible.”
Atlanta, for the first time all season, is under real pressure.
Kyle Korver’s broken nose in March was largely downplayed, since he missed just three games. But he’s seemed ordinary since returning, and struggled again in the Game 4 loss to Brooklyn on Monday.
Before getting hurt, Korver was poised to reach basically the NBA’s holy grail for shooters – the 50-50-90 level. He was shooting 49.6 percent from the field, 50.1 percent from 3-point range, 90.2 percent from the foul line.
Since coming back, Korver is shooting 42 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point land and 85 percent from the foul line. Korver missed all four of his overtime 3-point tries in Monday’s Game 4 loss, including three on the same possession with Atlanta trailing by three in the final minute.
The Hawks are 9-10 in their last 19 games, albeit with many of those coming down the stretch of a regular season where Atlanta had very little to play for since the No. 1 seed for the East playoffs was clinched.
”This is what the playoffs are all about,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. ”What we expect is to be challenged. And this is a great challenge for us.”
A look at Wednesday’s games, all times EDT:
Nets at Hawks, series tied 2-2, 7 p.m., TNT
Joe Johnson is shooting 33 percent and the series is tied, which is either a testament to how well Brooklyn has played of late, how big the struggle has been for Atlanta, or both.
”We’re definitely coming together as a unit,” Nets guard Deron Williams said. ”It’s taken longer than we thought, a little longer than we hoped, but it’s happened.”
That being said, the Hawks have been here. Both first-round series for No. 1 seeds went seven games last season, with Indiana topping No. 8 Atlanta in the East and San Antonio holding off No. 8 Dallas out West on the way to eventually winning the NBA title.
How even is this series? Here’s the combined score so far: Brooklyn 394, Atlanta 393. The Nets have 188 rebounds, the Hawks 186. The Nets have 58 turnovers, the Hawks 57.
Trail Blazers at Grizzlies, Memphis leads 3-1, 9:30 p.m., TNT
The Grizzlies are not happy with themselves after not closing out Portland on Monday, blowing a 10-point lead with 8:38 left.
They aren’t using the excuse of not having guard Mike Conley, who had surgery Monday to repair a facial fracture after taking an elbow to the face in Game 3. Backups Beno Udrih and Nick Calathes combined for 25 points and six assists filling in for Conley.
”We’re not happy with ourselves,” Udrih said. ”We’re better than that.”
The Blazers avoided the sweep thanks in large part to Damian Lillard getting back on scoring track with 32 points, and Meyers Leonard adding 13 points and 13 rebounds.
”We wanted to make a statement to our fans – don’t get swept,” Leonard said. ”Now (we) go on to Memphis, continue to fight and make this a series … which I truly believe we will.”
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in New York and AP Sports Writers Anne Peterson in Portland, Oregon, and Teresa Walker in Memphis, Tennessee contributed to this report.