Horford, Millsap shake off injuries, help Hawks seize 2-0 lead on Nets
ATLANTA — A chip on his shoulder? Kyle Korver said he didn’t believe Paul Millsap was playing with one.
He didn’t have a protective pad there either.
"More than likely, I’ll go without it again next game," the Hawks forward said, laughing.
In the days leading into Wednesday’s Game 2 against the Nets, the health of Millsap’s shoulder, along with Al Horford’s dislocated pinky, were of the upmost concern.
But Millsap, sans a pad that he said limited his range and mobility and Horford, wearing a splint for his finger, wasted little time alleviating any doubts in a 96-91 win that gave top-seeded Atlanta a 2-0 lead.
"Honestly once the game started, just from the beginning, it kind of went out the window and I went out there and played," Horford said.
Horford took a pass from Kyle Korver one minute in and nailed an 18-foot jumper on his way to 14 points. On the ensuing possession, Millsap grabbed a defensive rebound, then followed with the first of his 19 points.
"When you can’t pick your arm up above your ear, or your shoulder above your ear, its kind of tough," Millsap said of playing without the pad. "I was able to (change) that tonight."
The Hawks are defined by their free-flowing offense, which has them second in the NBA in 3-point shooting (38.0) and assists (25.7) and those ingredients were in place Wednesday, as Atlanta hit 12 of 27 from distance (40.7) and dished out 27 assists.
But it’s the ability of All-Stars Horford and Millsap to take over that could be Atlanta’s key to a long postseason run.
Up 79-73 with 8:14 to play, Millsap, who had been hit to the floor on the Nets’ possession, set up to the right of the arc and nailed a 25-foot trey, his fourth on four attempts. Seconds later, Horford blocked Deron Williams’ shot, grabbed the rebound and would nail a 14-footer.
The duo combined to pull down 20 rebounds, block four shots and dole out nine assists, seven by Horford.
"I thought Al Horford going up and getting boards … that was important to us," said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.
While discussing Horford’s dislocated finger before the game, Budenholzer said his only thought was "I definitely hope it goes in when he shoots it." He was also quick to bring up the many ways in which he can impact a game outside the offense.
"He gets into the flow of the game and his passing and rebounding and decision-making, all those things," he said.
He could say the same about Millsap, who possesses the same ability to step out shoot that’s what truly sets the Hawks’ frontcourt apart.
Horford was 0 for 5 in Game 1 from 16 feet or deeper — where he’s 48.8 percent on the season — and all of that couldn’t be blamed on his finger as he injured it going for a rebound in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Millsap, with the pad, was just 2 for 11 from the field.
Horford finished 2 of 5 in Game 2 from 16 feet and beyond and also hit a 14-footer, while Millsap shot 7 of 11, along with that perfect night on his 3-pointers.
"It looked Paul really felt comfortable shooting the ball, shooting it from range," Budenholzer said. "He’s looked good the past couple of days. To be honest, he’s looked that good for five or six days. … I think he was focused."
Up by as many as 12, things got more interesting than expected for that Hawks, largely due to Georgia Tech product Jarrett Jack scoring 23 points off the bench, including a trey with 1:54 to play to cut the deficit to 90-89.
That’s when Millsap turned facilitator, hitting a wide-open DeMarre Carroll — who supplied his only basket of the game with 55 seconds to play — before hitting one of two free throws to give the Hawks a two-point cushion with 28 seconds remaining.
"Man, it’s the playoffs," Horford said. "They’re fighting and we’re fighting. The good thing is we came out on top again and we just want to find ways to keep getting better."
Only four teams in the postseason boast a forward/center combo that ranked in the top 25 in Player Efficiency Rating, the Bulls, Clippers, Spurs … and these Hawks behind Horford (15th at 21.4) and Millsap (25th at 20.1).
Atlanta heads to Brooklyn eyeing a 3-0 series lead, one that will no doubt come with a major dosage of that combination of Horford/Millsap.
"It’s going to be a tough two games on the road but we feel like we can win them," Millsap said. "They’re winnable games for us if we set the one early and come out and do what we’re supposed to do."
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney