Hawks cruise past Cavs, back into eighth spot in East
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks had talked a day earlier about their offense being out of sync, about not taking good shots.
In a game they needed to win to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Hawks tallied 35 assists — some in spectacular fashion such as DeMarre Carroll’s behind-the-back, no-look pass to Elton Brand — and Mike Scott came off the bench to single-handedly make sure the Hawks’ offense clicked with a team-high 26 points on 12-of-13 shooting.
Powered by Scott’s effort, the Hawks shot 58.5 percent on Friday in a 117-98 win over Cleveland at Philips Arena and moved back into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks received help on Friday from the Washington Wizards, who defeated the New York Knicks, 90-89. Significantly, the Hawks (33-42) have two fewer losses than the Knicks (33-44), who have five games to play. The Hawks have seven games left. In Cleveland (31-46), the Hawks might have put away another potential challenge for a playoff spot.
The Hawks came into the game having lost seven of their past eight. Seen from another perspective, they now have won two of their past three. They also improved to 22-15 at home. Four of their seven remaining games are at Philips.
Perhaps, then, they are turning a corner. On Thursday, Kyle Korver had spoken of just wanting to get back to playing good basketball. If the Hawks can do that and end up making the playoffs, he said, then so be it. If not, at least they played their best.
"I think it just gives us confidence," said Korver. "That’s the biggest thing right now. With the losses that we took and the injuries we had to play through, your confidence is down a little bit. Hopefully, you get a couple of these wins and, just playing good basketball, it just builds confidence and that’s what we need going forward."
To put in perspective how well the Hawks played offensively, they came into the game averaging 24.7 assists per game, second in the NBA. They exceeded that by 10. Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 12 (to go with 20 points) and Paul Millsap had six. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said he thought the 35 assists reflected both the fact that the Hawks had the hot hand shooting but also that they passed the ball very well.
"The ball movement and the crispness and the sharpness and including the dribble attack and getting to the paint and hitting open guys and then, of course, those guys have to make the shot," said Budenholzer. "But I thought the passing and the attack was really set us up to have a good offensive night."
The best offensive night individually was had by Scott, who was due — perhaps even overdue. Scott, who averages 9.2 points per game, had 16 points combined in his previous four games and had not hit double figures since March 26. He had not reached 20 since March 2.
"Yeah, finally," said Scott, who was interrupted by Teague piping up, "Thank God!" in the background. "I was in a shooting slump but I just kept being aggressive and kept getting extra shots and they finally fell."
It was a game the Hawks never trailed and, really, put away in the first quarter. The Hawks made 6-of-11 3-pointers in the first quarter to score 39 points, the most they have scored in the opening period all season. Millsap, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes, led the way, making all four of his field goal attempts, for 10 points.
"I thought we came out very focused and executed well," said Korver, who made 3-of-9 shots and finished with eight points and six assists. "It helped that everyone besides me hit shots. It was just good basketball. It was fun basketball. When you’re playing fun basketball you just play harder and we built a great lead and we were little up and down. … The first quarter put us in a great spot."
The Cavaliers got within 61-49 at halftime but never any closer than that in the entire second half. The Hawks shot dramatically better on Friday than they have recently. In their previous two games they did not shoot better than 44 percent.
In fact, for the past two months they have struggled to shoot better than 44 percent. On Friday, the Hawks shot 44.8 percent on 3-pointers (13 of 29) alone.
"We haven’t shot it that well recently," said Budenholzer of the 3-pointer. "It makes a big difference for us. There are a lot of times when we’re making the extra pass and we’re playing unselfishly and we’re getting guys pretty good looks. For whatever reason, they haven’t been going down. That’s why we talk about that we can’t just rely on our 3-point shooting. Defensively, you have to be solid. You have to keep attacking the basket and keep getting to the free throw line and not just be dependent on the 3-point shot.
"It’s pretty apparent that when you make them, it makes a big difference."