Despite looking physically and emotionally drained in his seat, Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer sounded confident about his team’s chances to defeat the Boston Celtics in the opening round of the playoffs.
Winning the first two games of the series at home, the Hawks have dropped the last two in Boston – including Sunday evening’s 104-95 overtime loss. Being home in Atlanta for tonight’s game five, the momentum can shift from simply having the hometown edge.
“It’s our turn to respond, that’s how the playoffs are, they’re hard and it’s never easy in the playoffs,” said Budenholzer. “So now we go home and that’s the challenge for us. I think being at home is always helpful and our group knows they’re very capable.”
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The Hawks responded well in last year’s playoffs when they played the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round. After winning the first two games in Atlanta, the Hawks lost two straight in Brooklyn before closing out the series with two consecutive wins.
Even under different coaches, the Hawks have been one of the most consistent teams in the NBA, making the postseason for the past nine seasons. There are other encouraging signs, including the performance of All-Star Paul Millsap.
After scoring just 26 points through the first three games and self-admittedly “not being aggressive,” Millsap stole the show on Sunday. Despite the Hawks’ loss, he’s encouraged by the remaining schedule.
“I think that it’s a good situation, we’re going back home and the fans will be into it,” Millsap said following his historic 45-point, 13-rebound, four-block performance on Sunday evening.
“Our energy level will be great. It sucks we didn’t get a game on the road trip but we still got three games to get to and we feel confident, especially going home.”
Going home will also be a change of feel from the raucous TD Garden that reacted passionately to every possession. Dennis Schroder, in particular, had it rough as the Celtic fans booed the third-year guard from Germany anytime he had control of the basketball.
No matter the crowd reactions, the Hawks will need more contributions from the rest of the roster. Jeff Teague (13 points) and Kyle Korver (10 points) were the only other players in double figures as Millsap scored nearly half of the team’s 95 points. Al Horford (five points), Kent Bazemore (five points), and Schroder (seven points) will also be relied on for stronger efforts.
“We needed a little more to help Paul [Millsap]," Budenholzer said about his team’s game four effort.
However, the hope is that tonight’s game will be the last time the Hawks have to be back in Atlanta. They will look to take a 3-2 series lead and then close things out in Boston in game six on Thursday.
“It’s 2-2, they responded to being down 2-0 and now we have to respond,” Budenholzer said.