Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

One-man basketball won't win it for Hawks in playoffs


The better team isn’t the better team.

The better team is the one that had a 42-point game from one player on one night and clutch performances from several other players two nights later. The better team is overachieving relative to the level of its talent, just like it did through most of the regular season, while the underachieving Hawks are …

What exactly?

It’s 2-2. The Hawks did this last season in the first round of the playoffs, twiddling their thumbs and losing a pair of road games against the Brooklyn Nets before snapping out of it to win the series.

That may not happen this time. The rebound, I mean.

They got 45 points from Paul Millsap and not much from anybody else. Their other four starters: 33 points on 11 of 47. So much for you-just-don’t-know-who-to-guard basketball.

This is how you blow a playoff series. The Boston Celtics, who rallied from a 16-point, second-half deficit, had five players in double figures and didn’t botch a key possession at the end of regulation (see Jeff Teague), scored another for franchise playoff domination of Atlanta on Sunday. Final score in overtime at TD Garden: Celtics 104, withering Hawks 95.

One coach, Brad Stevens, is getting the most out of his players.

One coach, Mike Budenholzer, isn’t.

Referencing Millsap’s dominating performance, Budenholzer said, “We needed a little bit more, collectively all of us, a little more to help Paul tonight.”

Kent Bazemore 2 of 10. Al Horford 2 of 8. Kyle Korver 3 of 11. Dennis Schroder 3 of 13. Teague, notwithstanding a couple of late 3-pointers, 4 of 18.

The game never should have reached overtime. The Hawks blew a lead but still had 15 seconds left for a final possession in regulation with the score tied at 92. The final play called for Teague to wait for a fake screen by Korver, with the idea it would create a lane for Teague to drive to the basket. But the Celtics didn’t bite on the fake and Teague waited too long — way too long — to make a move against Isaiah Thomas.

Time on the clock with Teague made his move: 2.6 seconds.

Then the ball slipped out of his hands. He never got a shot off.

In overtime, the Hawks missed 10 of 11 shots. Clutch, baby.

Teague on the last play: “The ball slipped out of my hand.”

Did you want to wait until there only three seconds left?

“We wanted the last shot.”

Do you feel you let this game get away?

“Yeah.”

Maybe you wondered if the Hawks had a chance to win a second-round game against Cleveland. Better start to wonder if they’ll win another one against Boston.

The Hawks went on a Millsap-led 14-0 run to start the third quarter and take their biggest lead at 62-46. But that 16-point advantage was trimmed to three (73-70) going into the final period and TD Garden was rocking like the old Boston Garden (albeit with air conditioning that actually worked, and no visible rats).

The Hawks appeared doomed after Jonas Jerepko – nobody’s pick as playoff key performer — dropped in a 3-pointer and gave Boston a four-point lead with 1:22 left. Teague was 1 of 10 before hitting a pair of threes to put the Hawks ahead at 92-90. But Thomas tied it with a drive and then came the botched final play, sending it to overtime.

The Celtics had all of the momentum.

The Hawks had all of the thumbs.

“No one else really got in the flow of the game,” Korver said. “We probably got a little stagnant, just trying to get him the ball because (Millsap) was on such a roll. We talk all the time how we don’t want to play that way.”

This is the playoffs. Are these things supposed to happen?

The most positive sign for the Hawks was Millsap. He shot 4 of 21 in the previous two games and totaled 26 points in the previous three of the series. He had that by halftime. Millsap’s 45 was one off his career high, but he went scoreless in overtime.

“I just put an emphasis on being aggressive,” he said, but took the blame himself for not doing more.

Hey, he’s the last one who should accept blame.

Budenholzer predicted before the game, “Paul’s going to take a lot of the onus on himself and I think he’ll be great tonight and moving forward.”

He was right about Millsap. But one player wasn’t enough.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.