The Hawks finally punched through to the next round. They held on to defeat the Washington Wizards 94-91 Friday night when a potential game-tying three-pointer by Paul Pierce was nullified on replay, which showed the ball was still in Pierce's hands. Pierce was close to stepping out of bounds on the shot but the official ruling was that he was in bounds. Enough about that.
Here's the link to my full game column with quotes.
Here are my three "short takes" on the game.
1. IT STARTS WITH TEAGUE: Hawks point guard Jeff Teague (20 points, seven assists) was coming off a poor Game 5. He was even moved to pass up going into the game for the final three minutes because he believed his back, Dennis Schroder, was playing better. (And he was right.) But while the Hawks had several standouts in Game 6, Teague took over in crunch time more than anybody else. He twice blew past the Wizards' defense for layups early in the quarter to give the Hawks a 10-point lead, and in the final minutes twice hit the cutting DeMarre Carroll (25 points, 10 rebounds) for crucial buckets after Washington had tied it at 89-89. "He was making great decisions," said coach Mike Budenholzer.
2. ABOUT BUDENHOLZER: The Hawks have created some nervousness with their play in the playoffs. They haven't been nearly as fluid offensively or consistent as they were during the regular season. But their play late in both playoff series --winning the last two games against Brooklyn after the Nets had tied it 2-2, and winning three straight over Washington after the Wizards had surprisingly jumped ahead 2-1 -- speaks volumes about Budenholzer's ability to hold the team together and find ways to win, as well as the players' belief in their coach. Maybe this will quiet some of the criticism that had been creeping into the conversation.
3. LOOKING AHEAD: Cleveland is going to be favored in the Eastern Conference finals for two reasons: 1) It has the best player in LeBron James; 2) Oddsmakers know that fans/bettors gravitate to star players. The Hawks accept that. As Kyle Korver said, "We're always going to be the underdog." But the Hawks will have home court advantage in the series (which begins next Wednesday night at Philips Arena) and -- aghast! -- they defeated the Cavaliers in three out of four meetings this season. The Eastern Conference playoffs were expected to be wide open this year and nothing that has happened changes that belief. (The Cavs swept their first-round series over an undermanned Boston team but was stretched to six games by Chicago.) It's a series the Hawks can win.