Five observations from the Hawks’ 104-86 loss to the Pacers Wednesday in the regular-season finale.
1. Job No. 1 in the Hawks’ regular-season finale was to come out of the game as healthy as possible. The Hawks sat Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr.
“At this point, for us having locked up the fifth seed, we want to make sure we are totally healthy or as healthy as possible going into the first round of the playoffs,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game. “It’s just our priority.”
Millsap (left knee synovitis) and Bazemore (right knee bone bruise) recently came back from injury. Schroder and Hardaway were out for rest. Howard (mid-back tightness) had a non-serious issue arise in Tuesday’s win over the Hornets that clinched the No. 5 seed.
“He went to the back of the building last night toward the end of the first quarter,” Budenholzer said. “He got a little extra work on it and was able to play through it but I don’t anticipate it being anything significant at all.”
2. The Hawks started both first-round draft picks in Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry as they sat the several regulars. Prince has started the past nine games with Thabo Sefolosha returning from a right groin strain. Bembry made his first NBA start.
The Hawks also started Jose Calderon, Ersan Ilyasova and Kris Humphries.
Prince finished with 11 points. Bembry finished with seven points and a career-high seven rebounds. Both were limited early after they picked up two first-quarter fouls.
“Some good stuff from both of them,” Budenholzer said. “It’s great for Taurean to have to guard a guy like Paul George. DeAndre took a couple turns at him. DeAndre guarded Jeff Teague. Those kinds of experiences are invaluable for them and I thought both of them did a lot of things well and there will be tape and a lot of stuff to talk about and areas where they can improve.”
3. Despite by short-handed, the Hawks played with the Pacers for much of the game. They trailed by double-digits but got as close as eight points, 92-84, with 5:32 remaining.
Then Paul George took over.
The Pacers star scored eight straight points as part of a 12-2 run to end the game. They Pacers needed to win to clinch a playoff spot. After the Bulls and Heat won earlier in the night, a loss would have sent the Pacers to an early summer vacation.
“For a few moments I was thinking are they really knowing they have to win this game because we had a few good minutes,” Calderon said. “But Paul George made some big shots and got them back to 10, 12 points.”
4. The Hawks got just what they needed out of the game – playing time for several reserves, good experience for young players and health. No injuries. Sefolosha played 23 minutes off the bench in his second game back after missing eight games with a right groin strain. He reported he had no issues during or after the game and should be considered healthy for the start of the playoffs.
5. Despite a loss that meant nothing in the standings, the Hawks go into the playoffs having won four of the past five games.
It is reason for confidence as the open the postseason at the Wizards with Game 1 on Sunday at 1 p.m.
“I think we are playing well,” Sefolosha said. “We are playing with a lot of energy. The last few games we have been moving the ball really well and everything. It’s been good for us.”
Budenholzer is now ready to turn his full attention to the playoffs.
“I think we are excited where we are and how we are playing headed into the playoffs,” he said. “A couple days to get prepared and get after it.”