Five observations from the Hawks’ 113-86 victory over the Magic Saturday.
1. Tim Hardaway Jr. picked up right where he left off. The guard, starting with Thabo Sefolosha still nursing a left groin injury, finished with 21 points in 27 minutes. After scoring 33 points in a win over the Rockets on Thursday, Hardaway started the game with a layup and a dunk for the Hawks’ first two baskets. He had nine first-quarter points.
“He’s a special talent,” Dwight Howard said.
Hardaway was 8 of 14 from the field, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range. He also had five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
2. It wasn’t just Hardaway who started fast. The entire Hawks team was on from the jump. The Hawks shot 68.2 percent in the first quarter of the wire-to-wire win. The Magic shot just 38 percent in the opening quarter and trailed by as many as 13 points. The Hawks made seven of their first eight and 13 of their first 15 shots. The Hawks lead would be 26 by the second quarter and 27 in the third quarter.
Still Hawks players pointed to the early defense effort as the key.
“It was us challenging ourselves,” Hardaway said. “We knew that the last three or four games we’ve been letting our opponents get 30-plus points in the first quarter. We just wanted to set a tone on the defensive end.”
3. One play epitomized the Hawks offense. It what was perhaps the best possession of the season. In the third quarter, Hardaway made a corner 3-pointer that came after seven passes. Paul Millsap made the final swing pass late in the shot clock and the Hawks led by 26 points, 76-50, with 6:53 remaining in the period.
“Hawks basketball at its finest,” Hardaway said. “We have to continue to keep doing it, do it for 48 minutes. If we play like that, we not only make ourselves happy we make the coaching staff happy. And it makes us happy to go and get a defensive stop on the other end and do it again.”
Coach Mike Budenholzer agreed that such ball movement is key to the offense.
“Those kinds of possessions, I think it fuels our whole group,” Budenholzer said. “Everybody understands how important it is that we move the ball, play with the pass and move people. Those put the stamp on what we do every day in practice, what we do on film. I think the guys know how hard they work on passing and moving the ball. It’s great no matter who ends up on the end of it.”
4. What may have been most impressive about the victory was there was no emotional letdown after the dramatics of Thursday’s win over the Rockets in a 20-point comeback. The Hawks have been up-and-down as of late. They erased a 10-point deficit in the final three minutes for a win over the Bulls only to get drubbed by the Wizards the following game. They won a four overtime thriller against the Knicks only to get thrashed by the Heat. So not letting down coming off the dramatics in Houston was important.
“Nope,” Budenholzer said when asked if he addressed the emotion. “I kinda wondered if we should or not. It speaks to the maturity of the group. At some point in the last week or so, we’ve talked about win a game, lose a game. We need to break that stretch.”
Hardaway said the players took it upon themselves as the starters – beginning with Kent Bazemore – huddled before the tip to get focused.
“It started with Baze and Dennis (Schroder) and rolled over from there. Dwight, everybody, we just huddled as the starting five and made sure that we took the challenge at that end of the floor.”
5. There were chants of “M-V-P, M-V-P” that filled Philips Arena late in the game. No, it wasn’t because Taurean Prince was at the free-throw line. The public address announcer let the crowd know that Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had been named the winner of the NFL’s MVP award in Houston. The Falcons play the Patriots in Super Bowl LI on Sunday and many in arena wore Falcons gear.
Howard said the chants most definitely were heard.
“Everybody in the arena heard them tonight,” Howard said. “I’m so happy for Matt. He’s had an unbelievable year. What the Falcons have been able to do this year has been great. We just want to see them top it off with a championship. I think this is Atlanta’s year. Atlanta has been rising, not just the teams but the city. I think this will be good for the city.”