Nets Shut Down High-Flying Hawks as Confidence Soars in Brooklyn


Whether it's early mornings at the 1 OAK nightclub in Manhattan or late afternoons at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, both are proving to be nothing but trouble for the Atlanta Hawks.

With a chance to put a 3-0 stranglehold on their first-round playoff series against the Nets, the East’s No. 1-seeded team laid an egg on Saturday in Brooklyn while hardly looking like a team that won 60 games in the regular-season.

The Nets won only 38 games and had lost six straight times to the Hawks, counting an 0-4 record in the regular-season. But they finally broke through in the best-of-seven with a 91-83 win, cutting the Hawks’ lead to 2-1 and coming away with the belief that they can win the series.

“We’ve prepared a lot,’’ Nets center Brook Lopez said in the post-game press conference after scoring a team-high 22 points. “We’ve watched a lot of film. We see what they like to do. We know they’ll make adjustments. But we really feel like we can compete with these guys. We have a lot of confidence.’’

The Hawks were playing in New York for the first time since Thabo Sefolosha broke his leg in an altercation with New York City police outside fashionable 1 OAK when the cops were responding to a triple-stabbing at 4 a.m. on April 8.

Sefolosha and teammate Pero Antic were wrong to be out clubbing only 15 hours before their team was to play the Nets. Sefolosha, a good defender who will be missed the deeper the Hawks go in the playoffs, paid the ultimate price, suffering a season-ending injury.

Whatever happened to Sefolosha 17 days ago, the Hawks are not here to party. They’re here to win this series and prove they can go deep in the playoffs, not deep into the night.

“We’ve got guys who are very mature and very responsible and I think they’re all in a good place and know how important what’s happening is,’’ Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said in his press session before the game. “We’re just going about our business.’’

But it wasn’t business as usual, not in terms of what everyone saw out of the Hawks in the greatest season in franchise annals, or in the first two games of this series, when they scored 99 and 96 points. Or even during the season, when they had averaged a whopping 114 points per game against the Nets.

But Atlanta never found its stroke and got outscored 18-0 during a crucial 7-minute stretch in the third quarter, as the Nets turned a four-point deficit into a 14-point lead that they never relinquished.

The Hawks finished making only 36 percent of their shots _ including a lame 6-for-30 (20 percent) on three-pointers. When they surprised the rest of the league by going from eighth place in 2014 to the top of the East, they made 38 percent of their three’s, second only to the Warriors, and were the fourth-best shooting team overall at 47 percent.

But among their key players, Kyle Korver missed seven of eight shots and all five of his three-pointers; Jeff Teague bricked nine of 13 shots and all three of his shots from beyond the three-point line; and Al Horford failed to connect on nine of his 12 shots.

The Nets kept a particularly close eye on Korver, who ranked first in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (49 percent) this season and who had riddled Brooklyn in Atlanta by making eight of his 18 three’s.

“We’ve gone over a lot in practice and in film sessions, watching the way he gets his looks and where he wants to shoot from,’’ Lopez said about Korver. “Guys were practically in his jersey.’’

So now the Hawks will probably start hearing the old NBA saying: Jump-shooting teams can’t win championships. Not that Budenholzer or his players are suddenly fretting about getting out of this round alive.

“We missed a lot of bunnies and a lot of floaters we usually make,’’ said Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, who had 18 points. “They didn’t do anything special.’’

Maybe not, but they’ve played their way back into the series.

“We were peaking at the right time going into the playoffs,’’ Lopez said. "We figured each other out. We’re very confident with where we are right now. We think we can still be better.’’
If that’s the case, the Hawks might be in trouble, without ever hitting the clubs.

Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 22 years. His columns for on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch _ Lawrence 

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