Maybe, one time this season, the Hawks and Cavaliers will play with healthy lineups. That way we’ll get a better idea of where each team stands in the hierarchy of the Eastern Conference.
No doubt that right now it is the Hawks that are the better team.
The Hawks defeated the Cavaliers 109-101 Tuesday night. The Cavaliers played without LeBron James (knee) and lost Kevin Love (back) in the second half. The Hawks played without Al Horford (illness), a last-minute scratch. In the two previous matchups this season the Hawks played without DeMarre Carroll in one and Jeff Teague in the other.
Paul Millsap scored a team-high 26 points for the Hawks, winners of 16 of their past 18 games. Teague added 23 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and three steals.
Here are my five observations from the game:
1. Paul Millsap is an All-Star. The Hawks will surely get one All-Star in February as they stand second in the Eastern Conference. They could get two All-Star nods but Millsap will likely be a representative.
Millsap carried the Hawks down the stretch. In danger of completely losing a one-time 17-point lead, the Hawks led 95-93 with 4:44 left. Millsap scored eight of the next 10 points for the Hawks, part of a 10-2 run, and the lead was back to 10 points.
In addition to his 26 points, Millsap added nine points, three assists, three blocks and two steals. He is one of only two players in the NBA this season to have those totals in a single game (joining the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis).
2. Jeff Teague could be another All-Star. The point guard picked it up, especially late, to help the Hawks. He scored six of the Hawks’ final eight points. Teague had his third double-double of the season and his 19th career 20-point, 10-assist game, moving him past Joe Johnson for sixth in franchise history.
3. The Hawks have taken advantage of their winning ways and the holiday break. They recorded their third straight sellout, something they haven’t done since they had four straight to end the 2009-10 season. The Hawks end the month of December with a 14-2 record, tying the franchise record for the most wins in a month. Their 14-3 home record is tied with the Raptors for the best home mark in the Eastern Conference.
4. It doesn’t appear that the sudden illness that prevented Horford from playing will keep him out for any length of time. The Hawks announced following the game that the center was tended to by team physicians and received treatment during the game. He is currently listed as probable for Friday’s game at Utah. The team said his status will be updated as appropriate.
5. The Hawks attempted to slow Cavaliers’ point guard Kyrie Irving by using size and length. With James sidelined, the Hawks sent DeMarre Carroll, Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore at Irving in addition to Teague and Dennis Schroder. Irving did finish with a game-high 35 points, nine assists, six rebounds and eight turnovers. His point total came on 13 of 27 shooting from the field.
“Yeah, we’ll have to maybe rethink that,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Again, a lot of credit to Kyrie Irving for how he played. I think our defense and our effort, whether it was big guys, little guys, pick-and-rolls, pin downs, he found a way to get the ball in the basket tonight. I think it was as much or more about an outstanding player playing really, really well. Some nights it’s like that.”