The up and down ride for the Atlanta Hawks hit a nice peak on Monday night against the Toronto Raptors. After losing a heart-breaker to Toronto on the front end of a home-home on Sunday, the Hawks came back to defeat the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre 109-87, and in doing so accomplished two major goals for the season. With the win, Atlanta secures a playoff spot, but most importantly the Hawks have a winning road record for the first time since the 1998-99 season, another lockout shortened year.
The win also had Atlanta keep pace with the Orlando Magic – who scored a home victory over the slumping Philadelphia 76ers – to be tied for the fifth in the conference (Atlanta owns the tiebreaker with the Magic). The Boston Celtics, who are arguably playing the best ball in the Eastern Conference right now, are also tied with Orlando and Atlanta. The Hawks will host Boston on Friday, April 20 as part of a five game home stand to close out the season.
With center Zaza Pachulia scratched from the lineup with a foot injury, Ivan Johnson stepped up with a game and career high 21 points, and point guard Jeff Teague put up some of his best numbers of the season with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 10 assists. Hawks coach Larry Drew had issued a pregame challenge to Teague to step up and play with a more aggressive style, and Teague responded by leading the Hawks to 28 fast-break points, the most by any Raptors opponent this season.
But, in the usual “good news – bad news” year that the Hawks have had, reports have surfaced that the foot injury to Pachulia is more serious that originally thought, and it could keep him out of action for the remainder of the regular season. Those last five games will be no easy task – even at home – against Detroit, Miami, New York, the Clippers and Dallas. The Hawks are declining comment on Pachulia’s status going forward. The center position has been a veritable revolving door for Atlanta this season, having lost starter and All-Star Al Horford early in the year, and with the remaining three reserves all having spent time on the bench with injuries.
The important thing for the Hawks right now is keeping pace with Boston and Orlando, and not falling back to the six or seven seed come playoff time. Just slipping back to number six could potentially pit the Hawks against the red hot Indiana Pacers, who have won five straight, and nine of their last ten games. “We’re right there in the thick of things,” coach Larry Drew said. “As long as there’s an opportunity for us to move up, we want to try to take advantage of that.”