Coach Mike Budenholzer decided not to play some of his starters at all for the last two games of the season, and it could pay off in a big way when the NBA Playoffs start on Saturday. The bench for the Atlanta Hawks hasn’t been playing too well of late and needed a little boost in order to get things together before their anticipated match-up with the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers.
If Atlanta wants to beat the Pacers it’s going to take a total team effort, which means the play of the bench becomes even more important in the postseason. Luckily, playing against the Milwaukee Bucks last night provided the perfect opportunity for coach Bud to give his unsung heroes a chance to raise their game at the right time. The Bucks are the worst team in the league, and despite going up against the Atlanta bench, they posed no threat whatsoever to Hawks’ game plan in this one.
The plan was simple. Get most of the starters, besides Paul Millsap, some time on the court to work on their game, and then let the bench take over from there. Coach Bud wanted to see who would step up their offensive game with the playoffs right around the corner by giving most of the bench players around 20 minutes or more of game action. The good news for coach Bud is that not only did one guy step up, but a whole bunch of players proved their worth last night.
Faced with a five-point deficit at the half, the Atlanta bench fueled a comeback in order to defeat the Bucks 111-103. Mike Muscala, who joined the team late this season, provided the most shocking performance of all. The rookie center scored a career-high 15 points and recorded two blocks in 25 minutes of action. His effort against Milwaukee might be great news for the Hawks going forward, too. If Muscala can come in off the bench to provide some scoring and a low post presence, this could be huge in the playoffs.
Indiana is one of the best defensive teams in the league that rebounds at a very high level as well, which means the big men of Atlanta become even more important in this series. Pero Antic, who has been a nightmare for the Pacers all season, must continue to do it again if the Hawks want to pull off the huge upset. However, it won’t just be up to him. It will take all of the low post players including Muscala, Mike Scott and Elton Brand in order to do the impossible and defeat the No.1 seed.