Just less than two weeks ago, the Atlanta Hawks looked dead in the water. A heartbreaking loss to the Los Angeles Clippers made the Hawks 1-14 in their last 15 games, and with the suddenly rejuvenated New York Knicks charging hard, making the playoffs started to look like a big question mark.
But since the loss to the Clippers, the Hawks have done a complete 180. Atlanta has won a season-high five games in a row, including a thrilling 118-113 overtime victory over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night.
Jeff Teague tied his career-high with 34 points on 11-of-18 shooting and 11-of-11 from the free-throw line. All 11 of those free-throw attempts came in the fourth quarter and overtime, with Teague notching 15 of his 34 points in those two frames.
Paul Millsap also had a monster game, recording the first triple-double of his career with 19 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Millsap has been instrumental to the Hawks' success during the five-game streak, posting averages of 22.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists while shooting 46.8 percent overall and 42.1 percent from three.
And then there's Kyle Korver, who had 16 points in the win over the Raptors, including three free throws down the stretch to help seal the win. Korver is in the midst of arguably the best season of his career, and he recently went through an especially hot shooting stretch just days after his record streak of consecutive games with a made three ended at 127.
During a four-game stretch from the loss to the Clippers to a win over the Denver Nuggets the next Saturday, Korver went 14-of-16 on three-pointers. Korver was key in starting the five-game winning streak, scoring 26 points in a tight win over one of his former teams, the Utah Jazz.
The five-game winning streak has coincided with the Hawks getting relatively healthy. After Al Horford went down for the season with a torn left pectoral muscle in late December, Atlanta still managed to stay afloat. The Hawks went 9-8 in the immediate aftermath of Horford's injury, which wasn't a great mark, but easily good enough to keep a firm hold on a top-four spot in the weak Eastern Conference.
However, injuries to other players began to take their toll. Millsap, a first-time All-Star this season, missed five games with a right knee contusion. Reserve big man Pero Antic missed 17 consecutive games from late January to early March due to a stress fracture in his right ankle. Reserve center Gustavo Ayon went down for the year in mid-February after surgery on his right shoulder. DeMarre Carroll also missed three games during the Hawks' February swoon.
Now with a more fully stocked roster, Atlanta at least looks like a respectable playoff team again. The lead over New York is now 4½ games, with a five-game advantage in the loss column. And don't look now, but the Hawks are tied in the loss column with the Charlotte Bobcats and just a game behind overall.
Even if Atlanta does make the playoffs, the ending will be predictable, especially with Horford ruling out a postseason return. Unless the Hawks somehow get up to the No. 6 seed or higher, a swift first-round exit at the hands of the Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat is almost a certainty.
But while some may argue Atlanta may have been better off continuing their slide and getting into the lottery, nobody on the team will agree with that notion. Missing the playoffs after such a promising start to the year would be tough to swallow, even if the time in the postseason is short-lived. Plus, this group getting some playoff experience will be beneficial when Horford returns next year and the Hawks have a better chance to make some noise.