ATLANTA -- Paul Millsap isn't a loud, braggadocios guy.
Despite being one of the top power forwards in the NBA who averages 18.1 points per game and only seems to get better with age, he's humble and even tempered.
That is, until the Atlanta Hawks went on a seven-game losing stretch that began with Millsap on the bench recovering from knee soreness. The Hawks turned it around by winning six of their final nine games, including two remarkable wins against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Hawks clinched the fifth seed in the playoffs and will play the Washington Wizards in the first round. It's not bad considering there were whispers of the Hawks possibly falling all the way out of the playoffs. Millsap was going to do everything in his power to keep that from happening.
"Paul started speaking up a lot more because he was kind of pissed how we were playing. I think everybody responded to that," Malcolm Delaney said. "When we was on that seven-game losing streak, you can tell he got tired of watching it. When you sit on the sideline, you see a lot more than when you're playing. I think he just started to notice some things that wasn't like our team. He started speaking up a lot more, especially in the huddles, showing a lot more emotion.
"When he's like that, everybody listens to Paul, and we respond to him," Delaney said.
Millsap, a four-time All-Star wanted to see the team he saw that started the season strong and climbed atop the Eastern Conference before the Cavs and Celtics worked their way up as the Hawks slipped.
"Getting back to the way we play basketball, I think that's been important. If we don't get back to how we play and what makes us special, we struggle. And when we realize how we need to win and get out there and do it, that makes us a really good team," Millsap said was on his mind.
Perimeter shooting improved and the Hawks moved the ball around more leading to more assists, the most they had had since the beginning of March. But this season has been filled with highs and lows for the Hawks. Now, they're trying to avoid sinking back to another low.
"We've had an usual season, some ups and unfortunately some downs. The key for us is to stay focused, stay humble, keep an edge and not feel too good or anything like that," head coach Mike Budenholzer said. "There's going to be ups and downs [in the playoffs] and you've got to deal with that emotionally."
Budenholzer said Millsap has earned the right to speak up.
"He's done a lot to kind of build this program and put us in a position where we should be competing and playing at a high level every night," Budenholzer said. "He's quiet by nature, but glad he's been more vocal."
Millsap pushed the Hawks' current group to the franchise's 10th consecutive postseason appearance, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. Millsap is the most tenured player on the team and was a part of the 60-win team from two seasons ago that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
But this year was different. He didn't know whether this team would make it to the postseason.
"It's definitely different. Different group, getting into the playoffs with different circumstances. This is special. I felt like if we could get there with this group, with this team, we could do something very special. And now we're there, we continue to work hard every day and try to be the best we can be, go as far as we can get."
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