This game could have definitely been billed as a trap game for the Hawks.
While the Timberwolves haven’t been good all year, they finally have gotten some of their injured pieces healthy. Ricky Rubio is back, Kevin Martin is back, and Nikola Pekovic and Shabazz Muhammad were both healthy for this game. With the Hawks on the second night of a back-to-back coming off of a loss against Memphis where Jeff Teague was hobbled with a slight ankle injury at the end, it would not have been too surprising if Atlanta got caught napping by a Minnesota team that still hopes to prove something this year.
Of course, this Hawks team is still proving that it is not one that is going to get caught napping very often.
Al Horford scored a season-high 28 points and DeMarre Carroll scored a career-high 26 points to pave the way for Atlanta in a 117-105 win over the Wolves in confines of the Target Center in Minnesota. The win kept the Hawks from losing consecutive games for the first time since mid-November, when the team dropped games to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers.
It definitely looked early on like that streak could end, as Minnesota was aggressively attacking the boards and getting second chances on offense. The Wolves had 23 offensive rebounds in the game and turned them into 27 second chance points, constantly extending possessions where the Hawks had to reset after playing 15 or 20 second of good defense. The rebounds were a big reason why Minnesota was hanging even with the Hawks at halftime with a score of 57-53 in favor of Atlanta.
But the Hawks turned it around in the third quarter, led by Carroll’s 11 points in the period. Overall, the Hawks committed more to running in transition, scoring a whopping 14 fast break points in the quarter. To their credit, the Wolves kept grinding on the glass and getting second chance opportunities, but the Hawks were mostly able to shut them down and forced the Wolves into 7-for-21 shooting in the period for just 19 points.
Minnesota attempted to hang around in the fourth quarter and push for a comeback, but Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was not going to let that happen. Budenholzer elected to keep the starters in until late in the fourth in order to thwart a potential comeback by the Timberwolves. This strategy led to eight minutes of domination from Horford, who scored 15 of his 28 points in the final frame. Horford finished 11-for-18 from the floor, a far cry from his 2-for-11 performance against Memphis on the night before.
“The shots I took today were no different than last night, today they just happened to fall,” said Horford on he difference. “It’s hard to explain.”
The same could be said for Paul Millsap, who was nearly opposite of Horford by scoring 13 points in the first quarter. Millsap also struggled to hit open buckets against the Grizzlies on Sunday, but he responded with 19 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists against the Timberwolves on Monday.
Jeff Teague, who had the aforementioned ankle scare on Sunday night, appeared to be fine. Teague played 32 minutes and while his offensive numbers — 12 points and seven assists — didn’t pop off the screen, his defensive play against Ricky Rubio did. Rubio is a big, long guard to keep up with and it looked like Teague had no problem using his quickness to stay with Minnesota’s star point guard. Teague was a game-high plus-29 on the night.
The Hawks have a day off before taking on the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden. While the Celtics are not a good team, the Hawks have always seemed to struggle in Boston, even against bad teams that the Celtics have trotted out. It will be interesting to see if the Hawks can break another stereotype of their franchise and deliver in a game where they should win.