The Atlanta Hawks racked up their fourth consecutive victory on Wednesday night, defeating the Orlando Magic 111-92 at the Amway Center. The Magic were led by Jeff Green’s and Aaron Gordon’s 15 points apiece while Evan Fournier made his return — following a five game absence — with 14 points off the bench.
Revenge game and defense
They say elephants never forget. I have no idea who said that and why they said that but the Atlanta Hawks certainly didn’t forget December 13th, the day the Orlando Magic came into Atlanta and hung 131 points on the Hawks in a 131-120 loss for the Hawks. It certainly gave the Hawks motivation heading into Orlando on Wednesday night:
“For sure, we were a little (ticked) off.” — Dennis Schröder
Over the last three games prior to this game the Hawks’ defense has been pretty good, allowing 99.3 points per 100 possession. Last night the defense efficiency was 94.5 points per 100 possessions. The Hawks forced the Magic into some tough shots and their defensive intensity has certainly improved since these two teams last met.
“Coach said from the beginning there is no way they are going to get 130 again. They hit tough shots in Atlanta. From here, from the start of the game to the end of the game, we put pressure on them.” — Dennis Schröder
Per Chris Vivlamore, Dennis Schröder mentioned post game that Paul Millsap and some the other veterans on the team went to see Coach Bud about their defensive approach. Bud listened and the defense has seen changes.
“We changed a little bit on defense. We are pushing again like we did the last three years and it was successful. Coach told us what we can change. And we were talking to him a little bit. From now on, everything is aggressive. Coach listened to Paul and other veterans. I think that’s what great coaches do, listen to their players. — Dennis Schröder
This certainly makes sense. The Hawks have been visibly more aggressive (doubling on pick-and-rolls and more trapping) on defense of late and it paid off last night, the 92 points the Hawks conceded last night were the fewest in a winning effort since November 23rd when they conceded just 85 points in a 96-85 win in Indiana.
“I think we caused them problems by getting up in them and not let them get comfortable with what they want to do.” — Paul Millsap
Classic revenge game here and the Hawks will be glad to have beaten the Magic by 19 points in their own building, especially given the fact the Magic are definitely playing for something: sitting just a few games out of the lower playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Running away at the end
Evan Fournier made a three-pointer to cut Atlanta’s lead to just five points (92-87) with 6:39 remaining in the fourth quarter. This set the game up for a tight finish but that never materialised. The Hawks reeled off a 14-2 run in just under four minutes before Magic head coach Frank Vogel waved the white flag and pulled his starters (just as Serge Ibaka got himself ejected for a second tech), trailing 106-89 with 2:14 remaining. For the total of the final 6:39 of this game, the Hawks finished the game on a 19-5 run.
But how did this happen? This game was set for a photo finish, how did it get away from the Magic like this?
Atlanta getting to the free throw line
The Hawks got to the line 18 times in total, eight of those attempts coming in this 6:39 stretch with the Hawks converting six of those eight free throw attempts. How odd was it that Dwight Howard made both of his free throws in this stretch and Dennis Schröder shot 2-for-4 on his free throws? It has to be said, however, that the Hawks were the beneficiaries of some questionable calls last night. Coach Vogel certainly wasn’t pleased:
“I can’t say how I feel about the officials. They fine you for that. But I’ll be on the phone with the league office maybe as soon as we leave this room.” — Coach Frank Vogel
To reel off the kind of the run the Hawks did, you have to get stops and that’s what the Hawks did. They forced the Magic into tough shots (the Magic also, to be fair, didn’t always take great shots) with their defense and their ball movement wasn’t good enough to create real openings for themselves. Orlando made their lives were made difficult offensively but they also made life difficult for themselves.
Two timely threes
The Magic were trailing 100-89 with just under four minutes remaining, still within arms reach should they put together a little run but back-to-back three-pointers by the Hawks (from Bazemore and Millsap) put the Hawks up by 16 with 2:49 remaining, leading to an Orlando timeout. Game. Set. Match.
(Just click play and it’ll take you to the end for the Baze and Paul threes. Yay for timestamps.)
And there you go, those were the three ingredients the Hawks used to dispatch the Magic in the final 6:39 last night. Pretty tasty, it must be said…
A balanced effort
We’ve seen some great individual games of late, Paul Millsap’s 32 and THJ’s 29 against the Spurs, Kyle Korver’s 22 points against the Pistons and Dennis Schröder’s 27 points against the Knicks (just some recent examples) but last night it really was a group effort. The most players scored by an individual was 18 (from Dennis) and six players scored in double digits.
Everyone who played significant minutes played well. Thabo Sefolosha got going in the first quarter, Kent Bazemore had a great game (we’ll touch on that soon), Paul was Paul, Dwight registered a double-double and a plus/minus rating of +15 which destroyed his opposite number’s (Bismack Biyombo) of -18, Dennis Schröder played a steady game, Kyle Korver dished out a season high seven assists, THJ shot 5-for-9 from the field, Malcolm Delaney had his best scoring game of late and Mike Muscala shot 3-of-3 from the field and 2-of-2 from behind the arc.
Like we mentioned, the defense was good and the ball was moving. The Hawks dishing out 27 assists and this was pleasing to Coach Bud:
“I thought the ball was moving. In pick-and-rolls we were making that first quick pass and that quick decision. Guys were playing really unselfishly.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
Paul Millsap also knows that when the Hawks are at their best when they move the ball:
“Ball movement is crucial for us. That’s when we are at our best. Getting everybody involved and everybody is able to get in a rhythm.” — Paul Millsap
You can’t expect everyone on the team to play well on the same night but the Hawks can be really happy with the contributions they got across the roster last night. Definitely a team effort.
Kent Bazemore decided to don a headband last night which was a bit of a surprise but, hey, I thought it looked good on him. Especially in black, obviously to match the black uni’s. What do you think?
“My mom texted me and said YMCA days. I used to wear a headband way back in the day. I thought I’d switch it up. And I need a haircut.” — Kent Bazemore
Postgame, Coach Bud joked about the headband:
“There was some speculation that the headband may have helped Baze” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
You can catch that quote and some of Bud’s other postgame thoughts here:
— FOX Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnFSSE) January 5, 2017
The rumours may have turned out to be true as Baze scored 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting and 3-of-3 from downtown. Baze has looked great in these last three games, under control and taking rhythm shots. The fact that Baze has stringed together good games (in terms of being under control) is definitely a good sign.
Dwight’s strange night
Booing himself, talking to a ball… just another day at the office for Dwight Howard.
Last night @DwightHoward scored 13 points, grabbed 12 boards, booed himself, and talked to a basketball.
It was a good night: pic.twitter.com/F25K4anHVN
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) January 5, 2017
That was good but maybe a little less of this…
Malcolm Delaney had his best scoring game since November 23rd when he scored 13 points against the Pacers, scoring 11 last night on a very nice 5-of-7 shooting. But the ball — at times — did stick when he was on the floor. In just under 20 minutes last night, Delaney had the second most touches and each touch lasted — on average — 5.50 seconds. In total Delaney held the ball for just over four minutes, the next closest below him was Thabo Sefolosha, who held possession of the ball for just under two minutes. Only Dennis Schröder (who played 29 minutes) held the ball longer than Delaney, just under seven minutes.
I know Delaney is the backup point guard, but there were possessions where he did held the ball for way too long in an offense where ball movement is key. Despite that, Delaney’s performance was certainly a positive one and that’s the thought you should be leaving with from this game.
(Shout out the @nick_lt and @dataandme for helping me find those possession stats)
The Hawks (19-16) are back in action tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Arena, the second game of their four game road trip.