The Atlanta Hawks increased their winning streak to six following their 97-82 triumph against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center on Saturday night. Harrison Barnes led the way for the Mavericks with 21 points while Devin Harris and Dirk Nowitzki both added 11 points each.
Taking care of business
The Hawks are now six games unbeaten, however, the counter-argument to that would be their last three wins have comes against teams below .500. And that’s a fair point, but the Hawks are still taking care of business as they should be.
“We did what we set out to do. We got three out of three. We are pleased with it. We are pleased with our play. We still can get better in some areas but we are happy with where we are now.” — Paul Millsap
The Mavs are probably the worst team out of the bunch that the Hawks have played of late, sat at the bottom of the Western Conference with an 11-26 record. The Mavs played the Hawks well for three quarters, recovering from a nine point deficit in the third quarter with a 9-0 run to tie the game, but a 10-0 Hawks run the fourth quarter left the Mavericks in a difficult position: a hole they couldn’t dig themselves out of. The Hawks outscored the Mavs 31-23 in the final period, winning by 15 in the end.
“…Once they led, it was all uphill.” — Coach Rick Carlisle
The Hawks have done a good job putting away these types of teams in the last few weeks and are now 3-0 on this four game road trip. They’ll finish the trip in Brooklyn on Tuesday night.
The Hawks held the Mavs to just 82 points on 39% shooting from the field and 9-of-36 (25%) from behind the arc. It’s no secret that the Hawks’ defense has improved of late, with players citing a return to a more aggressive approach to defense as the reason and it was in full effect last night.
Let’s take a look at a few of the Hawks’ defensive possessions looking at that aggression.
The third quarter was a very good defensive quarter for the Hawks, holding the Mavs to just 17 points on 35% shooting. Here, look at the pressure the Hawks look to extend after the pick-and-roll from Bogut. Deron Williams’ driving lane is now blocked and the active hands shown by Muscala denies the inside pass to Bogut. With their options limited, the Mavs look to an outside shot for offense and it falls short.
Nothing complicated here, but these are the little changes the Hawks have made to their defense that have really helped.
This was probably my favourite defensive possession of the game. JJ Barea looks as though he’s going to use the Andrew Bogut screen but changes direction late and rejects the screen. Again Muscala extends pressure off of the screen and Delaney is there too. Muscala denies any pass to Bogut and Barea chucks the ball over to Devin Harris. Harris drives toward the rim, THJ does a decent job moving his feet but Muscala is at the rim to deny Harris the chance for a layup, and he’s forced to make a pass to Matthews in the corner. Matthews gets Taurean Prince off of his feet but the rookie does a good job recovering and Matthews is forced to pass the ball back out to Barea. With the clock running down, Barea hoists a contested three-pointer which barely grazes iron and the Hawks come up with the rebound.
Just love the way guys are moving and sliding around on defense. It’s beautiful.
Another great defensive possession in the third: Delaney denies Barea any opportunity to drive toward the rim, forcing him to track back the three-point line with some excellent foot movement. Barea gives the ball up to Harris, who doesn’t fancy trying to get by Prince, and dribbles to his right, where he is tracked by Prince and met by a second defender in the form of Paul Millsap. Harris realises there is nothing for him, so he tries to catch Millsap out by rifling the ball to Dirk (who Millsap had left momentarily). Millsap recovers in time and Dirk can’t handle the pass and the Hawks come up with the ball.
The Hawks did a great job to keep the Mavs on the perimeter on this possession: players are shuffling their feet and creating additional pressure in the form of a second defender without leaving a shooter 50 feet wide open.
In the fourth quarter, Dorian Finney-Smith receives the ball from Barea and is looking to use the Dwight Powell screen to free himself from his defender (THJ). Powell doesn’t really set the screen meaning DFS isn’t completely free of THJ. DFS looks to drive from the sideline but Dwight Howard steps up and cuts off the driving lane. With THJ right behind him, DFS is forced to give the ball up. Harrison Barnes receives the ball on the wing and sizes up Paul Millsap. As the clock is running down, Barnes begins his dribble. When he does, THJ comes to double and Barnes is forced to throw a very risky cross-court pass to Seth Curry, whose runner is just a little short.
On another day, a Hawk is going to nab that cross-court pass made by Barnes. But again, more aggressive defense, extra pressure and more double teaming created a situation for the Mavs where a cross-court pass is made with the shot clock winding down.
Over their last six games, the Hawks have the best defensive rating in the entire league, allowing just 96.9 points per 100 possessions.
“Everybody likes the push defense. We are being aggressive and it’s better than the high center and just go over the screen and the big being back. Now we push and are more aggressive and creating more turnovers.” — Dennis Schröder
THJ stepping up
With the departure of Kyle Korver, Tim Hardaway Jr. knew that he would have a more important role on this team.
“Coach just said to be ready to go tonight. I felt good today at shootaround. We all know that we all prepare for this moment and you just have to take care of business and take care of the opportunity at hand.” — Tim Hardaway Jr.
He sure did that. Hardaway scored a game high 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting and 5-of-8 from three-point range. There’s a big role for THJ to be had now that Korver is gone but THJ had been playing well long before this trade. Over his last 13 games Hardaway is averaging 12.5 points per game on 42% shooting from the field and 42% from behind the arc.
His numbers over the last four games are off the charts:
Tim Hardaway Jr. in January:
— Kris Willis (@Kris_Willis) January 8, 2017
While this type of shooting isn’t sustainable, THJ’s impact on this team has been growing more and more and there’s no reason to believe that this won’t continue. Hardaway continues to be name subjected to trade rumours and his recent performances certainly won’t do his stock any harm.
‘Hack-a’ strategy backfires
Trailing in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks decided to employ the rarely seen ‘hack-a-Howard’ in an effort to bog down the Atlanta offense. Dwight made sure they quickly regretted that decision, knocking down 4-of-6 from the free throw line after the strategy was enforced. Carlisle was quick to call it off.
“Step up to the line and make the free throw. If they foul me again, do the same thing.” — Dwight Howard
For the game, Howard shot 7-of-9 from the free throw line, increasing his free throw percentage to 55% for the season. In his last 12 games, Dwight is averaging 69% from the free throw line. All the hard work he put in over the summer is paying off.
Unfortunately, something else Dwight worked on during the summer hasn’t been paying off. Dwight attempted — and missed — four jump shots last night. I appreciate that Dwight is trying to add something new to his game, but maybe limiting how many of those he takes per game mightn’t be a bad idea.
That being said, Dwight did notch his fourth 20 rebound game of the season, after his 15 points, 20 rebounds performance last night.
Free throw difference
The Hawks comprehensively outscored the Mavs at the free throw line. In fact, Paul Millsap on his own attempted and made more free throws than the Mavericks, MIllsap shooting 11-of-13 from the line, the Mavs 9-of-10. In total, the Hawks went 26-of-32 from the free throw line, one of the reasons why the Hawks won by as many points as they did.
Malcolm’s ridiculous pass
Here, just watch.
The Hawks fly back to Atlanta before heading out on the road again ahead of Tuesday’s tilt against the Brooklyn Nets, the last road game of this four game trip.